Parents respond to violent video games ruling

Will playing Grand Theft Auto make kids into real car thieves? Parents, mostly, say no. Photo by Flickr user Szili.

Last week, the United States Supreme Court ruled that the sale of violent video games can’t be restricted — even to minors. The Internet has been awash in responses since the ruling, and parents have been among the loudest voices in the room. Since this blog is so often written with parents in mind, I thought it would be good to check in with other parents and see what they’re saying about the decision.

WFMY News in North Carolina interviewed one mom who has been letting her son play Grand Theft Auto — under close supervision. She says, while the game is indeed gory, it doesn’t make him more aggressive. In fact, she notices the opposite:

She instead explained that allowing her son to play these type of games acts as a stress reliever. “I think sometimes it takes out some of the aggressions because he can come in here and play it when he’s pissed and not take it out on anybody around,” expressed Hicks.

On the flip side, NewsOne ran a piece by mom Tamika Mallory saying the ruling “makes parents’ jobs harder.” As a working mom, she says she doesn’t have the time to supervise her kids the way Hicks does:

While we may restrict gruesome video games in our homes, who will protect the kids when they set foot into the outside world? Knowing that my son wasn’t running around in the streets, I took comfort in the notion that video games at least provided an alternative, safe form of recreation for young people. But what are we teaching them if these games are inundated with nothing but guns, shooting and graphic violence? How different is that from what’s tragically out on the streets? And what kind of subliminal impact are we having on these kids if we flood them with these messages?

On that point, Mallory seems to be in the minority. InForum, a news Website in Fargo, North Dakota, found that “903 of 1,079 participants in The Forum’s online poll, nearly 84 percent, favor placing the responsibility of managing children’s’ access to video games with parents, while 10 percent said it was the business owner/gaming industry’s role. About 5 percent believe the government should be responsible.”

Another poll, conducted by Rasmussen Reports, also found that “parents are more responsible than the government — 79 percent to 4 percent — for limiting the amount of sex and violence children are exposed to in video games.”

And yet, their respondents paradoxically said government should be involved: “67 percent … said states should be able to prohibit sale of violent video games to children … 28 percent of U.S. adults said states should be barred from enacting prohibitions of sales and rentals of such games to minors.”

The differences in these polls undoubtedly relate to the questions that were asked, as well as the folks who answered.

Gabrielle Cullen, a mom in San Rafael, Calif., offered a balanced look at the ruling, but ultimately agreed that the responsibility rests with the parents:

It seems that gaming does have some adverse effects but can be easily contained and/or offset by conscious parenting. Violent video games will NOT turn your child into a cold-blooded killer and trying to prevent a child from buying a video game isn’t going to create more involved parents. It is similar to any aspect of raising a family, be aware of what’s going on in your house, attempt to engage in interesting conversation and simply limit the amount of time spent in front of the TV, computer, etc.

At the opposite end of the state, parents in Altadena chimed in on a similar discussion of gaming among teens and how parents should be involved. The comments include this one from a 15-year-old gamer who said even some of the most gruesome games can have positive messages, and that kids are paying attention to those messages:

For example, Metal Gear Solid, a popular shooting game, is all about how terrible and unnecessary war is. Grand Theft Auto 4 (the game where you can kill prostitutes) even has a good moral message. The main character spends the whole game searching for a man to get revenge. At the end, when the player finds this person, the game shows that revenge does not solve anything. In fact, almost games try to communicate messages such as these, and this law would put those views out of reach of minors.

Troy Wolverton, a parent and columnist for the San Jose Mercury News, said he felt conflicted about the Supreme Court’s ruling. On the one hand, he supports freedom of speech. On the other, he worries how these games might affect teen players.

[California’s] law didn’t attempt to outlaw violent games or prevent adults from accessing them, which would have been clearly unconstitutional. It didn't even attempt to prevent children from playing them. It merely said that kids ought to have an adult's permission before they can buy or rent one. As a parent, I find that reasonable.

Unfortunately, for parents who do choose to be involved with their kids’ gaming habits — as many parents and others agree is the best course of action — there’s always someone out there telling them that’s not such a great idea, either. For example, British parenting coach Sue Atkins quotes author Reg Bailey, who has published a new book called Letting Children Be Children.:

“One father said it was OK that he played Grand Theft Auto with his 13-year-old son because it helped them bond together.” He added that there “must be easier ways of bonding” with a child than playing a game that allowed “gangsters to run over prostitutes”.

