Tag Archives: advice

Black-clad Denver stabber is probably not “goth”


Anne Hathaway as Catwoman in “The Dark Knight Rises”: not a goth.

A small article crossed my path this week about a violent break-in in Denver. Police say man forced his way into a woman’s condo, stabbed her, and left. They described him as “dressed in goth attire.”

Hmm. So he looked like this? Probably not. Here’s what they said:

The man, who was white and appeared to be in his 20s, was “dressed in all black,” she said, including a black cap and black eye liner.

So, he was basically dressed like anyone else trying to look like an outlaw? Hm.

I don’t think I’ve ever heard of anyone specifically dressing up like a goth to go and commit a crime. My guess is that the perp knew the victim, and that his choice of clothing (or eyeliner, if that’s what it was) had little to do with it.

The police’s choice to use the word “goth” in his description doesn’t help — it seems unlikely that this is someone who “dresses goth” habitually. As regular readers know, goths are generally nonviolent to a fault, often unwilling to defend themselves when directly attacked. All this does is reinforce wrong-headed ideas about goth culture — and not even in the name of tracking down a man who hurt someone.

That may be one reason that parents worry when their kids participate in goth culture. A teen recently wrote to the wonderful Ultimate Goth Guide site, asking for advice because her mom is clamping down on her style:

I’m afraid to talk to [my mom]. She thinks Goths are a bunch of depressed druggies who are crazed over horror, death, blood and guts. She refuses to listen if I start to explain otherwise. Any ideas? I need help!

The girl has already toned down her appearance, but it hasn’t helped. Amy Asphodel, who runs the site, has some excellent advice, including 1) continuing to dress goth but not using the term; 2) making compromises, but saving favorite pieces of goth clothing for when she moves out, and 3) asking her mom which clothes she objects to most, and working around that.

Parents, when your kids try to communicate with you, welcome it, even if it makes you uncomfortable. This is a way to build bridges, to understand each other better, to love more and worry less.

Does this RPG make my kid look fat?

Historically, plenty of parents have forbidden their kids to play role-playing games. The usual reasons included fears that the games might attract kids to the occult — or make them lose touch with reality. One dad, a former RPGer himself, has an entirely different reason:

I hesitate to introduce my kids to role-playing games and the culture that surrounds them. This isn’t because I don’t want my kids to benefit from the creativity and imagination that flourish in role-playing games, but because I have observed that the health and fitness level of RPGers is disproportionately lower than any other peer group with which I have associated (note: I won’t deal at all with Live Action Role Playing because I know almost nothing about that community). This observation has led me to question how much I should be encouraging my kids to engage with a group/culture that places so little emphasis on activity and physical fitness.

He goes on to criticize the “RPG community” as a whole — and the parents introducing their kids to gaming in particular — for not encouraging healthy eating and exercise habits.

Parents who have experience with the kinds of toys, games, and influences their kids might be into have a special advantage in these situations: they know the culture. That can be both good and bad. In this case, the dad knows some of the benefits of gaming (“RPGs can enhance math, creativity, and problem-solving skills. … the integration of play with learning is recognized as one effective tool for teaching.”): Good. He also feels there are some downsides, but doesn’t see any way around them: Bad.

Here’s my take: I think you can go ahead and let your kids discover the world of role-playing games, and you can also encourage them to eat well, exercise every day, and so on. You can do this even if nobody else is doing it. (In fact, if you’re doing it, it might even catch on). He’s worried that the other gamers will lead by example. But he can lead by example, too. There’s certainly no harm in trying.

I know this particular connection (“RPG players tend to be unhealthy”) seems really far afield of the usual concerns parents have about kid hobbies, but it actually seems relevant for two reasons. One, parents are questioning all kinds of sedentary habits — TV, video games, computers — when it comes to their kids’ fitness levels. Two. blaming the games for kids’ poor health doesn’t make any more sense than blaming them for making kids lose touch with reality. They’re separate problems that occasionally travel together, and the perceived downside (poor fitness, psychosis) can be addressed, by parents, separately from the hobby in question. I know that takes more work than forbidding the hobby, but it’s worth it.

Parents: How do you handle it when your kid wants to play, or do, something that worries you? What’s your approach?

Do video games change kids’ behavior?


A mom says her kid gets mean when he can’t play his DS. But is it really the game that’s to blame? Photo by Flickr user GoonSquadSarah.

The press is rife with the message that video games make kids and teens more aggressive. Even though there’s no proof that gaming causes behavioral changes, and there is evidence that video games don’t harm, or even benefit, their players, this idea lingers. Empowering Parents recently conducted a poll, asking parents whether games “affect their child’s behavior.” Sixty-two percent said yes.

The poll quoted one parent, who said:

“My son, who is 9, doesn’t want to stop playing his DS … and when I finally manage to get it out of his hands, he gets mouthy, rude and acts more aggressively towards his brother and little sister. I’m actually considering banning video games from our house.”

I know it’s really challenging when your child is fixated on a particular toy, to the exclusion of family, books, sleep, homework — whatever. You want to do what’s right for them and limit their use of that toy, but kids can be so stubborn. Sometimes asking or setting down limits doesn’t work, and you have to intervene.

But it sounds to me like the problem here isn’t the game, or even the game system. Imagine if someone took your phone away while you were using it, or took a book out of your hands while you were reading it. You might get mouthy and rude, too — you might even get unruly with an innocent bystander, if you felt like the person who took the item out of your hands couldn’t be reasoned with (or yelled at). People who’ve just had their power taken away act out in a variety of ways, including the one this woman is describing in her son.

Kids don’t often feel like they hold much power, and when you do things that take power away from them, they frequently do things to reclaim that feeling of control. It might make more sense to collaborate with your son to develop some reasonable limits on using the DS — ones that he agrees to. Here are some excellent tips on how to approach it. Of course, “no DS at all” can be a consequence if he doesn’t collaborate with you. But don’t blame the game system for his behavior.

Unfortunately, Empowering Parents isn’t revealing many of the details of this poll. They aren’t sharing what questions they asked, or providing much description of the answers. They also made a very strange leap from “62% of respondents said that playing video games affects their child’s behavior” to “numerous studies suggest that virtual violence in these games may make kids more aggressive in real life.” (There’s a big difference between “affects behavior” and “makes kids violent,” folks.) Nevermind that their example quote mentions the DS — whose games feature cartoon violence at best.

Parents, have you noticed whether gaming affects your kid’s behavior in any way? If there’s a change, is it a good or a bad one? How long does it last? What have you done, if anything, to set limits on your kid’s video-game time or game choices? If you’ve done that, has it changed anything?

Now taking your questions!

When I started Backward Messages, it was with the goal of debunking misconceptions about the most controversial teen media. But I also planned to take questions and offer advice to parents who are concerned about their kids’ media or spiritual interests.

Starting now, I’m taking questions. If you’re worried about your kids’ taste in music, video games, spirituality, or other media influences, or you just want more context for what they’re exploring and why, send inquiries to me at backwardmessages AT gmail DOT com.