Raising Our Kids is Not a Game

By Jason Menard

While some parents are hailing the decision of the Retail Council of Canada to voluntarily restrict the access of certain video games to children, I have to wonder if this is truly a step forward in protecting our youth – or whether it’s just another case of parents abdicating their responsibility to someone else.

Once again, instead of taking the active role in child-rearing, we’re looking to external bodies to regulate our environment. To take the choice out of our hands, and to protect us from ourselves. The problem is, it won’t work. By making these games harder to get, all we have done is made them more appealing to kids.

My generation was one that grew up with video games. Whereas it’s unthinkable that many of my parents’ peers would be caught with a controller in their hands (my mother, addicted to Pac Man as she is, is a notable exception), I’m hard-pressed to find anyone in my early-30s circle of friends that don’t own at least one video game system. They are as ubiquitous as DVD players and TVs.

And, as my generation raises their children, we are exposing them to video games. The key for us is to do so responsibly and to do that we need to be active parents. No ratings or restrictions are going to change that.

As parents, my wife and I have chosen to restrict the types of games that our 10-year-old son is allowed to play. The reality is that there are plenty of games with content that some people would find unsavoury. We’ve rented games filled with strong language, violence, sexual themes, gore, and any number of illegal activities. The key thing is that we don’t play them when he’s around. Nor do we allow him to play them – and we explain to him why. There are plenty of video games out in this world and there are more than enough for him to enjoy without subjecting him to adult-themed games.

But we’ve decided to set these rules. In the same way that we guide what movies he watches, what TV shows he’s exposed to, and what access to the Internet he has, so to do we monitor the video games. In fact, we generally try any game he gets before he does, to be sure we’re comfortable with the images and activities he’s going to presented with.

It’s called active parenting – and no rating system can give that to you.

In fact, ratings are only good as guides, not as enforcements. There are two sides to this coin. First off, ask most teenagers which movie they’d prefer to see – one with a PG rating or one with a Restricted rating – and they’ll choose the latter, greatly because of the stigma attached to it. The sense of mystery and the idea of the forbidden are far more appealing than the “parentally accepted” former choice.

Secondly, ratings are not absolutes. Whether they’re industry-defined or independently assigned, they only serve to provide a general guideline of the content. There are R-rated films that I have no problem allowing my son to watch, and that have more value than many of the so-called age-appropriate films. But we don’t allow him to watch these in isolation. If a broadcast has strong themes present, it’s our responsibility as parents to talk about them, not ignore them as if they don’t exist.

Many parents, including ourselves, have been guilty at times of using TV as a babysitter. And now, as my generation continues to have children, the video game system is taking the same function in many cases. But, just as you wouldn’t hire a baby-sitter to watch your children without performing a thorough screening first, nor should you fire up a PS2 or Xbox without some prior knowledge of what’s going to happen.

I’m not so naïve as to think that my son is being completely sheltered from these images. In fact, I know acquaintances that allow their pre-teens free access to games that I would consider challenging for most adults, but that’s their choice and their kids. My wife and I can only control our environment and hope that the lessons we’re teaching, the messages we’re imparting, and the choices we’re making are enabling our son to feel comfortable in the world we live in.

Stricter enforcement on sales and ratings systems won’t do anything to diminish the appeal of violent and suggestive video games. It’s our job as parents to be actively aware of what our kids are exposed to. Raising our kids is not a game – so let’s start taking it seriously and stop looking for others to regulate what we do.

2005 © Menard Communications – Jason Menard All Rights Reserved

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