Opinion: If Grand Theft Auto and other violent video games are addictive for adults, what hope have children got?
- Credit: Eastern Daily Press ©2004
If you asked a new parent, babe in arms, would they be happy for their child to watch a film of a revel in the excitement of pick off victims one by one with a gun in swathes of annihilation, you'd be accused of being sick.
But children are exposed to grossly inappropriate images and games before they can write their names properly. They've perfected their grip and deftness to shoot with the games controller long before their grip on a pen.
Their parents see nothing wrong. It's make-believe, innit? Just a game. Even if it does say 18 on the box.
This half term, children have been rooted to the spot in front of the screen killing people rather than playing out or creating something constructive.
A headteacher raised the issue by sending a letter to parents voicing concerns that children as young as six were re-enacting scenes from Grand Theft Auto, one of the best-selling video games of all time with more than 32 million copes sold worldwide.
Morian Morgan, head of the school in Caerphilly, blamed the behaviour on the 18-rated film, which sees players take on the role of criminals in America's dark and seedy underworld.
Why would a parent allow a six or seven year old to play a game involving murder, rape and drug use?
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Why would adults for that matter? Father and son fun together? Content aside, why would any parent open their child to the risk of obsession and games addiction?
But become a parent and the stark differences, priorities and skewed values of the human race are instantly laid bare.
We might all eat, sleep, walk, and talk much the same, succumb to runny noses and function, more or less, similarly.
But what really sorts and separates is what the brain does once we produce offspring.
Give or take the odd political extremism and dodgy wedding taste, we can trundle through life pre-parenting without ever stopping to gawp in paralysing shock at another person's priorities and decisions.
Then you have children and meet other parents. You soon realise that 95 % of the parenting population is stark raving bonkers. What planet are they on? And, rest assured, they are thinking exactly the same about you.
From how you give birth – from calling in the full drugs cabinet every intervention to natural to whale music, breast or bottle, sleep in the bed or in their own room, leave to cry, pick up. Welcome to parenting, the land of extremes.
And, those differences never wane. From those parents who do their children's homework and revision notes, insist on teenagers taking a share of the home chores to those more extreme stands like allowing their children to play inappropriate games to my strict no TV or games console in the bedroom rule – although the invention of tablets is making that impossible to police with older teenagers.
The no-sugar, no artificial sweeteners, no meat brigade to my preferred laissez faire, a bit of everything in moderation makes for balanced young people. We've all seen the veggie child banned from the birthday party cocktail sausages and sausage rolls, turn into a raging carnivore behind their parents' back and the child denied chocolate ending up hypo sweeping tables of every sweet thing at the party.
But the biggest contradiction are those parents who see fizzy drinks as the devil –never will a can enter my house – but turn a blind eye to their eight-year-old annihilating people on Grand Theft Auto.
These are the parents obsessed about possible hazards to the physical health of their children from artificial sweeteners or sugar-laden drinks, loudly pontificating on the 'damage' demon fizzy pop can do and the irresponsibility of the parents who given them to their children – we all know them - but dismiss murderous X-box and Playstation games as 'just make-believe.'
I'm not convinced there is any more evidence that this make-believe violence addles children's minds any more than Tom and Jerry's violent fights did in the '70s.
I'm not convinced every child can distinguish between games and real life.
What I do know is that these games are addictive to adults so children don't have a chance. It's a parent's responsibility to avoid an obsession to take into adulthood.
These children won't all grow up to be murderers and torturers but I do know they'd be far better off reading the Faraway Tree.
A tip to show-off companies proud as punch of their latest 'communication technology' – phone systems to you and I - and sophisticated automated service …. invest in a real person to answer the phone.
Companies are so hung up on their 'option 1, 2, 3 or 4' and taking customers through layer upon layer of touchtone hell in the hope of emerging from the maze with mission accomplished.
It might save them money but it doesn't save their customers time and high blood pressure. Sometimes nothing other than a real person will do.
In the last few weeks, I've wasted hours trying to track down a living soul behind the automated service of energy companies, DVLA, banks and phone companies, spending hours pressing buttons to no avail.
A friend needed a friendly ear late one evening this week when her daughter was stranded in London after missing the bus. All she wanted to do was buy her a ticket home but, at 10pm, there was no one to talk to arrange the transaction. Without Internet connection on her phone, her daughter would have remained stranded.
Business calls this progress. I call it evasion and neglect of customer service.