On December 14, 2012, while hiding in his classroom cubby, my six-year-old son Luke jumped up to his feet, and with sheer terror in his voice, shouted, “I think a man with a gun is going to burst through our wall!!!”
I know this, because his teacher phoned me a few days later to check in. I asked her, “What did the children hear???” and she told me, “machine gun”. That is when she shared with me my son’s outburst.
“You know” she said, “I don’t know how he recognized the noise, but he knew exactly what it was.”
“I don’t know how he recognized the noise”….her words still sting my ears. Because I know how he knew. It wasn’t because we are gun owners. Because we are not. But rather, we were mature video games owners.
I didn’t share this fact with Luke’s teacher. I was too ashamed and horrified to admit it, and I was heartbroken thinking about the fear my son must have felt in those tragic minutes. And also, because deep down in the depths of my heart, I knew those games went against everything I stood for and everything I believed in. And yet, I still allowed them into our home.
Luke didn’t play these games. They belonged to his older brother. And he loved these games like an addict loves heroin. Call of Duty was his favorite.
We never let Luke watch his brother play…we kept both the brother and the games hidden downstairs…. but every once in a while we would hear screaming from the basement, “Mom!! Luke is down here!!!!”
You can’t hide the darkness forever. There was no way to completely keep this contained. Luke had seen enough. And he had heard enough. Enough to know exactly what a machine gun is capable of, and exactly what a machine gun sounds like.
And at six years old, on December 14, 2012, at his Sandy Hook Elementary School, 20 of his classmates and six teachers were violently murdered, just footsteps away, with the sound of a machine gun. Only this time, it was not a game. And he knew that.
From that moment on, mature video games were removed from our home. Forever.
Now you see, I don’t believe that every kid who plays a violent game will become violent. I don’t think that my teenage son will become a murderer because he plays games that murder. So why remove the games??? I will tell you why.
For starters? My son is not mature. When we bought his first violent game (yes, when we bought his game…), he was “under age.” I would never think about pouring my fifteen-year-old a glass of wine, or buying him a case of beer, would you? Nor would I hand him my car keys without a license. And it’s safe to assume that most parents would agree with this.
So why then were we going out and purchasing games for our children that, plain and simple, they are not old enough to play? What message are we sending them when we do not follow the law? What is it they hear when we as parents don’t obey the rules?
I can honestly admit that in our case, we were beaten down. We have four kids, four different trying and exhausting demands, and we didn’t have the fortitude or grace to dig our heels in and stand strong.
“But everyone plays them!” we were told, over and over and over again. So I would ask other moms, and search around, and, well, my son appeared to be right. Everyone was playing them. Despite the mature rating. Despite the tragedy in our community. “Even the people from Church let their kids play!!!!” was his final plea.
I remember buying Call of Duty. The store was dark, and it was run by lanky kids at the height of their puberty, and the graphics surrounding me on screens and walls screamed of sex and violence. I kept my gaze down, and moved quickly. I felt like I was sneaking my under age son into a dirty strip club. I was incredibnly embarrassed. I knew it was wrong. The cover image on the game alone made me sick.
“Don’t show your brother,” I instructed him, in an attempt to prove that I really was a good mother. I felt defeated and let down.
But I kept telling myself, “Everyone allows it.” Suddenly, I was in the fifth grade again being handed a cigarette and despite the fact that I hated it, I reached out and took a drag…because that’s what everyone else was doing.
Sticking with your beliefs is not easy. Kids are relentless. They have the ability to peck at you, and peck at you, always at your most vulnerable time, until you throw your hands up and say “Go ahead! Do it! Just leave me alone!!!”
Taking these videos away from our son has been an enormous test of strength and courage. My husband compares it to taking drugs away from the addict. It has been that difficult; an ongoing battle, to say the very least. He continues to ask for his games. A year later, and he still asks.
This last Christmas, he spent the morning crying, because all he asked for was Assassins Creed, despite the fact that he was told, “That will never happen.”
It angers me and my husband that our son is so insensitive to what happened at his brothers (and sisters) school to even ask for such games. We can not get over the fact that knowing about this tragedy just down our street has had no impact on him.
The fact that our neighbors no longer have their daughters, and that his brother no longer has his friends, doesn’t seem to register. I mean, why would he even want to pretend to be on the hunt to kill people, knowing the trauma his family has and continues to go through? Is he really that insensitive???
But that’s the thing…It is not that my son is insensitive…but rather, he has become desensitized.
Take a walk through Game Stop…Or just turn on the TV. Guns…sex…violence…blood…vampires…zombies…death. It is everywhere. And it is no big deal.
I remember as a kid watching The Land of the Lost and having to cover my eyes when the slee stacks came on! I was terrified!!! They were incredibly unrealistic and walked slower than my grandmother, and yet…they terrified me!!!
Kids today would laugh at them. And now? Now we have to quickly change the channels because the commercial for TV shows are too frightening and too realistic. Posters like The Texas Chainsaw Massacre grace the doorways of our local movie theaters. Violence is everywhere.
And, sadly, that violence has become no big deal. Our children are being raised in a world that celebrates death. That glorifies evil and makes the bad look good. So much so, that they are not even aware of it.
“But it is not real!!!” my son will still argue with me. “It is just a game!”
Yeah, well, you see…unfortunately for us living in Sandy Hook, we got “real”. And while the tragedy at my children’s school gave me the push I needed in getting rid of the violent games, I can honestly tell you that I never felt good about bringing that garbage into my home in the first place. 12/14 just confirmed that.
Do I wish I stuck to my beliefs and didn’t give in so easily? Absolutely. Praise God for giving me the strength and wisdom to finally do the right thing.
Here’s the bottom line. You don’t need what happened at our school to realize that our children playing violent games might not be the best thing for them. Shooting hoops is fun. But pretending to kill people? I am sorry. But that will never be an appropriate form of entertainment for anybody, let alone our children. Learning how to fire a machine gun is not a skill a teenager who has dreams of becoming a football player needs to master.
Violence is not a game. Whether it looks real or not.
The other day I was looking at my teenage son, and I remembered him as a newborn. So small, and so sweet, and so incredibly perfect. I picked out nothing but the best for him: wooden blocks, homemade baby food, all natural everything. Why? Because as parents, don’t we want the absolute best for our children???
Won’t we do anything to make sure they are given the best opportunity life can offer? We buy baby monitors, rush them to the pediatrician when they run a fever, and check on their breathing while they sleep, because our only purpose in life is making sure that this new baby is safe, healthy and protected. We will walk on hot coals and run through fire if it means giving our child the absolute best.
Playing violent video games is not the absolute best for my son. Will he become a violent person as a result of them? Probably not. But will they make him a better person at all? Absolutely not. There are so many better things he can be doing with his time. So many better choices.
Our time on earth is but a puff of smoke…it is our job as parents to guide and teach our children well; to make sure they understand right from wrong, good from bad, and to make the best possible choices for themselves when we are no longer around.
It is not easy going against the grain. It is not easy being the “only parent” with these beliefs. But as a Catholic mom, I have got to.
I will be pecked at, and be told I am the worst parent, and that my rules are ridiculous, and ya know what? That is okay. That is okay because my purpose here on earth is not to let my kid do what all the other kids are doing. My purpose here on earth is to make sure that my kids get to heaven.
Violent video games may not lead your child to violence, but I ask you…isn’t there something better your child can be doing with his time? As a parent, isn’t there so much better you can offer?
I’d love to hear from you. Do you have a child who either plays or begs for mature video games? How do you feel about them?
Copyright 2014 Laura Phelps