“Dear Elizabeth boy playing adult video games
My 12 year old is getting really frustrated with the fact that I will not allow him to play console games above his age group, he keeps telling me that all his friends are playing them, and I feel I’m getting weaker and weaker at standing my ground with this. It’s exhausting, and I just want to protect him, but deep down I know he has heard worse things I would care to imagine. So sorry to trouble you about this, but I’m at my wits end. I just don’t know how best to handle it.
Worried Mum”

Elizabeth says:

  1. Unless you know the games inside out (and most parents don’t!) you cannot be sure that your son won’t come across disturbing scenes and things you have to do in the game such as set fire to people, shoot a whole airport of innocent people, put glass into a man’s mouth and then punch him, etc. which can be distressing.
  2. The age rating is on the game for a reason. If it was an X-rated film or DVD you probably wouldn’t even consider it.
  3. Your job as a parent is to make decisions on behalf of your child. You have to use your common sense and judgement. Sometimes you won’t be popular, but you can explain to your son:
    “I realise that you aren’t happy with this rule. And I get that. It’s hard when all your friends are doing something and you’re not allowed to. If you like, we can sit down and discuss what games are suitable, and see if there’s any that you want to buy. But my job isn’t to be your friend, it’s to be your parent and sometimes, to be the best parent I can be, I have to make difficult decisions, even when you don’t like me for it!”
  4. At 12 years old, your son can probably understand what is real and what is fiction. However repeated exposure to violent or sexual behaviour or swearing can de-sensitise your son to sensational or shocking images and language. The images also get into his subconscious, and form part of his childhood memories, and nightmares! You just can’t be sure how it will affect your son. And nothing that’s been seen can be ‘unseen.’
  5. Your son may be tempted to use the multi-player aspect of video games. Online gaming can be a pretty brutal place. And unfortunately cyberbullying from strangers or peers is not uncommon. Usually there is a certain amount of banter, epically towards new players and any children online will soon receive some sort of verbal insult. It may not be sensible to expose your child to this at his age.
  6. Try to bear in mind the sort of behaviour you’d like your son to have as a teenager, and as a man. If the games don’t reflect that behaviour, then they are best avoided, particularly when your son is 12 and in his early teens, which is a particularly impressionable age. In ‘Grand Theft Auto’ your son could go to a strip club and have sex with a prostitute whilst the woman engages in ‘sex-talk!’
  7. There is a link between children watching violent games and behaving violently and aggressively.
  8. It is not only the explicit violence that children are exposed to in age-inappropriate games. There are more subtle sexist and immoral messages. Once again, in ‘Grand Theft Auto,’ if a player wants to keep his money, he can ‘shoot’ the prostitute after sex rather than paying for it!
  9. Sometimes children want to feel more adult, and do things that are forbidden, because it makes them way more interesting. If you allow your son to play these games now, he’s jumped that hurdle, the next step up may be trying cigarettes or watching porn. If you think I’m over-exaggerating, research has found that the single largest group of internet pornography consumers is children aged 12-17 (Psychologies Magazine).
  10. This year, certain head teachers have warned parents that if they allow their children to play age-inappropriate computer games they could be reported to Social Services or to the police for neglect. And I don’t think your son would want that to happen.

I hope that helps, and gives you the ammunition to stick to your guns! (Metaphorically speaking!)
Warm wishes,
Elizabeth