Tanya Byron’s report on the issues of video game violence and internet safety for children, released today, makes some very good points. So before I launch into a tirade criticising its naivity, I should give it credit where it deserves. Really the split comes across the two issues, one is handled well, the other is handled appallingly badly. Can you guess which is which? I bet you can.
Yes, internet safety for children, a topic we’ve all known about for years and yet nothing really changes. She makes the rather obvious statement that parents are so afraid of the dangers of paedophiles in their neighbourhoods that they keep their children inside, usually on the internet, where the same dangers exist. You don’t say! Paedophiles can use the internet? Wow, and I’d have thought they’d be too busy fiddling with themselves to use a keyboard. I mean, come on, talk about stating the obvious.
Naturally parents should use blocking mechanisms, but these have been around for ages, and little utilised. Perhaps this is down to a lack of knowledge, in which case “parenting classes” in online safety might be a good idea, to make parents better informed. Yet I can’t help but wonder if it’s simply an attitude of laissez faire amongst the parents themselves. After all, why does it take a government report to tell parents to not allow their young children computers in their bedroom? It’s common sense!
Speaking for myself, I’ve always been into computers, since I had my first Commodore Amiga aged 10. Yet, despite this, my parents never allowed me to have a computer in my own room (until I was 16, at which point I was allowed to decide for myself). Certainly when my sister first visited chat rooms as an 11 year old my mother actually supervised her closely, and told her if she didn’t like it, she could lump it.
We mollycoddle our children. They want a computer in their room, we give it to them. We try and supervise and they say they want privacy, we give it to them. Why not simply say they can have their privacy, but not when it comes to their internet use? Either they can use the internet whilst supervised, or not use the internet at all, the choice is theirs.
Not only does this keep them safer but it teaches them the value of compromise. Yet I can’t help but wonder if we’re missing the point here. Note I said “safer”. Not safe. You see, I don’t believe we can keep our children totally safe, what we need to do is teach our children how to cope with those dangers. This piece says it well, I think:
Parents and politicians cannot make this world wholly safe. Maybe the best they can offer, for all the talk of education and crackdowns, is to equip children better to deal with hazards placed in their way by adults. Byron’s findings sound moderate and balanced. That may not defuse a media firestorm about the (largely unproved) evils of the internet. As the Queen shouted across the courtroom where Alice sat: “Sentence first – verdict afterwards.”
Yet on the matter of videogames I can’t help but think this is simply yet another example of scapegoating. Practically every single news story covering the Byron report has a headline about video games, rather than net safety. Ratings are constantly being brought up, neglecting the fact that many video games already carry ratings, and yet parents buy the games for their children anyway. Anyway, do you really need a rating certificate to tell you that a game called “Manhunt” will be violent? Use a dictionary.
Many of these games contain scenes from the game either on the back cover or the front. It really is not difficult to tell when a game is violent or not, and to decide whether or not it is suitable for your child. The issue is not parents not knowing, but parents not caring. This outrage over video games is the same that went on over violent movies and yet those have always carried certification. How many of you saw movies like Robocop or Terminator when you were underage? Come on, be honest. I know I did.
Even if children are playing games that are unsuitable, or watching films that are unsuitable, so what? I watched violent movies as a kid, I was never ever tempted to copy anything from them. I’ve played violent video games for a long time, yet I wouldn’t hurt a fly. It’s not like I lack a temper either, I just was raised properly to know the difference between right and wrong. My parents always taught me the old cliche “violence never solves anything”. Of course it’s not true, but it did the job.
Everyone I know has played some sort of game that involves killing things or people. None of them are remotely likely to become serial killers. The focus is not on what these kids play or see but on the parents who need to teach them that fantasy and reality are different. Byron’s report says kids are desensitized to violence, and that this is the fault of the video game industry. I say we as a society are desensitised to violence and if kids are getting these values from anywhere, it’s their parents, not video games.
Violence is part of our makeup, we are, at our very core, animals, and an inherently violent species. Better we unleash these inner furies against video game nasties than against our fellow human beings, and thus, rather than making people more violent, I’d argue that violent video games actually assuage our natural violent tendencies. Ever punched an inanimate object when you’ve had a bad week, or used exercise when angry to “get it out of your system”? Felt good, didn’t it? That’s the same thing.
Ultimately, then, all the Byron report tells us is parents need to be parents. Wow.