5 Therapist’s Tools for Talking With Your Kids About Violent Video Games

MAPPS: NYC Therapist Dr. Saliha Bava’s tools for talking with kids about violent media (and a whole lot more).

Like many families, we’re managing the role and impact of video games; especially violent ones. Our conversations include our seven year old son, his mother, father, step-mother and step-father as well as many other parents and friends.

For the moment, in conversation with our son, we’ve collectively drawn the line at “is it educational?” By that, we mean will it teach him math or science? Will it help with school? Its a blunt tool when discussing something as complex and nuanced as learning, but it’s our current bulwark against the violent media savages that are storming the castle.

For most of us, movies and video games that ghoulishly depict human suffering and death are the most problematic. Every time some person picks up a real gun in the real world and goes on a killing spree, we collectively ask ourselves, did that person play these games for so long that he or she became desensitized to human suffering? Its a bleak scenario, filled with images of terrible isolation and addiction. A nightmare world in which some kid is crouched over a keyboard until he or she loses all grasp on reality.

Please note: I’m not suggesting there is a direct correlation between violent media and gun violence. Nor would I suggest a direct correlation between mental illness and gun violence. People who commit real violence in the world do so for a complex web of reasons. There are no simple cause and effect relationships. What I am saying is that we parents have a lot of fears.

And so, we are saying no to games that are just about “blasting everything.” In practical terms, this means that, for now, we’re not even playing Skylanders in our house. Because in our family’s conversations Skylanders is framed as not teaching grammar or math or natural sciences. But the real reason we are resisting Skylanders is we know that out there somewhere beyond the simple colorful whacking of Skylanders lies the bloody chaos of much darker games. And we can’t bear to imagine our sweet son staring into that abyss. Its is a fearful and irrational response. One that can choke off opportunities to grow meaningful conversations and prepare our son for the world he will someday have to navigate on his own.

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The worst of these games will enter our child’s awareness at some point. It’s not a question of if, its when. What is a parent to do about this eventuality? For us, it comes down to encouraging conversations around the issues that violent video games give rise to. And then keeping that conversation going along with the wider range of networked conversations in our family.

Like talking about drugs, its never too early to start talking about violence in video games and movies. As long as you remember to speak in age appropriate ways, these conversations give kids a window into a moment, some time in the future, when they will have to make their own informed decisions about violent entertainment. Talking about violent media can prepare our kids to make conscious choices about how they relate to it and to all the peer pressure that comes along with it; pressure to be crass and callous as an expression of independence. For us, the real danger is for violent media to make its way into our son’s life absent of any baseline discussion about what it means. Clearly, many many kids are exposed to violent media at too young an age and without any frames with which to manage the emotions or ideas violent media can create. (Or for that matter, a violent world.)

And so, we are putting our money on the power of conversations, openly encouraged and purposefully grown. My wife, Saliha Bava, an active participant in these conversations, has created a tool that can help.

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The MAPPS parenting frame, created by New York City couples and family therapist Dr. Saliha Bava, is designed to help parents create productive conversations about violent media and other issues with their kids. Bava’s MAPPS system, reposted below, was originally posted on her blog. Dr. Bava writes:

MAPPS is a parenting frame that I developed in response to the ongoing debate about the impact of video games on children. Video games are the virtual playgrounds. And our roles of parenting our kids on playgrounds applies to the virtual play ground as well. I’m offering MAPPS as a tool to create useful and engaging conversations with your children about video games and their role in your family.

MAPPS, a frame for Generative, Growthful and Glowing Relationships

1. Mix it up: Parenting is not only about disciplining. I know you already know this. But often, the first thing that happens when our child steps “out of bounds” with our values or principles is that we focus on discipline. Instead, play with the boundaries. Engage your child and learn what they are focusing on when they are on the edge of what is considered “acceptable”. The first time my son shot a bow and arrow at a humanoid character in a video game called Mine Craft, my hackles went up. No shooting humans in video games! That is my core value. My husband let him play a few more moments and then told him to stop. Then we talked about what that was like. Our son, a 7-year-old said, “it didn’t feel good.” And we had an opening to talk further…just 2-3 minutes, but the seed was planted.