“That doesn’t seem to be a very healthy balance in a relationship between father and son.”

Parenting is not an easy job. Each parent must determine what’s best for his or her own kids. We do the best we can to keep an eye on their activities, and to make decisions or set limits when necessary. Ultimately, the government decided to butt out of this one. What goes on between informed, involved parents and their kids shouldn’t be anyone else’s business.

Parents, what’s your take on the ruling? Are you happy to have the decision left up to you, or are you angry that you don’t have that extra layer of protection?


6 responses to “Parents respond to violent video games ruling

  1. The California law was a clear violation of the first amemdment. The video game industry does a better job than any other industry, including alcohol and tobacco, of abiding by the rules they set forth for the distribution of products to mi…nors. A study was done that found that over 80% of minors who tried to buy M rated games without parents were denied. Even Judge Scallia, who is one of the most conservative judges on the Court, said that the law seemed to be written by people who just didn’t like video games and that there was no evidence to suggest that violent video games were hamful to children.

    • I’m still not entirely certain why some people want to believe that these games are harmful. Certainly kids enjoy fiction with violent content, and they’re drawn to it. Or maybe we just want to preserve our notion that kids are somehow “innocent.”

  2. This is a choice I feel comfortable leaving in the hands of parents. But then I feel strongly about the first amendment in most cases, and becoming a parent hasn’t changed that yet. Also, while I can’t claim to be a practicing psychologist, I studied enough psych to know the evidence for any influence by violent media on behavior is pretty mixed.

    • Yeah, I just don’t know why some folks are so convinced that these games are dangerous or harmful for kids. Nobody has yet proven that these games produce actual aggression outside a lab setting, or for a prolonged period of time. It seems that if games were having that effect, we’d know it by now.

  3. Hi, actually there are a ton of studies showing increases in aggression after exposure to violent video games going back over 25 years. Most child development researchers (like myself) are generally in consensus on this issue, although there is definitely some controversy and mixed opinion on some factors (e.g. what truly constitutes violent content, how photo-realistic it has to be vs. cartoonish violence, the differential effects based on gender and age of exposure, etc. The methodologies HAVE included real world observations (e.g. school playgrounds) as well as longitudinal, true experimental designs (random assignment, control groups) that have shown effects even 30 months out from the point of exposure. I am a First Ammendment advocate as well, and in general, I prefer that gov stay out of most parenting decisions, but that doesn’t mean we can discount what the research shows. Children are considered a protected class and there are many instances when we allow gov regulations at the State and Federal levels to intervene in how we raise our kids, from what they can watch (I haven’t heard anyone making the same arguments as above when it comes to sexually explicit content) or how they ride in cars, or even when they have to be monitored. The issue comes down to what level of potential harm we are willing to expose our children to in the name of both personal freedom and constitutional rights. I suppose the calculation is if the harm is minimal, then I think rights trump caution, if the harms are significant, then child welfare trumps rights. That is a complicated decision and as a father of two young sons who have already started to show interest in such games, a difficult one I struggle with all of the time.

    • I appreciate this comment very, very much. Yes, it’s true that studies show a correlation between playing violent video games and aggressive behavior in a laboratory/experimental setting, they don’t show that the gaming caused the aggressive behavior, and they don’t show that violent gaming leads to real-world aggression and violence. At least one analysis I’ve seen said that giving test subjects permission to be aggressive also tends to be correlated with increases in short-term aggression. So far, gaming has not been isolated as the causative factor for this behavior. I would love to see any studies you have that show otherwise.

      You mention our restrictions on sexually explicit content for minors. In Europe, kids are exposed to sexually explicit material but violent material is restricted. Kids there aren’t necessarily having more sex than kids here (and I’m certain the rate of teen pregnancy in the United States is higher). America has different values about what kids should and shouldn’t see, but when you get down to it, much of this “protection” involves providing kids with fiction that is more sanitized than their day-to-day lives. What is the point of keeping kids from seeing sexual scenes when girls are talking about blowjobs in locker rooms at age 13? What is the point of keeping kids from playing GTA when they have lost classmates to gun violence?

      Whatever “harm” comes from explicit fiction — and I don’t agree there is any — is strongly mitigated by parental involvement. That’s what’s most important, in the end.

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