In the Ghetto
June 24, 2006

For regular watchers of The Daily Show with Jon Stewart, you know where I got today's title and subject matter. (Meanwhile, check out the Player Haters video from The Daily Show link ... it'll get your blood a-boiling.)

Video games, apparently, are something the U.S. Congress does not comprehend. I suppose this must be much like once books were commonly available. All them old folks simply don't get this new-fangled dissemination of ideas, concepts and freedom of thought. Especially not when those li'l whippersnappers get hold a them idears.

Nothing, and I mean NOTHING, riles me faster than "adults" dodging responsibility. I will attempt to curb my language in this post, but I make no promises. There may very well be strong language which reflects my intensely strong feelings on this issue.

I don't care if we're talking about Dungeons & Dragons, the swimming hole at the quarry, the Hardy Boys books, My Little Pony, cartoons, video games or the freaking rocks in the "empty" field. Kids find stuff to get into that we wish they didn't do. The fact of the matter is, they are tiresomely independent and creative in finding ways to amuse themselves that we attempt to keep from them.

Now, the catch-22 is that we can watch almost their every move if we are willing to give up a two parent career/jobs ... providing you're not a single parent already. Of course, giving up two incomes probably means you can't give your children all the opportunities you'd like to give them. For some families, that might be food and clothing. For others it might be a junker to re-build together. Your mileage, of course, may vary. There will still be times that we can't be with our kids, but we can at least hover over them most of the time. (Providing they don't sneak out of this smothering closeness at night. Of course, I suppose you could put an alarm system on the kid's room and get around that, too.) But you can utterly stifle them and watch them most of the time.

Or, you can raise them as best you can, talk with them, instill your values in them, and then do the hardest thing in the world for any good parent: trust them enough to let them make their own choices (within certain parameters, of course).

Then again, the third option is to ignore the crap outa them and let everyone else raise them haphazardly, as they see fit. Sadly, this seems to be the preferred method for far too many American families.

But what got me on this topic to begin with? Let's listen to a minute long MP3 clip from "Player Haters" on The Daily Show.
The U.S. House of Representatives apparently feels the need to discuss video games and their violent tendencies more than say, violence in Iraq. Because they can do something about video game violence. In this clip, they are discussing, of course, Grand Theft Auto.
(PC IE users, you may need to download and play from your favourite MP3 application, FireFox users should be able to hear this play in browser.)
Player Haters Clip (Opens in new window so you can read this post and listen at the same time :) .)

"It's safe to say that a wealthy kid from suburbs can play Grand Theft Auto or similar games without turning to a life of crime. But a poor kid who lives in a neighborhood where people really do steal cars or deal drugs or shoot cops, might not be so fortunate."


Let's dissect this, shall we?

A wealthy kid ... a poor kid ... the poor kid "might not be so fortunate." Gee, ya think? And only people in poor neighborhoods steal cars, deal drugs and shoot cops? C'mon here! Could this dude spurt more stereotypes?

"There's almost certainly a child somewhere in America who's going to be hurt by this game. Maybe his dad's in jail or his big brother's already down on the corner dealing drugs."

All right, now wait a minute here. I mean, Jon Stewart nails one of the issues by pointing out that the "Columbine boys" were NOT poor little inner city "chilluns." But there's so much more here. Where's the personal responsibility of the parents? Oh wait, I forgot. We're assuming all these "unfortunates" have a dad already in jail, mom is presumably working or waiting in the welfare line and big brother is selling drugs on the street corner. (Double meaning to the last is intentional.) Second, boy, dad and brother. Wait a minute. Mr. Joseph Pitts ("Mmmm, unfortunate name.") from Pennsylvania seems to think that the females are not going to be affected by the game ... or that it might be Mom in jail instead of Dad.

Leaving the issue of male/female aside - this was, after all, just a 3 sentence clip - I just gotta say WTF. I mean what the bloody freaking hell?

Now look, I don't want my 5 year old playing Grand Theft Auto. Let's just be clear about that. Nor do I think I really want my 10 year old playing it. At least from what I've heard about it. But let's do a little freaking proactive parenting here, huh? Video games tend to run about $50 while they're brand new. What ten year old has $50 that they can just run over to Target and spend at will? We start getting much older than that, and I suppose by 13 it might be possible. (We're gonna get to the "but what about their friends' homes" whine in just a minute.)

