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Jonathan's Answers to Tough Questions

QUESTION:

I'd love to hear your thoughts on first person shooter video games.

My 14 year old son says everyone in his discipleship group plays them and even his d-group leaders talk positively about Black Ops and other M-rated games that they play... even during d-group sessions.

When I was 14 my parents took away my beer t-shirt and my Cheech and Chong album with pot stashed in the car door, and looking back, I'm glad they did.

But my son had a fit when I took away his Teen rated Goldeneye 007 first person shooter Wii game. I couldn't believe it was rated T. Lots of research links violent video games to more aggressive behavior in teens. But more importantly than that, I look at verses like Psalm 11:5, Matt. 5:21, Gal. 5:22-23, and Phil. 4:8, and I can clearly see that playing a "game" for 12 hours a day during summer vacation where you are endlessly seeking to shoot people in the head is not what brings about a life of love, joy, and peace.

I'd love to hear your thoughts about this! Thanks so much for all the help you give to us as parents out here.

John Pearson

ANSWER:

John,

As for your question about video games--good question... and a common one.

We live in a "gaming" world now and parents are now faced with the responsibility of teaching our kids discernment about what games to play and what to avoid.

Let me first say, opinions on this subject will vary greatly. That's why our new video game review page on www.TheSource4Parents.com will actually never say "let your kids play this" or "don't let your kids play this one." We're just going to tell you the facts: a brief description, and then blurbs about "what parents should know about..." violence, language, sexual content, and spiritual content. Then the parent can make an informed decision.

We talk a little about the game industry in one of our recent Youth Culture Window articles, The Dominance of Video Games, giving parents specific advice on making informed decisions about purchasing video games and talking with our kids about making good media decisions.

As for me personally, it's been a journey with my son. When he was younger, we stuck to Mario and Donkey Kong. But as he got into junior high, his desire for some of the shooting games like "Call of Duty" and "Halo" became more intense because all his friends played those games. Don't get me wrong, I don't think we should give in to our kids every desire. If my son's friends all watched the Hangover movies, it doesn't mean that we should consider letting him watch it just because "everyone else is." But there are certain times in our journey as a parent where we'll need to address certain desires more than others. When my son was in junior high, he didn't give a care about girls, but he longed to play first person shooter games!

To make matters more difficult, his junior high youth pastor played Halo with all the junior high boys at "Halo Night" events. I'm not saying that is a bad thing-- but that did make my job as a parent more difficult because now, if I said, "Sorry Alec, you aren't going to play this game." ...then I was really going to be the bad guy! After all, everyone, including his youth pastor, was playing this one!

So I did a little research on the subject. Here's how I suggest parents research video games:

  1. Start by looking at the rating. If it is rating M for nudity and sexual situations... then I think your decision is made. "Nope. Sorry son. Some day you're going to love looking at your wife naked. So let's respect her right now, whoever she is, by not looking at a bunch of other naked women." If the game is rated M for violence, then you might want to check into it more. Is it one of the Grand Theft Auto games where you walk around like a hoodlum shooting people for fun and beating prostitutes with baseball bats after having sex with them? I think that's an easy, "No."

    But what about a "Call of Duty" game where you are an American soldier going onto foreign soil and fighting the enemy? Are you, as a parent, going to say, "Sorry son, that's bad!" (What about your uncle Larry who's a soldier in Afghanistan right now. Is he bad?") Some might argue, "Well, that's not just a game. That's real life. We shouldn't be playing games that deal with these real life issues." Hmmmmmmm.

    This might require a little more research. So I recommend step two.

  2. Ask someone else who's played the game. If you don't know any teenagers who are gamers, then just walk into your local GAME STOP store and find the youngest looking nerdy 20-year-old and ask them about the game. I'm sure they'll tell you more than you want to know. Ask them honestly about the violent content. Ask them specifics. Maybe even...

  3. Play the game. That's right... if your son or daughter wants to play the game, why not give it a test run. Demo the game and look for yourself. Or better yet, ask that nerd at GAME STOP to pop it in and show it to you. Ask him, "Show me the most violent part of this game." If you're uncomfortable with what you see. You're done.

    I did one more step.

  4. Research the effect of games on our kids. Lucky for you, We've done a lot of this research for you. You'll find plenty of links in the articles I already linked above. Here's a few more:

    VIDEO GAMES AND THE DEPRESSED TEENAGER - this article from The NewYork Times blog talks about some recent studies, including a good one from The Journal of Pediatrics. But read carefully. This article compares "heavy gamers" (over 4 hours a day) compared to other gamers. Much of what I read between the lines from this article was to set "gaming limits" and look for signs of impulsive behaviors. (Although... when are teenagers not impulsive?)

    VIOLENT GAMES CAN HINDER DEVELOPMENT OF EMPATHY IN CHILDREN - This short little article was fascinating. This statement in the article pretty well wrapped it up for me: "Certainly not every child who continues to play violent video games is going to go out and perpetrate a violent act, but the research suggests that children — particularly boys — who are frequently exposed to these violent games are absorbing a sanitized message of 'no consequences for violence' from this play behavior." They go on to say, "The concern arises when children are taking in this message and there is a convergence of other negative environmental factors at the same time, such as poor parental communication and unhealthy peer relationships." Two factors stand out to me after reading this article. 1. "frequently exposed to violent video games." Again... parents really need to establish media guidelines that include limits on gaming time. 2. We need to make sure and not become one of those families with "poor parental communication."

    PARENTING MEDIA SATURATED KIDS - This is a video where I talk about the large amount of time kids spend each day saturating entertainment media. Then I go through a report from the official journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics about the effects of media on our kids. This report gives some great advice to parents about setting guidelines such as not allowing TVs in bedrooms and limiting all media to less than 2 hours a day (a considerable drop from the norm). But if you watch this whole series of video clips, I go further than just secular research, I look at what the Bible says about "making disciples" of our kids. The Bible doesn't talk much about video games... but it does talk about teaching our kids the truth.

    When I looked over research like this, I didn't allow a lot of violent video games in my house. This was not a "popular" decision to make. I heard a lot of, "But Dad, everyone else I know plays this!" I stood my ground.

Being completely candid, when Alec got into 8th grade, I did let him start playing Halo. To me, that game was like Space Invaders with really good graphics. I liked the fact that they were shooting aliens instead of people. I used the opportunity to play it with my son every once in a while- probably not as often as I should (It didn't help that I STINK at these new games. Give me an Atari joystick and I'll show you a thing or two!!!) Not all parents will agree with that decision, and that's okay. Just make sure that you take the time and do the research to make your own informed decision.

As Alec got into high school I let him have more slack. I'd let him start using discernment to present to me what games he thought were appropriate, using Biblical standards. I still didn't allow a lot, but I eventually allowed some of the Call of Duty games and others. This process has been a segue from "very hands on" to "very little control" teaching him lasting values (I talk about this a lot in my book, Candid Confessions of an Imperfect Parent). Now he's 18 and on his own... playing whatever he wants! It's up to him now. Hopefully I gave him a few tools to make Godly, Biblical media decisions.

I hope this is a small help to you, not only as a parent, but as a teacher. Keep on teaching the truth!

God Bless,

Jonathan McKee
www.TheSource4YM.com


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