By Jason Menard
Free speech comes with a cost – personal responsibility. The repeal of a California law banning the sale and rental of violent games to minors puts the responsibility for parenting right where it should lie – with the parents.
Unfortunately for many kids that’s not exactly a comforting thought.
The U.S. Supreme Court struck down the law by a 7-2 vote. The Court said the law, which also would impose strict labelling requirements, was unconstitutional, as video games should have the same free-speech protection as books, movies, and plays.
It’s a victory for free speech and a victory for personal responsibility. Unfortunately, my experience has been that monitoring their children’s media-consumption habits isn’t something that all parents take seriously enough.
We may be Draconian in our house – our teenager thinks so, at least. But we believe in limits. We decide what media is consumed in our house, which movies are watched, and what games are played. There have always been certain musicians and songs that were off limits. There are movies and games that mom and dad can play, that our 16-year-old can’t. And if he defies those rules, there are consequences.
Censorship? Not at all. We’re not banning this content for life; it’s just that we didn’t feel it was appropriate for a five-year-old boy to be listening to Eminem, or a 13-year-old boy to be playing Grand Theft Auto. And we, as adults, consume this media ourselves. I’ve played and enjoyed games like GTA, God of War, and the like – but I wouldn’t allow either of my kids to do the same at this point in their development. I don’t believe that any media is inherently bad, but that doesn’t mean it’s a free-for-all from the minute they can pick up a remote.
Nor do I believe that TV, movies, and video games turn normal kids into degenerates and killers. If you’re sick enough to choose to rape, assault, or murder someone, then there’s already something wrong with you. A game is no more of a catalyst than watching CNN. It’s an easy — and wrong — answer to a complex question.
It’s not easy for parents like us. We’ve met too many kids who have been raised in environments contrary to the one we’re trying to establish. One of his friends, at five, was listening to Eminem. His parents, for whom English was a daily challenge, didn’t understand the lyrics and saw no issue with the music. Friends who were younger than him were playing games that were in no way appropriate for their age. We disagreed with those parents and held fast to our rules. But how do you explain to a five-year-old that he can’t do what his friends are doing?
In the end, it’s not about explanation. His friends can watch horror films like Saw? Good for them. Not in our house. We take the time to monitor what our kids watch, do on-line, and play. We explain our decisions, listen to arguments, and – in the end – make a final decision. Too many parents don’t believe they have the final authority. That may be true – if you give it away.
At 16, the restrictions have loosened, but not as far as he’d like. Certain games are still off limits. Mature means just that – and we’ve determined that he’s not ready. Can we stop everything? No, of course not. And kids will find a way to circumvent their parents’ wishes.
However, it’s not up to us to throw up our hands and give in. Drinking, drugs, violent media? Save for locking him up, we can’t prevent his exposure to these things. But we can make damn sure he knows where we stand.
In the end, he’s made – and likely will continue to make – bad choices. Those choices come with consequences. Whether or not we’re supported by other parents, the school system, or other authority figures is of no concern to us. Parenting isn’t about consensus; it’s about doing what’s best for your child.
Our nine-year-old daughter still self-regulates. She’s well aware of what we consider inappropriate and actively refuses to watch things that cross those lines. We’re under no false belief that will continue. Eventually, she’ll want to test the boundaries. But nowhere does it say that parents have to take the path of least resistance.
We’re not the ultimate parenting authority in general, but we are when it comes to our kids. Just because kids can buy sex-and-violence-filled games in California doesn’t mean that they should. However, that decision is not one for the courts. That ultimate responsibility lies with the parents.
Hopefully more of them will take that responsibility seriously. After all, raising kids is no game.