April 29, 2020
By Dr Kathy Weston
One of the most persistent complaints that I hear from parents is that they have to explain to their children why peers of the same age are allowed to do, watch or play things that are not age-appropriate.
You may have stood your ground and gone along with official advice, yet witnessed other parents go off piste. At the moment, a dichotomy is emerging in society between those who will always comply, as far as possible, with research evidence, and those who will resist it. Surely it takes greater strength of character and resilience to adhere to rules, than to break them?
For example, the mental toughness required to comply with the lockdown on a sunny day, is the same quality required to resist requests from your children to play age-inappropriate games. It is easier to say yes, easier to receive a grateful smile from your teen, rather than a mouthful of spite, and easier to relax rules when you are feeling fed up yourself.
However, be careful what you are modelling! If we allow our children access to material that is clearly signalled as suitable for adults, we tell our children that all rules are flexible. If we say that they can participate in a violent video game, such as Call of Duty, Modern Warfare, they may well become immune to 18+ signalling across all media platforms. Understandably, these children might apply a similar interpretation of rules to other activities, and raise a brow when parents suddenly insist that they are not allowed to participate in them.
During the current lockdown, families have understandably been engaging with the digital world to a greater extent than normal. Whilst many commentators are advocating a relaxing of home rules because we are in the middle of a national emergency, I would advise that this not be the case when it comes to our children’s levels of digital hygiene.
At the moment, parents are anecdotally reporting attitudinal changes in their offspring following long stints on violent games, including greater profanity and aggression at home. Now is the optimal time to review family attitudes to age-rated material.
Have conversations with your children about why they exist and what they are designed to protect young people from. Reassure your child that you will always do what is right for them, and will be undeterred by other parents’ decisions (a lesson in resisting peer pressure). Use the current example of news images showing lack of compliance to the lockdown rules as a springboard for a wider family chat. Some people will flout rules because it is easier to do so. Let them know that you will always take steps, as parents, to do what is optimal for their wellbeing.
If you require further justification for a ban on 18+ games, refer to the research, which indicates that violent video games can lead to strong emotional responses and greater desensitisation to violence in young people (Howard-Jones, 2011;2020). If you do allow your child to play games that simulate vivid torture scenes, drug use, violent massacres (as in Call of Duty) and convey questionable moral values, don’t expect them to be unaffected. In short, our children’s digital diet matters, so take care over what they digest.
You may have read the above comments and thought “well, my child is mature and has been playing Call of Duty for years with no complaints” or “my child is different because he promises me that he has switched off the gore option on a particular game”.
In the end, these are judgement calls that all parents routinely have to make, but it is my view that children who are encouraged to flout gaming guidelines will find excuses to circumvent other rules. If you lose your authoritative voice in one area, expect to lose it in another.
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