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Underage gaming

18 game

I received this note from a friend recently, I wanted to share it and my reply because I think this is an important issue for parents and children.

“A lot of children in my son’s class are playing games well above their age, specifically call of duty. My son is 9. He was shown it on a play date and doesn’t like it and has no interest in playing it so we are pleased about that. Unfortunately there is a lot of cod [call of duty] talk in class because a lot of parents seem unconcerned about their children playing 18 rated games. We have mentioned it to school and they are concerned.

My question is should we be concerned about 9 yr olds playing 18 games?”

should we be concerned about 9 yr olds playing 18 games?

I think it’s right to be concerned about the underage use of games like Call of Duty (COD).  Increasingly parents are succumbing to perceived peer pressure and allowing their children to play these games because ‘all their friends are.’ I know lots of parents that have decided it’s okay.

I think there are a number of reasons to be concerned.  It’s not just the gratuitous violence that risks becoming normalised, COD and alike are riddled with bad language, sex and other adult themes.

It’s odd that many of us regulate our children’s access to TV but feel that the violence presented in games is somehow different and therefore harmless.  But visual realism in these games is increasing.  What’s more, it’s participatory.  COD Black Ops has a gruesome torture scene, Modern Warfare 2 has terrorists murdering innocent civillians in an airport, and the player can join in.   Computer games present violence in the same manner that porn shows sex – entirely casual and inconsequential.  I can’t imagine many of us would be comfortable with our children watching 18 certificate films but the content in video games is basically the same.

Killing is the point of these games – it is relentless and mindless.  But that might not be an issue to those of us who know better.  There is no evidence to suggest that playing violent video games makes well-adjusted players more violent in the long term but there is ample research that shows a rise in aggression and drop in empathy immediately after playing.  Current studies suggest that violent games can exacerbate underlying psychosis, that is, if you have a tendency to be violent, first person shooters will make it worse.  Thankfully most of us aren’t psychopaths and by our early-mid twenties most of us have settled into our skins.  Young people are still ‘solidifying.’

Children mimic behaviour that they perceive as ‘grown-up’ – they are building their life experience – however unpalatable, the characters in these games are role models.  While this effect may not extend to actually being physically violent, it may well increase bad and aggressive language, the acceptance of racial and sexual stereotypes and the believe that such conduct is not just normal but desirable.  With a natural paucity of real life experience, children use whatever they can to build their world view.

There is another worry.  Between the ages of 10 and 13, the brain undergoes massive development.  It is similar to the changes that take place when children are toddlers, defined as the Terrible Twos/ Threes.  As the brain finishes its development, pre-teens reflect and adopt dominant environmental conditions, just as babies do.  The exposure to external influences literally sets the mental pattern for how we think, what we consider normal behaviour and starts our moral and ethical system of beliefs.  These things aren’t set in stone but undoing them can be hard and painful for all concerned.

If you are an adult with a wealth of life experience, established relationships and a stable brain then putting these games into context isn’t too hard.  It simply isn’t the same for children.

The ‘Safer Children in a Digital World‘ report by Tanya Byron is particularly helpful read.

What are your thoughts?


Postscript – if you haven’t played COD Black Ops and want to see its ’10 Goriest Moments’ there’s a video on YouTube.  Two points: total gameplay might last 30 hours so keep the events in this 3 minute video in perspective.  Secondly, it is genuinely gruesome – you’ve been warned.



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  • Timmy D

     My parents completely bypassed this dilemma by not allowing me a console till I was 18. 

  • Karen johnson

    Yes very well said Carlton.
    For my part I do think it’s very important for us as parents to be clear that we are in charge and we have to participate actively in the formation of understanding and attitudes towards screen violence.
    It’s useful, if possible to play games with our children and be able to talk about what it does. To do this parents have to start playing games very early with their children so it’s natural that there will be conversation and that we parents will be involved in it, even as our children begin to move into the nasty end of the spectrum. It’s also useful to supply the many light-hearted fun games that are available so there’s a choice and our children don’t feel that the only route they can take is the extremely violent route.
    We are the only people in a position to influence our children like this and if we aren’t pro active no one else will do it for us. I know very well educated and well resourced people who feel they shouldn’t be trying to shape their children’s attitudes in any way but if they don’t there are plenty of less well disposed people out there who will cheerfully do it for them. We have to be the first and the best influence in the nicest possible way and that is one of the best insulators a child can have.

  • Darren Bristow

    Thanks for posting this Carlton – I have forwarded it on to my daughters headmaster as I think he will find it interesting.
    Fortunately my daughters have no interest in first person shoot em ups however what amazes me is the fact that the majority of my daughters Y5 classmates (10 yr olds) have Facebook profiles some for more than a year that have even been set up by their parents!!

    I am a pretty laid back parent but I believe there are certain boundaries that children need setting by their parents, for their own good.

  • Jonathan

    Hi Carlton

    The message is clear in your article and this will advance more over the years with things like holography becoming possible and being completely imersed in gaming making it completely real.  The question everyone asks though is this influencing my children?  Very difficult to answer too, but completely debateable with many angles.

    Very interesting though and a worthy discussion.


  • Hi Tim. Thanks for the comment.  What do you think of their decision now.  Was it a good one?

  • Thanks for the note, Karen.  I completely agree with your point about playing with our children to establish a positive relationship that pre-empts problems.  Apart from anything else, it is great fun to do so!

    One of the things that I feel most keenly about parenthood is that weight of responsibility, knowing that we are the biggest influences on our children’s development.  It’s a massive privilege.  

  • Hi Darren.  Thanks for forwarding my post to your daughter’s Head.  Talking to friends about it yesterday, I realised what a big issue it is.  Not just computer games but Facebook and alike too.  So many parents simply don’t know about them.
    I might be talking to some of the parents at our local school about it, if your Head would like me to do something similar, I’d be more than happy to oblige!

  • Thanks for your comment, Jonathan.  I suspect you’re right – it’s a situation that will become increasingly important.

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  • Amrit

    if you stop your children from doing something the more they will want to do it, so it not a question of no letting them play it not letting them play all the time at that age. Then it willn’t be such a problem, my parent were like that and i hate them dong it.

  • :(

    because of this my life has been ruined

  • Hi Amrit

    Thanks for your note. I’m guessing from what you say that your parents stopped you from playing some of the games you wanted to.

    Do you think there are *any* problems with young people play adult games?

  • How come?