Parents and online gaming, the debate continues...

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"Video games are the cause of violence in today's youth." Have you heard this statement before? Have you ever heard a similar statement? I get tired of hearing about how video games are the root of all evil in some people's minds. Because let's face it, there are a lot more things in the world that can show a child what a violent place it is. And yet, when people find out that I play video games and write about games, they always feel compelled to tell me their thoughts on the subject. Of course, my day job is working in an elementary school with hundreds of kids, so I get a bit more exposure than most, but whenever I engage in an actual intelligent conversation with someone who tells me that video games cause violence, I usually ask them this question. "What video game did Hitler play as a child?" Or seeing that he was such a global figure, what MMORPG did he play? Oh wait, video games weren't even invented yet. You see one of the downsides of the information age is that every little thing is easily accessible - meaning every bad thing that happens in every small town in the United States can be discovered and made into a big story. For instance, when I was a kid in Montana, there was a horrible, horrible murder that occured to a young woman working the late shift at a gas station. The murder was huge news, but it did not make national headlines. If that same thing were to happen today, given its savagery, it would have been all over the Internet. So what the heck is my point? Well, my point is that no matter the size of our population, there will always be a percentage that has improper wiring in the brain. I know, a technical term for a psychological afflicition, but it fits. Add to this the fact there has never been more people on the planet and it is a very information-savvy population. 'So how does this apply to me?' you may be asking. Well, if you are concerned about the effect a video game may have on your child, the first thing you should do is, sit down and play with your kid. The games your child may be playing may not be all that bad. Give my son a Super Mario game and the Wii, and he is golden. If the games your child wants to play are more violent, then talk about it with your kid. The Halo series is rated M, but after discussing the game with my son at length and agreeing that aliens aren't going to come down and invade us, he could convey to me that the game was a work of fiction (not his words) and that it really would be bad to run around shooting things. We talk alot. And I am certainly not the first to come up with this novel idea, but communication is key when dealing with your kids. Talk to them like they aren't idiots and you may be surprised at how open they get. Now, this being said, I have told my sons that there are some games they simply cannot play. Games that have excessive bad language or sexual-type things that I don't think they need to see will be explained and so far I have not had any problems. Games like Grand Theft Auto 4 are not meant for any child under 16 as far as I am concerned; my kids know my stance and because I can honestly speak with them about it, they are happy to back away from playing it. And then there is the matter of online playing with other people. Again, playing with your kid (or against if he wants to duel) while online is also paramount if you want to get your child on your side. No, I am not a professional counselor (nor do I want to be) but you can be involved in your child's online gaming experience by playing with them. In talking about foul language, my son has a Xbox gold account and he knows to leave a game if the language is not appropriate or if the other players are talking about things that are not safe; add to this the fact that I constantly am checking his friends online and will listen in when he is playing. What's better is my son doesn't even question me when I do it because I do it so often. But what I don't think needs to be done is to use the knee-jerk reaction of not allowing your child to play online. I say this because as gaming continues to evolve, it will only become more and more interactive with other "real" people. Knowing how to properly identify and avoid the trolls that operate in the online world is no different than knowing how to avoid those people in the real world who are unpleasant to us. Whether it is the school yard bully or BIGFATMEANIE228 on the PlayStation network, children have to know how to deal with life's jerks. Parents can help navigate this by being a comforting ally instead of a quick-to-act disciplinarian who will take away a child's enjoyment because they fully don't understand.
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Michael David Been gaming for a long, long time. In fact I have saved the world/universe/princess hundreds of times. I have a couple of sons and am married to a wonderful woman who puts up with my shenanigans. You can hit me on my email and if you are lucky, I may respond if I am not coaching soccer, baseball or track.
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