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Do You Know What Video Games Your Children Are Playing?

By Pamela Eakes
Mothers Against Violence in America

 

It's a tireless task parents have keeping their kids safe. Graphic TV programs, sexually explicit magazines and alcohol all must be kept out of reach. Unfortunately, parents must add another pop culture challenge to their list: video games. A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) shows that more than 90 percent of parents don't monitor ratings on the video games played by their kids. Many are unaware that a ratings system for video games even exists, and children probably know more about the rating system than their parents do. Worse yet, parents may not know that the content of certain games could affect the social and emotional development of their child, and may even be hazardous to children's health.

Unfortunately, parents must add another pop culture challenge to their list: video games. A recent study by the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) shows that more than 90 percent of parents don't monitor ratings on the video games played by their kids. Many are unaware that a ratings system for video games even exists, and children probably know more about the rating system than their parents do. Worse yet, parents may not know that the content of certain games could affect the social and emotional development of their child, and may even be hazardous to children's health.

Violence is the most prevalent health risk for children and adolescents. Homicide, suicide and accidents are the top causes of death for 15- to 24-year-olds. Each year, more than 150,000 adolescents are arrested for violent crimes; more than 300,000 are seriously assaulted; and 3,500 are murdered. Violence done to and by America's young people is a public health emergency that must be addressed by parents, physicians and policymakers.

More than 3,500 research studies have examined the association between media violence and violent behavior. All but 18 of the studies have shown that the more violence one sees, the more likely one is to be violent. According to the AAP, depictions of violence that are realistic, portrayed without pain and suffering, and experienced in the context of good feelings are more likely to be emulated.

On April 20, 1999, two heavily armed adolescent boys walked into Columbine High School in Littleton, Colorado and shot 12 of their classmates and a teacher to death. Then they killed themselves. When authorities investigated, they discovered that the boys had played thousands of hours of a "first-person shooter" video game that had been modified to occur in a layout identical to that of their high school, with yearbook pictures electronically pasted onto the game's imaginary victims. What led these boys to deliberately kill their fellow students is complicated and no single reason has been identified as the cause.

One of the questions parents asked after the Columbine shooting was: "How could it be that the parents did not know their children were playing such heinous video games?" The answer is that parents are not familiar with video games because they don't play them.

Parents don't know that video games that have a mature rating may contain content that is entirely inappropriate for children under the age of 17. They don't know that a child playing an M-rated game can actively participate in the simulated murder of police officers, women, minorities and innocent bystanders. These acts are graphically depicted and include victims being shot, beaten to death, decapitated, burned alive and urinated on. These games may also present favorable depictions of prostitution, racism, misogyny and drug use.

Parents do know that children learn by observing, imitating what they observe, and acting on the world around them. According to child psychologist Michael Rich, children develop what psychologists call "behavioral scripts." They interpret their experiences and respond to others using those scripts.

One can easily see how repeated exposure to violent behavioral scripts can lead to increased feelings of hostility, expectation that others will behave aggressively, desensitization to the pain of others, and an increased likelihood of interacting and responding to others with violence.

Violent video games are an ideal environment in which to learn violence. Violent video games:

  • place the player in the role of the aggressor and reward him or her for violent behavior.
  • allow the player to rehearse an entire behavioral script from provocation to choosing a violent resolution of conflict.
  • are addictive — kids want to play them for hours to improve their playing skills, and repetition increases learning.

Parents already know they must be aware of the television and movies their children watch. Now they must be aware of the content of the video games their children play at home and in the homes of their friends.

To educate parents and guardians about the content of video games, Mothers Against Violence in America invites parents to join the Campaign for a Game Smart Community and learn about the content and rating system. There are hundreds of video games available; selecting the right game for your child is very important.

Become a Game Smart Parent at www.gamesmart.org.


Pamela Eakes is the founder Mothers Against Violence in America.