2. Actively seed and feed: Be a gardener of conversations. Actively plant the seeds, nurture and grow these conversations within your family. Our relationships are gardens which hold all kinds of conversations. And you are not the only gardener. Look for the seeds your child is planting and the conversations he or she is attempting to grow. Nurture the act of seeding even if it is a plant you don’t necessarily like. It is important for children to develop their own voice. In conversations they are playing with the ideas that will someday make up their core values. And it is in this interchange that they are most receptive to learning and growing. Keep your eye on the whole landscape as well as the individual “plants” that make up these conversational gardens.

3. Play: Play video games with your kids. Play some video games by yourself. Learn about your multiple roles that emerge when you are playing video games with your kids. Sometimes you are a character, sometimes a team member, sometimes a disciplinarian and sometimes you will play many roles at once. Learn about your child’s world, the world of play. Video games are one small part of that world. Rediscover play for yourself. Join in! Be in the space of play, not just in the space of discipline or rule making. Because it is in these bridging spaces where we grow our bonds and relationships.

4. Promote reflection: Kids in their own age-appropriate way are making meaning. Reflection is a social activity by which, in talk, thought and action, we make sense of the world around us. Don’t just point out things. Ask your child what their thoughts and feelings are when they build a lava pit, discover a secret pathway in a game or shoot down a cow or bird. Ask these questions across all types of games, not just violent games (but definitely use them with such games).

If you limit such engagement only to violent games, you risk elevating them to a different category, (and yes they are already in a different category), but the trick is to do the both/and. To hold the idea that such games are simply one among many games even as you view it as different value category that needs special attention. Because how you engage promotes the frame by which the child will respond. Create an ongoing dialogue about your child’s experience of life, the whole big enchilada. Share your ethical values but also listen. Because in the act of listening you are teaching them how to construct ethical values of their own. You are helping them to develop their abilities to reflect and judge what is right and wrong contextually.

5. Scintillate: Be alive! Present energy to your children. Bring out your inner child and enjoy! Children can relate when they see you having fun. They know the language of pleasure and fun. And in play and fun we are actively sharing ideas about how to live while growing the bonds that make families stronger.

By the end of this list you are probably wondering, ‘this is not just about video games, is it?’. You got it! Parenting about video-games is not about video games, and it shouldn’t be. Isolating an issue and centering our focus on it, is the very way we grow that which we don’t want to encourage. Isolating the issue at hand often creates a disconnected way of parenting where we lose sight of the bigger picture, ie: the relationship with our child and our other family relationships. Rather than focusing on some amorphous end result, such as, not having a violent child, lets attend to what builds a positive relationship. This will create an invaluable source the child draws on to face a challenging and uncertain life. Release control of the result and adopt a stance of being resourced for the unknown.

To learn more, contact Dr. Bava at SalihaBava.com.

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Violent videos games aside, I strongly believe gaming can be a powerful force for growth and learning. My son’s math games on the iPad have dramatically increased his ability to do sums quickly in his head. He has learned a lot about wildlife and environmental issues in the Wild Krats game on PBS Kids. Just as a game called Sim City helped me understand how to balance the allocation of public resources for a city, so too will games help our kids learn about complex scientific, social and relational dynamics.

But violence as entertainment is a real issue that must be addressed both in the world and within our families. Starting the discussion about those challenging issues now with our children, prepares them to frame their ideas about these issues later, when they are on their own. We can not protect them from what awaits them in the world but we can prepare them, by giving them the conceptual tools to manage change, which is coming at them fast and furious.

As Dr. Bava says in a recent article, “Ultimately, it is in families and in communities that we mediate the effect of most anything in life, since its in these conversations that we make meaning of these experiences.”

Bottom line? Don’t feel guilty, its okay to enjoy Skylanders. But make an effort to get in the gaming world with your kids. Join them on this journey. And most of all, keep the conversation going with your kids about violent media and listen carefully to what they have to say.

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About Mark Greene

GMP Senior Editor Mark Greene writes and speaks on Men's Issues at the intersection of society, politics, relationships and parenting for the Good Men Project, the New York Times, The Shriver Report, Salon, HLN, The Huffington Post, and Mamamia. You can follow him on Twitter @megaSAHD and Google.
Click here to read more GMP articles by Mark Greene. Get Mark's fully illustrated children's book FLATMUNDER for iPad from iTunes about kid's fears and the power of play. For kids ages 4-8.

Comments

  1. I do not like violent video games because they plant ideas into the minds of the players. While some people are mentally stable enough to separate fiction and real life, some are not that mentally stable. On the video games the shooter is not being punished for killing but they are scoring and moving up in the game. I think the video games are where a lot of our violence is coming from.

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