"I do not want to contribute to the culture of violence in America."
In the back of my closet, bags of unwrapped Christmas presents are piled high. There are sweatshirts for the boys, a game of Chinese checkers, a scarf for my mother-in-law, and two video games for my 13-year old son: Call of Duty and Halo 4.
Over the past year, my son has relentlessly lobbied for these games. He argued that they're fun and harmless. The games are more about solving puzzles than killing. He said that all of his friends have them, which is true. He said our anti-gun rules are interfering with his social life. He can't invite kids to our house because we don't have the two things that they love most: airsoft guns and violent video games. Our rules were making him into a social misfit.
My husband and I listened to our son's position and decided that he made valid points. Last Friday morning, I made a trip to Toys "R" Us and bought those games for him along with a game of Chinese Checkers and a box of Legos for his younger brother. Despite all the studies that show that certain video games increase aggression and our position that these games represent a huge departure from the cops-and-robbers guns of our youth, we also recognized the fact that our son has to operate in the world. He needs to fit in with his peer group.
In a recent video on the Daily Beast, Ta-Nehisi Coates said that football and violent video games and rap lyrics make true violence understandable and graspable. Maybe our son and his friends find catharsis in the games; perhaps it's a healthy response to a violent world.
When I returned from my shopping trip on Friday, I turned on the TV to learn of the horror of slain children. Lives were destroyed by guns.
What should I do about those games in my closet? How can I demand gun control legislation, while at the same time permitting my own child to use guns—albeit pretend ones—on the TV in the playroom?
Violent video games don't turn kids into killers. Even profoundly disturbed individuals don't enact acts of horror solely based on their access to violent video games. Still, those images of Newtown are fresh on my mind, and they undermine every logical argument that my son, the future lawyer, made.
I do not want to contribute to the culture of violence in America. Over the weekend, Nicholas Thompson at the New Yorker wrote that America's movies, books and games are extremely violent and, as we talk about gun control legislation, we need to consider a broader problem.
I don't think that a culture of violence is solely based in the play activities of boys. A culture of violence is sometimes just the absence of kindness. It impacts girls, who feel coerced to dress certain ways and are shunned by the popular girls who demand a certain level of conformity. It is evident in the viral blog post of a woman who struggles with her disabled child without the support of the community. It is found in the angry tweets by individuals who are annoyed that a president's words interrupted their football game.
As much as I would like, I can't shield my children completely from that culture of overt violence and its more subtle variations. They have to leave my house to catch the school bus every morning and be out there in the world with all its beauty and its evil. But maybe I can make our own home a refuge from the worst influences.
Those violent video games in the back of my closet haunt me. I have ten days to decide what to do. As the kids have gotten older, I have found that parenting decisions do not have right or wrong answers, and events in Newtown, Connecticut have made this parenting decision even more complicated.