13 year old wants to play a video game. It's marked M for mature. Okay. Kid really wants to play it and "everyone" in his class already owns it. Go down to the local gaming and video store and rent the damn thing. Don't tell Junior, just do it. After he goes to bed at night, play the game. Are you gonna get all the easter eggs? No, not really, but you will have a good idea if you really want your kid playing the damn game or not. Okay, let's say I've got a 13 year old who is utterly car mad and impulsive. Umm, I'm thinking NO to Grand Theft Auto. Pretty emphatically. She argues that she's not gonna "do anything," she just wants to play the game and I'm mean to her.

Tough. Okay, kid, prove to me that you are mature enough to play the game. Let's set some goals and ground rules surrounding the impulsivity issues. If Impulse-child can meet those goals in six months, I'll re-consider.

Now the deal is, this only works if 1) you know your kid and talk to the kid 2) the kid knows that "re-consider" means re-consider and it doesn't mean an automatic hell no. It can't be a delaying tactic just to shut the kid up. 3) it means you have to be willing to do some research and stay involved.

Is any of this easy? Yes and no. It's time consuming, and at the end of the day, many of us are simply too tired and too caught up in our own lives to invest enough into creative parenting. But the fact of the matter is this: kids are far more appreciative of being treated like thinking beings than they are of having the latest stuff. Sure, most of them want both. :) But those kids who are treated like thinking beings will grow to understand why they can't always have the stuff. And they'll learn to cope with that and enjoy their relationship with their parent(s).

The fact of the matter is, Dungeons and Dragons is not evil. Video games are not evil. Rocks in the field are not evil.

Children who are so isolated from right and wrong that a rock war in the field sounds like a stunning idea, never mind that three kids had to have stitches ... that's something to be concerned about.

Suburban ... white suburban boys who are angry at the world and in anger management therapy and yet still have access to guns and terrorize a "nice suburban" school ... that's something to be terrified about.

Is it the parents' fault when their kids do terrible things? That's a very knotty question that depends on the total situation and another post another time. Please understand I am NOT knee-jerk reacting and saying that bad behaviour of children is automatically the fault of the parent for not paying attention.

But when we're talking about things like video games, we have choices. More choices than many of us seem to think.

For example, a good friend of mine at work is very religious. Not in the in-your-face, hey, I'm RELIGIOUS kind of way. He's very quiet about it ... very much tries to live a simple and devout life. Doesn't feel the need to convert everyone around him. We were talking about the Lego Star Wars video game one day. His kids just adored the game and had great fun with it. After all, when you swing the light saber at something, it just breaks into its little Lego blocks. No blood, no gore. Didn't really seem like a violent game. If I remember correctly, the littlest boy is something of a pistol at five or so. What "Jonathan" noticed was that the kids got very wound up after playing the game. He told the kids he was going to take it away for a week after they'd had a particularly rambunctious day. Over the course of that week, they're behaviours calmed down. Once they had the video game again, they went back to Nutsville.

They don't get even that E for Everyone game anymore because with six kids in the house, they simply wound each other up too much. Does that mean the Lego Star Wars video game is bad for all kids? Not at all. In Jonathan's situation it was. Perhaps if the littlest of the kids had been a bit older, they'd have been mature enough to reign in their excitement. Perhaps not. It really depends on the kids and their personalities.

What I'm saying here in this long post which has now taken me two days to write is this:
You have to be willing to observe your kids. You have to be willing to say no. You have to be willing to do the research. You have to be willing to find the time to do all of this.

We don't get it right every time. We can't. We're only human.

But we can't blame a game, or a book or a CD for our children's behaviours. It's so very much more complicated than that.

And back to Mr. Joseph Pitts for a moment. It's absolutely reprehensible to assume that the rich suburban kids will have no problems with the more "dangerous" games like Grand Theft Auto while the poor inner-city youth will automatically succumb to the situation at hand. Absolutely reprehensible. And, to my mind, the fact that this @sshole planned out this statement just makes it all the more reprehensible. He's looking for a scapegoat that will garner him votes. He's looking to soothe busy parents' minds by telling them it's definitely not their fault, they can blame these modern times and gizmos. I find that irresponsible and ridiculous.

Argh. I forgot to get back to the "but what about their friends' houses" whine. Another time, another time.

Posted by Red Monkey at June 24, 2006 6:16 AM | Never Underestimate the Power of Human Stupidity | | StumbleUpon Toolbar Stumble |

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