I wonder if you could help me!
My son Peter is 12 years old and I’m genuinely worried about some of the shows, video games and movies he’s being exposed to.
He loves the Saw and Resident Evil movies and he and his friends play games that are full of violence, guns and suggestive sex. I can’t believe some of the things I’ve seen him watching and playing! And he also listens to some pretty explicit rap music.
The thing is both myself and my husband Paul consider ourselves liberal and the last thing we want to do is tell him what he can and can’t watch. I’m a believer that when you tell kids they can’t do something it makes it even more attractive. But I just don’t approve of some of these forms of entertainment and hate that he likes them.
How can I get my son to change his tastes? And do you think there’s any possible long- term harm from all this sex and violence?
I can relate to what you’re saying because I also have a 12-year-old boy and I can tell you they need a firm and guiding hand. There are a couple of things that jump out to me about your letter and since you wrote me asking for advice, I have permission to be truthful. So here goes, both barrels.
- MOVIES: YOU LET HIM WATCH SAW AND RESIDENT EVIL?! REALLY? You must have never wanted him to sleep alone in his room again! Saw is rated R for “Strong, GRISLY violence and language”! And a look at the parent guide for Resident Evil on IMDB.com will tell you everything you need to know. Those movies are rated R for a reason and no one under 17 is to see them without a parent or guardian. Were you with Peter? And even if you were, the National Institute for Mental Health says that children who view these types of movies can experience anxiety, avoidance behavior and obsess about some situations. Not good.
- VIDEO GAMES: Some of this is harsh stuff and warrants that we take a good look at it. But I know from experience that when you go to buy them, the clerks typically ask if you (the parent, the one holding the form of payment) know its rating. My son Cole does have a couple of the more mature games but what I do is when we get it home, I will watch him play it for a bit. Then I can decide whether it’s something we want to keep in his collection.
- MUSIC: This is a bit tricky. A lot of the songs that we sing along to on the radio also have an explicit version which is available online. You need to check what your kids are listening to and downloading. How is he buying the music? Is he using your credit/debit card? In that case you should be able to check out what he is buying.
Respecting Peter enough to allow him freedom to express himself does not mean abdicating all responsibility. You have to make sure his choices are “age appropriate.” He’s only 12 and really doesn’t have enough life experience to know what is potentially harmful to his development; you have to step in and provide the parameters for what is acceptable. When last I checked 12-year-olds didn’t have credit cards and those video games (again I know from experience) are expensive. So that means he has to get the method of payment from you and that is where you can lay down the law.
Frankly the thing that worries me about these violent forms of entertainment is the objectification of women. Peter loves you and you love him. I would explain that you want him to learn how to have a healthy respect for the women in his life, now and in the future. Explain to Peter that is not how women are treated; this is a lesson he is old enough to understand.
He may give you the push back when you start saying no and I can hear it now, “but all my friends watch it/listen to it/play it.” But the bottom line is you are not raising “all his friends”; you are raising him. And while it is human nature for him to want to be liked, that is really not our primary job as parents. Remembering that will keep you focused!
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