Make a New Year Resolution Today: Throw Out Those Violent Video Games


I don’t think violent video games belong in a civilized society. Yes, I know this is an unpopular stance to be sure—if you are a parent of a teen, it’s an even more unpopular mindset. A 2015 Pew Research Center Study discovered 84% of teenage boys play video games, with about 95% of those games being violent.

Now, we aren’t talking about Three Stooges violence or even Terminator mayhem, we are talking about the most grotesque, most despicable, horrific violence that can be imagined.

Let’s get a perspective for a minute. In 1993 I was on the Advisory Board of Mothers Against Violence in America. (MAVA) I consulted on an educational video they produced about violent video games. At the time, one of the games, actually had the player setting African American men on fire and snickering as they were burning, “Smells like fried chicken,”

I am not making this up. This experience prompted me to write in 1999 and re-write in 2014, Stop Teaching Our Kids to Kill: A Call to Action Against Violent TV, Movie and Video Game Violence (with Lt. Col. Dave Grossman). “Games” since the 90s have become even more hateful; horrifying.

Most folks think racism comes from lack of teaching children empathy, but you can’t teach empathy.

In reality, a child must first recognize self as an empathetic person before any teaching about empathy can “take.” Humans can’t learn empathy without experiencing ourselves as empathetic. Learning higher-level emotions like empathy, compassion, and generosity aren’t learned like algebra, geography, or chemistry.

Brain science clearly shows us that what children do most often, significantly shapes how children grow to see themselves. No amount of parental guidance about loving others and treating them fairly can easily counteract the racism reinforced hundreds of times in daily rehearsal during the developing years. Hate-mongering racist video games build a racist self-identity. They also build a domineering, bullying self-identity.

Which leads me to reason I decided to write this blog. Several weeks ago a teen shot herself in front of her parents, so despondent over cyber bullying because of her weight. A few days after hearing about this tragedy, a relative told me that one of her former students committed suicide and went on to tell me of the teen suicide epidemic in her area—mostly teen girls who have been relentlessly harassed by teen boys.

As youth, struggle with questions of “Who am I?” and “How do I relate to others?” violent video games give them a world in which it they have to choose: “Do I become a bully (dominator)?” or “Do I give up and be a victim?” There are no other alternatives. The youth, prone to aggression, or angry at his parents’ recent divorce, will relate to the dominator portrayed on the screen, making an active decision to perpetuate violence onto someone else. On the other hand, kids who feel out of control, hopeless and isolated, may move toward feeling helpless initially, only to revert to “dominator tactics” when seeking revenge for the bullying. Victims can easily turn into bullies, but usually not vice-versa. Victims live in a pressure-cooker of hate. As pressure builds up beyond the capacity to cope, there are only two outlets left for the victim—explosion (killing others in revenge,) or implosion (suicide).

Because the portrayal of dominator/victim relationships is so pervasive in violent video games, and because violent video games are now normalized entertainment for youth, there is an implicit social sanction for the violence of the dominator/victim relationship.

As youth grow into the dominator role, acting it out in peer groups, practicing it over and over with violent video games, bullying others starts to feel normal. There is a sense of rightness to the domination, a sense of I have the right to treat others this way. And, the victim also feels this implicit social sanction as a disempowerment. This is why makes it so difficult, even with help, to escape from the victim role in a social group, because the form of the relationship appears to be “normal” thanks to media violence portrayals.

Parents, teachers and authorities, individually and together, work hard to protect kids from the tide of bullying sweeping our country. And while a few victories have been achieved, bullying overall increases. All of their efforts are like firefighters trying to put out a fire, while someone else goes around and dumps gasoline on the hot spots. Video game violence is that gasoline. Until we recognize and address its influence on bullying, by modeling and sanctioning the dominator/victim relationship, it is unlikely that we will succeed in putting out the fire of bullying, raging in our schools today.

So where to begin? I believe parents will make positive differences and help schools make significant strides, if they throw out violent video games, not allowing their children or teens to play them in their homes.

A violent-video free home is one of the most important first steps to countering cyber bullying in our schools. And it’s so do-able!

If childhood and adolescence is a special time for helping kids grow to become their best selves, then violent video games have no place in their lives. Common Sense Media has developed a list of the current Top Ten Violent Video Games of 2016, along with more appropriate alternatives.

And you can always do your own search for “non-violent video games.” The interesting, healthy alternatives that come up may surprise you and delight your kids.

It’s sure worth the try.

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2016. All rights reserved.



Children’s Hidden Digital Lives

The recent suicide of 12-year-old Rebecca Ann Sedwick haunts me. The child taunted “fiercely” by middle school peers who continually urged her to kill herself, finally listened to them. The school, despite an anti-bullying policy and rules in place, couldn’t make life easier for Rebecca. So her mother, after no results, placed her daughter in a different school, where she was seemingly off to a fresh and positive start. Rebecca still stayed in touch with two close friends from her former school, making what seemed to be the best of the new situation.

In addition, to make sure her daughter was protected from the cyber attacks, mom shut down Rebecca’s Facebook page and kept tabs on her social media footprint. So with real friends and a loving mother who took swift and decisive action I ask myself:

How could life become so difficult and disheartening for young Rebecca?

We will never know the whole story, of course. But what jumped out to me in the story I did read was that Rebecca, unknown to her mother, had downloaded new applications on her cell phone—, and Kik and Voxer—which made it possible for Rebecca to receive the hostile text messages again. Rebecca didn’t tell her mom about these. In retrospect, her mom thinks Rebecca hid that information from her because Rebecca feared, if she did reveal it, her mom would take away her cell phone. So rather than confiding in her mother, Rebecca silently endured, until she couldn’t take it anymore.

It seems like the hidden digital life of our children has become the place of retreat, a type of “crowd solitude” where they escape the confines of the adult world. Kids always had needed this relief…for older generations it might have been playing outside and exploring the vacant lot down the block without the prying eyes of adults. For many, it was as simple as a game of pick-up basketball after school before running home to be late for dinner. Or Saturday night sleep-overs with friends where stories, giggles, and popcorn were shared in abundance, upstairs (or downstairs) in a seemingly far away bedroom, with only a knock on the door to “quiet it down” bringing back reality for a minute before retreating back into child-time-only—at least until daylight.

In this former world, children could grow with some breathing room and feel like they had a life outside their parents. And parents could keep tabs without being overtly intrusive—most of the time.

Those days, of course, are gone forever. Yet, in today’s world if my daughter’s life depends upon it, just how “intrusive” would I become?

In the classic book, The Art of Loving, Eric Fromm articulated “four components of productive love: care, responsibility, respect and knowledge.” These qualities for digital-age parents have become less straight-forward and more nuanced—especially respect and knowledge. Do I respect my child if I am hovering all the time? Doesn’t that send a message that I don’t trust her? Am I a responsible-enough parent if I don’t know every single thing my child is doing on the Internet?

In pondering these questions, for me, it finally came down to making a distinction between knowledge about what my child is doing on-line (or anywhere) and knowledge about who my child is—two kinds of parental knowledge for our digital age, requiring a new type of parental self-knowledge, too.

Maybe with these understandings parents will more likely and more often tap into their inner well of wisdom, knowing when to persist, back-off; when to confront, take-away; when to force a conversation or allow silence; when to trust and let go…Hopefully.

Copyright, Gloria DeGaetano, 2013. All rights reserved.