I first heard about this pending legislation on the way into work yesterday morning. I’ve been working on this commentary about it ever since. Seems three state legislators have come to the shocking discovery that minors can rent and/or buy violent videogames from various stores. Games like Grand Theft Auto III which allows players to engage in all manner of illegal and immoral behavior ranging from carjacking any vehicle in the game to murder to just general mayhem for mayhem’s sake. The proposed legislation would make it a misdemeanor to rent or sell such games to minors with fines of up to $1,000 and possible jail time. According to a quote in the article from the Detroit Free Press:
“We’re totally not in the business of censorship,” said state Rep. Patricia Lockwood, D-Fenton. “I’m a parent, too. All we’re trying to do is make sure people are aware of what their kids are doing,” said Lockwood, who was tipped to the game by a parent on her street.
I don’t quite understand how this is supposed to help. I guess I’m just naive, but shouldn’t the parents already know what their kids are doing? Isn’t that part of what being a parent is all about? I’m no expert on the subject and I’m sure you can find folks willing to claim I’m a lousy parent for one reason or another, but I do know what my kid is up to and I make it a point to be aware of what shows she watches and videogames she plays. Granted, Anne is currently a stay-at-home Mom and we only have the one kid, but she doesn’t make a videogame or movie purchase without me being involved and probably won’t until she’s well into her teen years. Even then I’ll probably make it a point to keep tabs on what she’s buying and watching and playing.
My point is simply that parents should already be aware of what videogames their kids are playing and shouldn’t need a law forcing retailers to do what the parents should be doing. The whole reason the industry came up with the rating system in the first place was so that parents would have a way of judging whether or not their kid should be buying a particular title. Even without the rating just a moment spent reading the game description on the packaging is often enough to know whether you’d want your kid playing the game or not. If retailers want to voluntarily restrict who they’re willing to sell the game to based on the rating (as Walmarts does) then so much the better, but they shouldn’t be forced to do it. It’s not their job to raise your kids.
The truth of the matter is that no amount of legislation will make up for parents who don’t give a shit. Film ratings and theaters that enforce them have yet to stop me from walking into a theater to find a group of kids ranging in age from 5 to 12 sitting in the front row of the latest R-Rated sex-and-violence-fest without a parent in sight. I’ve actually questioned some of these kids when I see them and it’s about a 50/50 split on whether the parents themselves are just elsewhere in the theater or if the parents walked them into the theater to get past the usher and then left the kids so they could go shopping during the movie. Last I checked, kids are still smoking, drinking, doing drugs, consuming pornography, and any of a dozen other things that we already have laws in place to try and prevent. Often times the parents of said kids claim surprise and ignorance when confronted with what their kids are up to. Too often the parents are fully aware and even facilitate their kid’s participation in said activities.
Seems to me these laws don’t do much good. If anything these sorts of laws are probably more harmful by encouraging a false sense of security among parents. A good example of this is the always popular Youth Anti-Smoking Laws that just about every state has on their books. Like the proposed law banning sales or rentals of mature rated videogames to kids, most states have laws banning the sale of tobacco products to, or their posession by, people under the age of 18. Here in Michigan said laws were first established back in 1915 long before the Surgeon General first announced that smoking definitively caused lung cancer (1964). Yet as late as 1998 the number of teenagers smoking has continued to rise. Prior to the report in 1964 the average age that people started smoking on a daily basis was between 18-25. By the 1980s the average age of new smokers had dropped to 12-17 years of age. Studies conducted by various organizations including reports by the Center for Disease Control all tend to indicate that there is no evidence that supports the idea that youth tobacco restriction laws reduce teen smoking in any significant manner regardless of whether the law is actively enforced or not by the community in question. In some cases they even reported a rise in teen smoking in areas where such laws were actively enforced.
For the last couple of years the number of teens smoking has been in decline and it’s generally agreed this decline has more to do with better education among kids as well as growing public awareness, not because of any restriction laws. This would say to me that the best way to combat teen smoking is to provide more education to the kids about why smoking is a bad idea. As soon as you ban it you make it more attractive to kids as it’s now an “adult” thing to do. Studies have also shown that the best people to get the message across to kids about the dangers involved in smoking and other high risk activities are their parents. Will it stop every kid from ever picking up a cigarette? No, but the laws aren’t stopping them either so how can legislation be the better option of the two? We don’t need more laws trying to raise our kids for us, we just need more parents who give a shit about their kids.