Like the rest of the country, I’m deeply saddened but unfortunately not entirely shocked by the horrific mass murder at Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut. Sadly, we’ve created a culture where even the most outrageous violence can become reality.
Much will be debated and discussed about gun laws and mental health issues in the coming months, and I think these are important parts of the discussion. It is equally important, however, that we consider where we are as a culture and how as parents we are contributing to an environment that could make such hideous events possible.
Let’s start with video games. Sadly for me, I’m old enough to remember the very first “game system.” It was an Atari game called Pong, and it basically involved two players “hitting” a little dot back and forth over a virtual net which was created by taping a piece of translucent paper over the TV screen. As video games go, it was one step above cave paintings.
Since then, I’ve seen video games become very sophisticated, particularly as my older son has grown up. In the beginning, I could easily tell when he was playing one of his “games” on television. Characters on the screen walked and ran so awkwardly that there was no doubt everything he was playing was “pretend.” Fast forward just a few years and it’s clear how much technology is progressing. Now my boys laugh at me when I walk into their rooms, look at the TV screen where some football or basketball game appears to be on and ask, “Who’s winning?” or comment “I didn’t think they play NFL games on Tuesday afternoon.” The only sports game that still doesn’t fool me is baseball. Obviously, that’s a sport that’s a little harder to recreate virtually. Everything else looks very real.
Fortunately, my kids never got into the shoot ’em up violent video games popular now. For one thing, I won’t allow them to own them. I know in some circles that makes me a very uncool Mom, but I see more harm than value in spending even a moment of ones day pretending to shoot, stab, and bayonet human beings–even virtual ones. I know there are parents who disagree with me because many of my boys friends play these games. What’s most shocking to me is that most of these games have an “M Rating” on them and yet kids in my son’s Fifth Grade class are playing them. That’s eleven-year-olds pretending to kill people.
I’m not so Pollyanna as to think that my generation kept all forms of violence off the playground as we were growing up. Plenty of kids ran around the neighborhood with toy guns pretending to shoot people. The part that was missing from our games, though, was the actual “death” where heads were blown off and bodies torn apart. Today, not only do children do the virtual shooting but they get to see a realistic enactment of the carnage they’re creating. Someone needs to explain to me why this is useful, healthy, or “fun.” I really don’t get it.
Where do kids get these violent video games?
Usually, from us. We buy these games as birthday or Christmas presents or as rewards for making good grades in school.
It isn’t just video games where violence is a popular form of “entertainment” for young kids.
I’ve never read The Hunger Games series, but I’m told that the story revolves around a society where children are forced to kill other children. Last year, my then ten-year-old son was very excited about these books because all his friends were reading and loving them. I mentioned this to a friend of our family who is a young man in his thirties. He looked stunned.
“Monica, I’ve read those books and those books are definitely not for kids,” he told me.
Again, in fairness, I haven’t read them, but everything I’ve read about them makes me seriously question whether a ten-year-old child should be exposed to them.
Finally, there is the media. When I was a child, we had four TV channels (I’m know–I’m beginning to sound like Grandma Moses). If there was a questionable program coming on television, it always came on no earlier than 9 o’clock p.m., and it was always preceded by a huge parental warning.
Today, all pretense of a “warning” is out the window. We have cable television, and there isn’t a violent act or sexual experience that the average second grader can’t take a look at just by changing a channel. As a result, kids at very young ages are exposed to pretty much all the violence and evil that the world can dish up. How is this possibly healthy?
As parents, we need to stand up and take some responsibility. Just because the kid down the street is getting a video game where thousands will die gruesome deaths at the hands of a child with a gaming controller doesn’t mean your child has to partake, too. Also, if you hear that a book is questionable, take the time to read it yourself first. I know we’re all very busy, but when we’re prioritizing our lives, we should put our kids first. Not knowing what is in something doesn’t make it okay. Otherwise, maybe we should all just buy our boys Playboy subscriptions for Christmas. In a way, that’s more honest than giving our kids things equally as inappropriate but made “okay” because we “really didn’t know” what was in them.
With this tragedy, many people are talking about our violent culture. Guess what? Our culture begins with us as parents. Now is the time for us to step up and make it better.
It’s our responsibility.