Should Kids Be Playing Violent Video Games?
As a child I had a relatively strict upbringing. I wasn't the product of religiously overbearing parents or anything, but right up until the age of fifteen the concepts of right and wrong were drilled into me. That's not to say that I had an unhappy childhood (quite the opposite, in fact), but while my friends came home from school and set fire to each other, I was instead sat in front of my TV quietly watching cartoons and being generally angelic.
This strict upbringing of mine meant that when all of the other kids at my school had first discovered the power of the swear word, I refused to cave into peer-pressure. While my friends wandered around the playground calling the teachers "f***ing bitches" or "f***ing bastards", I remained awkwardly quiet. Eventually they picked up on my lack of a potty mouth and, as kids do, quickly tried to coerce me into letting loose with a tirade of F-bombs. It didn't work; they laughed at my alleged immaturity and I went home in a bit of a sulk. Later, I apprehensively informed my dad of my perdicament and, to my surprise, he replied: "tell them to go f*** themselves". The next day, I did just that.
As a child, your relationship with your parents is crucial to your development as a human being. My parents instilled in me the belief that your elders were to be respected and their opinions were to be valued, meaning that when they told me that swearing was something that a 7-year-old shouldn't be doing, I upheld their belief regardless of how many of my peers informed me otherwise.
I do not believe that kids playing "mature" video games is a bad thing. I was playing violent video games throughout my preadolesence, with my parents' acknowledgment. Because of their strict morals, I recognised that them allowing me to uppercut three pints of blood out of a ninja's face in Mortal Kombat was a sign that they trusted my level of maturity and, unlike most parents those days, didn't suspect that me playing a video game with blood in it would ultimately lead to me ending up on the evening news.
Today, video games are a lot more popular and a lot more socially acceptable than they once were. When a kid spends his spare time playing on his Xbox 360, no one worries whether he's getting enough fresh air, or whether he's going to become a socially reclusive basement-dweller, or whether the violence is going to cause him to turn him into an axe-murderer in the future, because all of the other kids he goes to school with are playing them, too. This lack of irrational fear is good to some degree, but it has also led to parents becoming apathetic when it comes to their children playing violent video games and conversing with strangers online, and that's very, very bad.
Parents now let their kids lock themselves away in their bedrooms, giving themselves some respite from their parental responsibilities by allowing their offspring to pick up their virtual AK47's and shoot their friends via Xbox Live. This lack of communication with their mom and dad is what is ultimately harmful to the child, not the violent video game that they are playing.
Regardless of how much of a steely grip you keep on your child, you can't prevent them from seeing things that you wouldn't necessarily want them to see. As a parent, it is your responsibility to contextualise what your child is seeing, not to prohibit them from seeing it. If they want to play Assassin's Creed III and you forbid them from doing so, they'll play it at a friend's house.
An individual's childhood is defined by their first glimpses of adulthood, whether it be sneaking downstairs in order to watch a gory horror movie, or whether it be playing Black Ops II. You can't always shelter them from these experiences, but you can ensure that they understand the difference between reality and fiction. All you have to do is talk to them.
Paul Tamburro is the UK Editor of Crave Online. Follow him on Twitter @PaulTamburro