Do you remember that 1970’s Public Information Film on the TV, the closing scene an adolescent boy just heading out of his front door and the narrator saying “Do you know where your lad is going tonight?” Well I’m beginning to think they need to make some new up-to-date versions of those adverts asking “Do you know what your lad is uploading tonight?”
I am pretty sure I am not the only parent who is a little behind the times with the way iPhones, iPods, DS, Wii and various other methods of electronic games are being used by the younger generation who not only have an unquenchable thirst, but are also desperate to be the first in their clique to know every move and every term for the latest Zombie et al game.
When my 12 year old son pestered me to let him upload the latest version of Dead Zombies (that is probably not quite the right title but it definitely had Zombies in somewhere!), I could quite happily and without a shadow of doubt or fear of contradiction tell him I didn’t have the foggiest idea how to do it.
So notwithstanding the usual definition of the phrase ‘ignorance is bliss’ it is also extremely useful when it comes to saying in my best Faulty Towers’ Manuel voice “I know nothing”. However, what I didn’t bank on was the barrage of badgering I was going to be subjected to and the intense pester power that was going to rain down on me.
It ranged from a simple ‘please’ to a more intense and rather devious ‘but the settings are wrong and you need to reset the password, etc’. Sadly for my son, whilst I may be technologically Neanderthal, I am by no means short of wit when it comes to his calculating mind and I resolutely stuck to my guns.
Having failed to persuade me to unlock the security settings on his iPhone, he cajoled my husband into buying the game via his phone and that is when the game was up quite literally.
The description of the ‘game’ was something like this…..contains graphic physical violence, vivid text of an explicit nature, extremely adult language content….and so it went on. It was a 17+ rating.
The trouble is I am pretty sure he has played this gratuitously violent and sexually explicit game on someone else’s phone or computer; someone in his peer group, the parents of whom are less particular about checking their son’s gaming devices. Or perhaps parents who are unable to face the verbal onslaught of a 12 year old thwarted, and who take the easiest line of resistance.
The thought that my son has been exposed to explicit scenes of violence and perhaps even physical debauchery fills me with horror but that is where the parental control withers.
Does he see the games on the school bus, in the playground or when he goes over to a friend’s house? It is virtually impossible to discover the source and certainly not possible to stop it happening where other family rules apply.
So what is the answer?
To make sure our son knows what we, as parents, think is reasonable behaviour; that irrespective of what his friends play or what the parents of those friends allow them to play, it is not something we will permit. We have drawn a behavioural line that we will allow him to reach but not breach and he has to understand and develop a level of self-responsibility.
The Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) is a self regulatory organisation that offers guidance on age appropriate game content. Their mission statement is:
‘To empower consumers, especially parents, with guidance that allows them to make informed decisions about the age-appropriateness and suitability of video games and apps while holding the video game industry accountable for responsible marketing practices.’
Their “Rating Category” for ‘Everyone 10+’ advises: Content is generally suitable for ages 10 and up. May contain more cartoon, fantasy or mild violence, mild language and/or minimal suggestive themes.
The ‘Teen’ category states: Content is generally suitable for ages 13 and up. May contain violence, suggestive themes, crude humour, minimal blood, simulated gambling and/or infrequent use of strong language.
A BBC report in 2005 highlighted the lack of parental control over what children were playing, they were more concerned about the length of time being spent playing online rather than the content of same.
Is this level of parental care borne out of a belief their child is mature enough to cope with the gore and carnage and that because it is on a screen i.e. not real life, they can separate their virtual life from their normal one? Or is it a lack of understanding just how explicit many of the games have become?
Perhaps I am being overly sensitive but given the growing dependence on an electronic way of life, surely it is inevitable that there will be an increased number of crimes as our teenagers start to enact for real what they see on the screen.
So, do you know what your lad is playing tonight?
Link to 2005 BBC report: Parents ignore game rating http://news.bbc.co.uk/1/hi/technology/4118270.stm
13 year old cuts throat of 14 year old after playing 18 rated Gears of War 3 http://www.eurogamer.net/articles/2013-05-03-senior-scottish-cop-attacks-online-gaming-after-13-year-old-boy-slashes-a-friends-throat-following-gears-of-war-3-session
15 year old pupil stabs teacher in back http://www.bbc.co.uk/news/uk-england-27201812
Link to Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) http://www.esrb.org/about/index.jsp