By Jason Menard
When will people learn? The more you talk about something and threaten to ban it, the more desirable it will be. Unfortunately, experience doesn’t always make us wiser – especially when it comes to knowing how to keep our kids away from things we find unsavoury.
The latest example of this is the release of Rockstar Games’ Bully. This title for the PlayStation 2 enables students to take on the role of Jimmy, a 15-year-old who is starting his first year at a new school.
From there, the experience depends on how you play it. You can choose to befriend the geeks or become one of the bullies. And in typical tongue-in-cheek fashion, the game continues through social interactions. Of course, where people get up in arms is when that social interaction involves wedgies or bats.
And the greatest part of Rockstar Games’ marketing strategy? The fact that they new parents around the world – along with hyper-sensitive pundits – would be up in arms about this new game, shouting its potential for negatively impacting society, railing about its lack of compassion and understanding of a very real problem for today’s children, and essentially turning the volume to 11 to ensure everyone hears how horrible and depraved this new game is.
And, by extent, making certain that every teen worth his or her salt wants to get a copy of the game. Or at least be able to play it at a friends’ house.
It’s brilliant in its simplicity. From so-called Satanic music, to the evils of Gangsta Rap, to underage drinking, kids have reacted to their parents’ consternation and hyperbole in the exact opposite way that the adults intended. Instead of making this product repellant to kids through their actions, parents ended up making these items more desirable. After all, for a teen looking to carve out his or her own identity, what better way than to make a dramatic break from the will of their parents.
After all, parents don’t know anything. They’re old, they’re out of date, and they don’t understand today’s kid! And you know what, when there are still adults out there railing against games like Bully, it’s proof that not only do they not understand today’s kid, but they’ve forgotten the lessons of their youth, and that of countless generations before them.
Rockstar knew this. Rockstar, of the Grand Theft Auto series has had plenty of experience with parental outrage. And when the presence of an unlockable X-rated scene in a recent game was made known, all it did was stoke the fires of interest.
No, parents have yet to understand that the best way to minimize the reach of games – or any other media for that matter – that they find unsavoury is to ignore it completely. Parental outrage is the great validator for youth. Essentially, if your parents are opposed, then you’re probably on the right track.
It’s not until much later that we realize that our parents may have known what they were talking about. And it’s not until we cross the threshold into adulthood that we truly appreciate their wisdom, knowledge, and experience. And that appreciation – along with a dawning sense of regret – is only heightened when we have our own children, and the sins of our youth are revisited upon us by the next generation!
In fact, an even better way to turn your kids off of this type of stimuli is to share in the excitement and offer to participate! After all, what’s less cool in life than what mom and dad are doing?
Yet adults continue to react with outrage, thinking that discourse and common sense will prevail over a teen’s personal habits, when in fact they are dealing with knee-jerk reactions to stimuli. If a parent says one thing, then the opposite must be what’s cool!
So Bully gets released, parents around the world are up in arms, ratings boards slap on teen-only ratings (which, like Parental Advisory stickers become badges of honour, not objects to discourage), and people in the back rooms at Rockstar games laugh and watch all the money come in.
It’s not about right and wrong. It’s about how you handle it. This doesn’t mean abdicating your responsibility as a parent to discuss the tough issues. Nor should you let your child run free like a little hooligan, simply because you don’t want to say no.
But, in the end, going overboard with shock and rage in an attempt to ban a product only backfires. We’ve seen it throughout history – when will parents start to learn?
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