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Q. My children received a Playstation 2 as a gift from their uncle. It came with a video game called Grand Theft Auto, which they played for several days before I realized that the point of the game is to steal cars, rob prostitutes, sell drugs, and beat people with clubs. I put the game away, but I'm getting a lot of pressure from the kids (12 and 13), their friends, and my brother-in-law to let them play it. Even my husband says it's probably harmless. Is there proof that violent video games affect kids' behavior? I guess I'm hoping for some expert help to back me up. Or am I just being overprotective?
A. You don't need an expert to back up what your common sense and "gut" feelings are telling you. No responsible parent can endorse a game which involves stealing cars, robbing prostitutes, selling drugs, and beating people with clubs. If you allow such play because you feel ultimately it's harmless, your children view your lack of involvement as a tacit endorsement of this form of amusement.
What are the creators of this game thinking about? Where is their responsibility and conscience? What was your brother-in-law thinking about when he purchased the game? Maybe he purchased it with all good intentions, but now doesn't he realize that pressuring you to allow your children to play the game is out-of-line?
Your children most likely won't go out and steal cars, rob prostitutes, sell drugs and beat people with clubs after playing this game. Nevertheless, it just doesn't sit right with you for your children to play a game that involves such seedy activities.
As your children become more and more full-fledged teenagers you lose more and more control of their activities and interests. The games, music, and videos they engage in when they're in your home you can control, so go ahead and do so even if they complain.
Playing this game involves much more than just exerting your control capriciously. It smacks against the values you've tried to instill in your children. By not allowing them to play, you're exerting your control in a way that speaks to these values.
If you need research to back up your opinion, locate the book Challenging Behavior in Young Children by Barbara Kaisere and Judy Sklar Rasminsky (Allyn and Bacon, 2003). On page 42 the authors refer to researchers (Coie and Dodge, 1998; Donerstein, Slaby, and Eron, 1994; Slaby, 1997) who have documented the following main effects of children who view violent media and this includes video games.
Lastly, research also indicates that prosocial media has a positive social effect on children. If children view media that promotes positive themes the result is better behavior.