Children at War

Electronic Violence and Children

We know a couple with an eight-year old who've had a rough time lately, what with being laid off from work repeatedly and now having their house foreclosed (see my articles on the current recession if you want evidence of how bad things are for middle-class families).

But that’s not what got our attention this summer . What captured our attention – other than the fact that their child is bright, active, sensitive and creative – is how he wanted to spend his time: playing war games.

Dowel rods and random sticks picked up in the woods became swords, handguns, sniper rifles and AK-47’s in the hands of our young recruit and his almost-as-old cousin, with a little help from some masking tape and cardboard tubing.

Add to that an almost manic fascination with a hand-held game toy, the gift of an older set of relatives, and you begin to get the picture. He even announced that when he grows up he wants to join the Army.

Not long ago we came across a large billboard featuring that same electronic hand toy. The ad was headlined this way, “You can choose who you want to be . . . “ It pictured a young boy (a ‘Prince Caspian’ type) in caped costume with game in hand, using the latest game.

Accompanying the illustration were tag lines: “mildly suggestive language,” “fantasy blood,” “moderate violence” – along with the cautionary comment that this new game is intended for children ten years and over.

When I grew up we only had cap pistols (although my parents refused to let me buy one; I had to win mine in a contest at a local movie theater, and then was allowed only to play with it for one hour each Saturday). But that was all: no camouplaged clothing or army hats and no demonized mock ‘enemies’ – other than Indians, who didn’t seem quite so bad, since Tonto was always around the keep the Lone Ranger (and all us little cowboys) from straying too far into prejudice land.

Maybe our tame upbringing was the result of being post-WWII children with only the Korean War in our sights, and then only for a few years during childhood. But now the U.S. has been at war for 20+ years, since George H.W. Bush’s Desert Storm initiative. We’ve also had Iraq and Afghanistan, not to mention Grenada and drug wars. We’ve seen National Guard troops traipse off overseas on multiple deployments instead of fighting floods and hurricanes at home.

Children these days have gotten used to war and fighting, it would seem. So it took a real struggle to forbid our grandson to play any of his electronic war games and settle for slaying mythical dragons and mechanical transformers on his hand-held gizmo.

“Why is this handheld device and its war games so compelling?” we asked the child I've mentioned, and his response was: “I don’t know. I guess I’m just addicted.”

It’s not our children who are at fault, though they are at risk. It’s our country and its leaders who mistakenly think that brute force can solve any problem. It’s a generation of violence experienced on TV and in movies and on gaming handsets that are twisting young minds.

Children can play at other things and enjoy them. Some youngsters (boys) we know set up a pretend ‘store’ in grandparents' basement each summer and collect or make items to sell. It keeps them busy for hours, even though the actual dollars collected are few. They also play with dollhouses and construct things with Lego’s (yes, they also build stealth fighters and transformers and beasts that attack droids – but better those imaginary foes than shooting even make-believe guns at each other).

Perhaps the current crop of children will outgrow their taste for violence and shooting and combat eventually, but it won’t happen soon unless the rest of us grow up and settle our real world differences in non-violent ways. And that’s my real concern. We’ve had enough shouting and posturing and demonizing of the opposition (be they conservatives or liberals or Muslims). It’s time we came together as Americans and called on the instincts of our better nature to forge alliances for doing good. I rest my case.

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