From: Nonviolent Video Mom
My son wants to play the same video games his friends play, but I’m concerned they are violent. He’s 15 and says I’m too strict about this issue; he’s not going to become a deranged killer by playing war games. Are violent video games really a problem?
To: Nonviolent Video Mom
Actually, violent video games are a problem, especially for younger children, and unfortunately, violence in games is more prevalent than parents may think. A 2011 study found 71 percent of video games contained at least some mild violence, while 25 percent included intense violence, blood and gore. In fact, research shows children ages 7 to 12 routinely play games rated M for mature audiences — the most violent and graphic kind.
I’m not a social scientist — I’m a columnist and a mom — so I don’t have any academic authority on this issue. With that caveat, I’m not the first person to point out that nearly every recent example of mass shootings in America have involved young men who have apparently had obsessive gaming habits, and the games they played appear to have fed the fantasies that became a deadly and tragic reality for their victims. Does this mean there’s a causal relationship between games such as Call of Duty or Grand Theft Auto and the zombielike violent behavior exhibited in these crimes? Not necessarily. But do the games appear to have a dangerous influence on some young men? Absolutely.
Violent video games also can be addictive as players experience the “thrill of the kill” and seek to feed the emotional response that these games stimulate. Initial studies indicate that teenaged boys are especially susceptible to gaming addiction because of the way their brains respond. It’s the addictive behavior, more so than the threat of becoming a violent criminal, that puts young men most at risk.
There are also consequences for a child’s character and conscience. The combination of realistic graphics and narratives that allow players to explore evil fantasies, vicariously perpetrating acts of aggression, violence and death, creates a morally compromising experience. Even if the player isn’t really “doing” the action, the emotional and psychological sensations are real. Ultimately, they desensitize the player to violent acts.
That 2011 study proved that violent games impact a child’s moral reasoning, teaching children that violence is acceptable and sometimes the best response. Moral reasoning is based on understanding the perspectives of others, but violent video games provide no perspective on the suffering of victims and, in fact, they impede this crucial developmental step.
Assuming your 15-year-old son has had time to develop a conscience and a sense of morality about violence, you may think he’s past the point of being influenced by graphically violent games. But even if he is, the fundamental issue about media consumption remains: Does the content reflect your values?
Which is not to say your teenaged son would be convinced. After all, as he notes, his buddies play these games and they aren’t bad children.
What’s needed is a teachable moment about moral consistency. Ask your son, “How would you feel if I got involved in an online dating environment and fantasized about having an affair? It’s not that I’d actually do it; I’d just enjoy the excitement of imagining it. Would that be a wholesome way to spend my time?” This kind of comparison might help him understand that seeking out immoral thoughts and feelings has a consequence to his heart and soul, even if he doesn’t act on them in “real life.”