Melissa Arca: Violence in video games a huge concern

01/17/2013 12:00 AM

01/16/2013 12:07 PM

Angry Birds, Snoopy's Street Fair, Fruit Ninja or Minecraft?

What's your child's video game or app of choice?

Like most parents these days, you probably devote significant time to deciphering and determining whether a certain game or app is appropriate for your child.

It can be enough to make any parent want to turn back time. Back to the days of Pong and Ms. Pac-Man. But here we are in this technology-driven world, for better or for worse, and we absolutely have an obligation as parents to moderate and screen what media our children consume.

It's not just about SpongeBob Squarepants vs. Caillou anymore.

Take the increasingly popular and disturbingly realistic violent video games entering the homes of many children these days. Though these games are rated M for ages 17 and older, many preteens spend hours on end in this violent virtual world.

And though many parents admit feeling uneasy letting their kids play such games, they wind up caving when they realize many of their peers already do it. But it's a slippery slope, one I definitely caution parents against.

Most of what I hear goes something like these statements: "How is it so different from the games we used to play?" "It is just a game, after all." "My child knows it's make-believe." "My son is such a good kid; he just enjoys playing that game."

The problem with all of these rationalizations is that the type of media consumed by our children does matter. The graphic and interactive nature of today's video game culture sets them a world apart from those of our own childhood. Too much of it can negatively affect how our children view and behave in the real world.

And while there are conflicting studies on both sides of the equation as to whether repetitive use of violent video games promotes aggression, the common sense bottom line for me comes down to three important things. I would not feel good letting my child engage in that type of realistic violent play; I don't see any redeeming value in it; and last, but certainly not least, the doctor mom in me is shouting, "Follow your instinct and do no harm."

Of course it's not all that simple. Nothing ever is. Behavior, aggression and cognitive functions are influenced by myriad social, economic, genetic, and environmental factors. But with these violent video games you have something you don't like your kid doing, it has no redeeming value, and it could potentially negatively affect their behavior. Why would you even give it a second thought?

I know it can be a draining and uphill battle, particularly if your child feels he's "the only one" not allowed to play such games. We all have an increasingly difficult job as parents to filter and moderate our kids' media consumption.

I find myself reminding my children daily that their time on Minecraft or Poptropica is up. Yeah, there are groans and grumbles, and it leaves me longing for the simpler days (just last year) when our greatest media concern was whether to let our 6-year-old watch SpongeBob. The reality is that, as our kids age, the stakes get even higher and the protests perhaps a bit louder.

But that sure doesn't mean I'm going to stop trying.

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