Yesterday, when I was sitting with you during our weekly lunch at your school, you asked me when you’d be old enough to play Grand Theft Auto. When I did not give you an exact age, you seemed a bit disappointed. I know you’re a goals person and you set your sites on goals and deadlines unlike any kid I’ve ever seen. You like to know when something is going to happen and you like to plan for it (as much as a 10 year old can). It’s definitely a trait you’ve picked up from your mom.
But sometimes, you’re not going to get the “when you’re X-Age” answer from me. It’s not because I don’t want to. It’s because there are a lot of factors that go into these things that have nothing to do with age.
First of all, let’s talk about the game. I’ve never held anything back from you and you know that it’s a game I’ve played and a game I really liked. Before you were born, when I was about 35 or so, mommy bought it for me along with a PS2 and I had many a night laughing maniacally as I performed deeds that I would not even dream of performing in real life. The game has just about every level of crime available to you and I totally get the desire to live in that fantasy world. It is, after all, just a cartoon.
But over the years, and as I’ve had more exposure to children from different walks of life, and the more in touch I get with the world around me, I’ve learned that to say that it’s “JUST” a cartoon is an oversimplification. It’s true. It’s a cartoon. It’s also true that I think that even at ten, you’re mature enough to know that running around, stealing cars, shooting people, doing things in the car with prostitutes and then robbing them is wrong. I think your mom and I have AT LEAST done a good enough job with you that you know that. But it’s not just about what you know. And it’s not that black and white.
The truth is, these things are never funny and they should not be “fun.” While I know you can separate reality from fantasy enough to know what’s considered right and wrong on a grand scale, my concern is that by doing these things we start to marginalize these situations in real life. No, I don’t think you’re going to go out and steal a car; but you might think less of it if you hear about it on the news. No, I don’t think you’re going to shoot a cop. But if you read about it, will you have an emotional reaction? Will you weep for the families of those who lost loved ones? Will you care? It’s this type of sensitivity that I have concerns about. Because I *do* think that exposure to these types of games will affect the emotional reaction you will have when these atrocities occur in real life.
I realize that your friends play it and I also accept the fact that you’re likely to play it or see it when you go to the houses of your friends. Mommy and I have never felt that it is healthy to try to keep you in a bubble, totally unexposed to these things. The world is out there and there’s not a lot we can do about that. Our only hope is that we do a good enough job of teaching you how to process these things when they come up.
Beyond the game, we have other things to consider in our home. You have a sister who’s almost five years younger than you. We have a mix of families in our home where the kids have likely come from homes where the line between their reality and the reality of these games is pretty fine. You’ve already seen how one of them reacts to small transgressions and when they see that an authority figure allows for games to be played with an (M) Rating, it doesn’t help them to define that line any more clearly. While he may be close to your age, you can see how his reactions and game play (which differ than yours) are likely to affect him as he gets older.
Every home is different. The makeup of each family is different from the next and each parent has their own set of values upon which they place importance. Each child is also different. For a 10-year old boy, you’re very mature in the way you process things. But I don’t think you’re yet mature enough to process the things that you can do in this game. I’m not sure that *I* am mature enough, for that matter. Yet, even if you were, without a shadow of a doubt, mature enough, in our environment, and based on the current makeup of our family, I still would not think it’s a good idea.
Lastly, I think that when you asked, you probably picked up on the fact that I was conflicted with my answer. It’s probable that you’ll pick up that I’m conflicted even as I write this. I am. As a parent, I’m coming to the conclusion that the hardest part of parenting is not teaching you the differences between absolute rights and wrongs, but making decisions based on things that have little to do with you; your environment, the people around you, the things available to you, where you’ll be and what you’re doing when you’re not here in front of us. As your dad, I sometimes have to choose between “laying down the law” (making rules), or letting you learn on your own. I have to give you just enough freedom so you can learn to make good decisions (and bad ones), while knowing when to pull back on the reigns and make a decision for you to prevent you from making one that will detrimentally affect you long-term. And sometimes, I might just be too cautious. Other times, not cautious enough. So ya, I’m conflicted.
I don’t have all the answers and I never will. But I’m pretty sure that, for now, the right answer in our home is “no GTA.” That answer is subject to revision at some point in time. What age? That I can’t tell you. Maybe when you’re 35 ;-).