Ellie and I met a very sweet little boy at the park today, who I’ll call “James.” He climbed on the merry-go-round with us and promptly informed us that he was 4, but “I be 5 on my next birf-day.” My daughter is 2 and 1/2, and he seemed very kind to her.
Later, I saw him playing with a group of mostly older boys, probably aged 5 – 8. (It’s Spring Break here.) They were dividing into teams for some game when I heard James explain to an older boy: “No! You only get 1 shot wif a sniper [rifle]. I had RPG [rocket-propelled grenade launcher] so I got you.”
James is 4, not quite able to take the stairs to the slide without still half-crawling up them, and must have so much experience with first-person shooter or battle royale games that he can educate other kids on the finer points of military weapons. To be honest, I was dumbfounded, though maybe in this day and age I shouldn’t be.
This is a commentary about parenting, not politics or guns or video games. James didn’t toddle into GameStop on his own and plunk down $50 in quarters from his piggy bank for Fortnite or Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Somewhere there’s a parent – perhaps tired, or stressed, or overworked, but a parent nonetheless – who not only allows him to play such games but facilitates his doing so.
Here’s the thing – it’s not the parent who will pay the price. It’s the little boy. At best, young James will spend too much time in front of a screen while his motor skills and neurological development may suffer. At worst, he grows up with a really twisted sense about the value of human life, a numbness to graphic violence and hyper-aggressive tendencies. The reality will probably fall somewhere in between.
I’m not saying I don’t play violent video games – I do. (I’ve actually been working on a lengthy post about my positive experiences with video games, which feels like it ought to be shelved for the time being.) And 8-year-old me cheered on Christmas morning 1992 when I unwrapped my own first video game system: the SNES, in all its 16-bit glory. But it’s undeniable there’s a difference between Super Mario Brothers 3 and Call of Duty.
I don’t have a point to this post. There’s no moral message other than heartbreak for this kid and the literally millions like him. And, I suppose, a request to all my friends who have become parents of their own young children: go give ’em a hug. Spend time with them. Go outside. Few people get the wonderful opportunity I have to be a full-time dad, I know that, but the best parent I’ve ever met is a working mom. Ellie loves nothing more than seeing her walk in the door every night.
As for us, Ellie and I will be back at the park tomorrow. We’ve got some make-believing to do.