Parents need to sit down and play their kids’ video games if they want to protect them, says Arlene Harris
For most modern parents, the amount of time their children spend in front of a screen is a touchy subject. Some can’t bear the sight of tired and cranky young people holed up in a darkened room staring at a computer whilst others believe the world is a dangerous place so at least if their kids are at home, they are safe from all harm.
But while a recent combined report from the Universities Gothenburg and Karlstad in Sweden claimed youngsters actually benefit from multiplayer online role-playing games because they help boost language skills and vocabulary, other reports have shown children as young as six are spending hours glued to unsuitable games.
A survey conducted by YouGov in Britain revealed that 52% of parents with children aged six to 17 say their child has played video games when they are below the age limit. They also revealed that one-in-four parents notice a negative change in behaviour after their children played the games.
Amazingly, one parent who had concerns about the impact of technology on the development of children was Apple’s Steve Jobs, universally hailed as one of the great technology gurus. US journalist, Nick Bilton revealed how in 2010, the year before the Apple boss died, he nonchantedly asked Jobs if his children loved the iPad.
“They haven’t used it,” Jobs responded. “We limit how much technology our kids use at home”. Bilton said he didn’t respond as he was so stunned.
Leona O’Callaghan is married to Jim and has three children – Dylan (14), Jesslynn (9) and Daire (6). Living in Limerick, she runs her own company called kidsplaybus.ie which facilitates children in doing what, she says, they are best at – playing games and using their imagination.
She believes many children feel pressurised because their peers are allowed to play games which are aimed at older young people. “I would be fairly strict with both the amount of time we leave the kids play games and what types of games they play,” she says. “I have huge issues with games full of violence and sex. I had a big backlash only last year because my then 13-year-old wanted a very popular violent game which has an 18 age restriction – yet most of his friends had it.
“Kids are sponges and teenagers are impressionable so if they spend hours surrounded with and even being rewarded for violence, then it becomes the norm. It’s scary to think they get points for killing people.”
Leona researched the game her 13-year-old wanted and discovered he could ‘visit’ strip clubs for a lap-dance and witness to rape, stabbing and hard-core violence.
“I’m so lucky I looked into this game because surrounding my children with violence does not coincide with my hopes of raising loving, caring and gentle people,” she says. Also these games connect to Wi-Fi and players can speak to each other, which worries me because there are many weirdos in our world and through online games are getting access to our kids.
“Children need to learn how to live in the real world. And as the games are addictive they often don’t know how to have a good time independently as they constantly crave time in their gaming world– I find that really sad.”
Child psychologist, David Carey agrees and says parents should pay more attention to the age-rating on computer games and DVDs and also should make a judgement appropriate to their individual child.
“As a general rule the age ratings attached to films, video and other games are useful guidelines and parents should follow them,” he says.
“They also should take time to seek out reviews and information about these games which are readily available on the internet. The more knowledge you have about the game the better you are able to judge whether or not it is appropriate for your child.
“But as with most things, there is some room for manoeuvre and parents should be mindful of the developmental level of their child,” he says.
While there is no tangible proof violent games encourage violence in children, the psychologist encourages parents to ask themselves whether or not this is something which should be encouraged.
“Common sense should dictate how parents act in these matters. The question to all parents is simple: ‘Do you want your children to watch or play violent games?’”
The Dublin-based expert says parents often come up against resistance from children who say their friends are all allowed to play certain games but instead of giving in, they should remain firm and be mindful of what their youngest children are watching.
“It is common that the more children you have the more relaxed you may become about parenting,” he says.” But guidelines about viewing and playing games should be followed for all the children in the family. There will always be problems with children of different ages but as a rule I would suggest older children play older age-rated games when the younger children are away from the screen.
“On the same note, there is no reason to negotiate with children who say that their friends are playing a game you do not want them to play. This is irrelevant. Ignore them, stay firm and recognise that it is their job to try and talk you out of it.”
Laura Haugh of online parenting community mummypages.ie says because most parents don’t actually play video games with their children, they have no idea of the content.
“Many of our Mums are unfamiliar with video gaming as very few get involved with their children when they are playing so are often unaware of the graphic content and age restriction,” she says.
“Many feel that in order to effectively protect their children parents need to be more proactive in previewing games, respecting age restrictions and purchasing only those that are suitable.” she added.
MOST POPULAR VIOLENT GAMES
Grand Theft Auto:
In the GTA universe, players choose different missions and earn points by destroying parked vehicles, stealing cars, dealing drugs and killing people. Players can also be seen having sex with prostitutes and then killing them afterwards.
Call of Duty:
This extremely violent military game (below) involves killing with realistic weapons and a lot of blood and gore.
God of War:
Players use a variety of weapons to violently kill and destroy their enemies. It also has an abundance of sexual themes.
Gears of War:
Using a wide selection of weapons, including chainsaws, players will annihilate their enemy and earn rewards for ‘creative’ killings.
Plenty of extreme violence coupled with blood and guts in this game with players able to feast on sights such as their enemy’s head being sliced off and its contents sliding slowly to the floor.
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