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Mamas Say: Enough with 'Call of Duty!'

Which side of the battle over the 'Call of Duty' video game are you on -- ‘It’s okay for my kids to play,’ or ‘Over my dead body!’

I’ve been writing this column long enough now that strangers and friends regularly suggest topics they want me to cover.

“Do something about those out-of-control parent coaches! They’re just awful and now they’re screaming at the student refs!”

“You should see the texts that my daughter gets sent -- and she’s only in sixth grade! Write something called ‘Sexting in Sixth Grade.’”

“Who gives their kid a cell phone in third grade -- and it’s an iPhone?! Write about how privileged kids in this part of the country are.”

At a recent girls’ night out, the topic turned to the “Call of Duty.”  My friend started the conversation: “Please, Heather. Write about ‘Call of Duty.’ Tell other moms they need to agree to stop letting their kids play. So when I say ‘No!’ to my children, I won’t be the only one saying ‘No!’.”

Mentioning the often violent, war-based video game series, this one mom effectively tossed a live grenade into the middle of the circle of moms, but rather than scatter from the impact, suddenly everyone jumped into the conversation. People who thought the game was inappropriate for kids were clamoring to agree, drowning out the odd silence of those who thought it was okay for their kids to play it.

“Call of Duty” is a video game series focusing on different wars, ranging from World War II to fictional modern battles. The game shows explicit violence and graphic content -- throat slashing, knifeplay, automatic weapons shooting bullets that rip through flesh, and grenades that blow off limbs. That’s just the tip of the iceberg.

There is adult language, and there is graphic, mature imagery, such as torture and suicide bombings.

The first time I heard that a peer of my 10-year-old son played “Call of Duty” at home was two years ago -- they were in the third grade. They were eight years old at the time.

Eight. An “interesting” age to introduce the topic of suicide bombers and what limbs look like when they get blown off by a grenade, don’t you think?

Of course, “Call of Duty” has a parent-control filter to reduce the amount of gore and profanity kids can experience when they play.  So “f*** you” becomes “screw you.”  That’s up to you as a parent to decide which version is okay for your child, if it’s even okay at all.

But, I’m not so sure that it’s up to you to decide which version is okay for my child, if it’s okay at all.

And therein is really the topic of this column, and what my friend was getting at when she suggested I broach the “Call of Duty” topic in this column. When you determine what’s okay for your own child, presumably you, the parent, have the best interests of your child in mind when deciding if he or she is up for playing a video war game.

Parental Miscommunication

It’s a completely different story when that choice is made on behalf of someone else’s child, without thought to consult that child’s parents.

We’ve all likely had that experience. You pick your child up from a friend’s house, and you find out that the kids have done something you’re completely not comfortable with -- riding ATVs, watching an R-rated movie, or checking out the dad’s sword collection (that one really happened to someone I know).

Scary thing -- you never heard from the other parent ahead of time to make sure the activity was okay with you.

I once wrote a column about something I pledged to do for my kids when they went over to a friend’s house -- to ask each time whether there was a gun in the house where my child had been invited.

I got a lot of flak for writing that column -- sadly, I was misunderstood by many readers who thought I was speaking out against the right to own firearms. On the contrary, I had no beef with people who chose to legally own guns. I was just writing about opening up the conversation between two adults who might need to take responsibility for the time each other’s children were spending in one another’s homes, and understanding what kinds of things their kids might encounter.

Parents can choose how they want to parent their own children. But when they’re making choices that affect other people children, that’s where it gets dicey.

This is territory we parents tread into all the time, not just with violent video games. Another friend told me of a time her son went to a friend’s house directly after school, and was staying for a sleepover. She never received a call from the other parent letting her know her son had arrived in one piece. When she phoned, the call went to voice mail, and there was no word about how things were going, if they even were. She didn’t get a return call, even after leaving a message.

Thankfully that situation turned out fine. The only lasting effect is the mental note my friend has made about how responsible -- or not -- the other parent is and whether she’ll ever let her child go over to that house again.

I had a situation arise over the past weekend where I needed to make the judgment call about something that happened on a playdate my daughter had, and whether or not I needed to inform the parents of my daughter’s friends.

During a conversation the two 6-year-old girls had in front of me, they mentioned that a boy on their bus often said, “Sexy! Sexy!” Then my daughter’s friend asked me, “Mrs. Herve, what does ‘sexy’ mean?”

I deflected it as best as I could -- telling her that it was a grown up word that didn’t really belong in school, or on a school bus, or with kids who were six. But it was probably better if she had the conversation with her own parents.

That kind of conversation is sensitive enough to have with your own children, but when it gets introduced with a child who isn’t your own, it’s likely not something you should tackle.

But at the first possible opportunity, you can bet that I called the little girl’s mom, to tell her what happened.

Some parents might not have thought it was important enough to mention. Some might think me prudish. But when it comes to the responsibility I have for children who are visitors in my home, I have to acknowledge the responsibility I have to keep their parents informed and to let their parents set the boundaries.

So too does that apply to “Call of Duty.” Maybe it’s one of those things I need to add to the list of topics to chat about before each get together my kids have. Can we talk about what movie they’re going to watch during the sleepover? Is it possible to limit the amount of time they play video games, and by the way, can you limit it to sports-themed ones? How about they stay off the ATVs?

I can already hear the comments from those who disagree with me: “Don’t be such a helicopter parent! Relax, HBH, your kids will be fine, it’s nothing we didn’t hear or see when we were growing up and we turned out okay.”  I might even hear, “Your kid’s gonna grow up to be a wuss! I want my child to see the reality of the world.”

People who feel that way are completely entitled to their opinions. But it’s up to me to make those choices for my children, just as it’s their choice to decide for theirs.

Chuck E. Arla October 11, 2012 at 01:55 PM
Do what we did: no video games. Go outside and play.
Thomas October 11, 2012 at 07:32 PM
I read through this and saw not only me, but my parents, lol. It is the parent's decision to see if they are okay with what their kids are doing. It is also important to remember that something you are not okay with may be okay with another parent. I let my kids (teens) play Airsoft. When their friends (teens) come over, they get curious and want to play. I'm okay with it, so we review safety tips from http://www.airsplat.com/airsoft-safety.htm and target practice in the back yard (My house, I'm out there with them). Come to find out their parents are not okay with it. Oh the rabidness of it all and the "How Dare You"s. But they're okay with their kids playing Call of Duty. Yes, I did not put that into consideration, but now that I know, I don't over step their boundaries. Compromise with the parents, especially with younger kids. If you are unsure on something big, ask the parents (Kids will almost always say "yes?"). It helps alleviate some trouble :)

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