Absolutely not! That was our response when our teenage boys asked us if they could buy the new Grand Theft Auto 5. Having just heard a recap of the degree of violence in this game and the fact that it sold hundreds of thousands of copies on its first day, we wanted to make a point that enough is enough. Granted, we have pretty good teenagers who play sports, do well in school and rarely get in trouble and have played games that have violence in them, but this time it was different. It is not that I thought our boys would suddenly become violent, but rather that they, like so many others, might develop a level of disrespect that games like GTA5 promotes. The ambivalence towards violence that these games emulate is not something I want for our children to adopt.
I looked through the data on this topic, pushed by my inquisitive teens attempt to argue their point, and needed data to back up my arguments. What I found, or rather the paucity of data, surprised me a bit. The data does not suggest an association between playing a ‘reasonable’ amount of violent video games and an increase in a typical teen’s violent behavior. Point 1 goes to my teens. Although it is beyond me why these violent games are so popular, I guess it is the same human nature that causes us to turn towards rather than away from an accident scene, or the success of violent action movies.
My next argument was that teens with a degree of emotional instability or true mental illness, or those without the same moral and social clues to determine right from wrong, would be particularly vulnerable to the influence of violent video games. Once again, although there was some data to support this idea the data was much less solid than I expected and was mixed. Some even suggested that in a controlled and otherwise supportive environment it could be a safe release for some. Point 2, a tie with my teens who, by the way, insist they have healthy mental states (need I remind you that they are teens and full of hormones).
My third point, and likely the most relevant, was the effect of playing these games such as GTA5 on our teens perception of and acceptance of violence. These games often minimize the severity of, and even glorify, rape, murder, carjacking etc. Could playing these games influence the way teens talk and the language they use, as we see them with the popular music they listen to? Could it affect the way they view their peers, parents, teachers, strangers, and those of the opposite sex? Well, in this area there is even less data to support this idea, although it makes sense. On the other hand, teens who are brought up well, have involved parents and families who set good examples, and are supported and social are likely well-grounded and can distinguish fantasy from reality. However, one has to wonder if the prevalence in our society of drugs, rape, violence in schools and workplace has been influenced by the permissibility and constant exposure to this in music, television shows, movies and yes, video games.
Now I am not letting parents off the hook nor telling them what to do with their own children, but we can counter the effect of mainstream influences by talking to our children’s, setting good examples, and setting limits. It is okay to be your child’s friend but remember you are their parent first and foremost. You would be surprised at the respect you get back when you do put your foot down sometimes and tell them ‘no’. Of course, that usually occurs a little after the stomping off and slamming their door, but it happens and they still love you.
So what did we as parents do in regards to GTA5 with our teens? Well, despite a lack of data to ‘win’ our argument with our teens, we are after all the parents and do not need to always prove our point. We decided that this game was inappropriate and we did not want to contribute further to this multi-billion dollar industry. All of us are disgusted and disturbed by the increase in violent events in our society, and we need to take a stand and send a message no matter how small. We did not purchase GTA5 and they are not allowed to play it.