This post was written a few years ago when I was dealing with the parenting dilemma of how old should kids be to play Call of Duty? At the time my son was 12 years old. But because he's the oldest child in a large family, I felt that my decision need to take into consideration the fact that the younger members of our family would likely watch him play, even if they weren't allowed to play themselves. So when is the right time to allow your kids to play violent video games?
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How it all began…
It all started as an after-school “play date.” My oldest son Kyle went over to a friend's house to play with a 5th-grade buddy. While he was there, I took the rest of the kids to my daughters' dance class, and then to pick up another son from chess, and I must not have paid any attention to my cell phone. When I picked Kyle up from his buddy's house, the Mom mentioned to me that she had tried to reach me on my cell phone, to ask if it would be okay for Kyle to play “COD” with her son on the XBox.
Realizing how not-with-it I was in the realm of tween boys, I just looked at her blankly. “Umm… COD? I'm not sure what that is.”
The Mom proceeded to explain that it was a video game called “Call of Duty” which is a military war game kind of thing, and the goal is for your guy to take out the opposition. She offered that “it's really not too graphic or anything.” But since they were unable to reach me, Kyle and her son just played some other games on the XBox instead.
Hmm. It sounded to me like a little research was in order here.
How old should kids be to play Call of Duty?
Phone a Friend
I first turned to another good friend of mine who had twin sons in the 5th grade to get her take on the matter. She told me that her hubby had purchased the “Call of Duty- Black Ops” game for her boys for Christmas. The boys knew they were not allowed to play it when their younger3-year-old) sister was in the room, so they only played the game after she went to bed.
She explained that the game comes with some controls- where you can decide the level of explicit play (referring to language and graphic violence). She said that she and her husband set it to the most explicit level to test it out when her boys weren't around, so they could see how “bad” the game could get, and that while the language was indeed colorful- it wasn't too over the top, and the violence was video game violence- shooting but without blood and gore.
She went on to talk about another feature of the XBox console (at the time we only owned a Wii) is that you can connect online with other XBox players. So her boys connected with their older cousin and played the game against each other. She mentioned that when you do this, you can hear the people you are connecting to speaking (you do not just hear the game), so her nephew is cautious about playing the game when he has his older friends visiting at the time (I guess to reign in their own colorful language!)
So at this point I was thinking, a violent video game that is about killing people, and a game console that allows my kids to connect to other people online and talk to them, while I am not necessarily in the room. So far, I'm not liking this.
Check out the ratings
I went to Amazon to look at the Call of Duty-Black Ops game, and I see that the rating for it is “Mature”. What does that mean exactly? Well according to the Entertainment Software Rating Board:
Titles rated M (Mature) have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.”
Check in with your own family's values
I asked myself these questions to really think through this parenting dilemma:
How do I feel about the game- it's rating and it's content?
Well, I didn't feel very good about “Call of Duty” to be honest. I really didn't think my 10-year-old should be playing video games where the sole purpose is to kill people- using tactical Cold-War era weaponry. If this were a movie about war, I didn't think I would be showing it to him, so why would a video game any different?
How do I feel about my son's maturity level in this area? (Every kid is unique in what they can handle, right?)
Actually, I feel that my son is pretty mature, and he can see something like this, and play the game, and know that killing is wrong. I don't see him taking what he sees here and play-acting it with his siblings. I also don't think he would play this game and end up with nightmares or new worries about real wars and conflicts.
And what about the social implications of this decision?
I knew that I didn't want to be the restrictive Mom raising sheltered kids. As much as this game did not align with my personal values, I didn't want to bar him from playing completely- because forbidden fruit is desired that much more. And I certainly did not want to overlook “the cool factor”- I didn't want him to be the uncool kid in school because his Mom wouldn't let him see more mature movies, play mature video games, and so on.
What did I eventually decide to do?
Kyle and I (and Steve) sat down and discussed why we were not thrilled with the idea of this game; that we think violence-based video games are not great fits for 10-year olds, and that violence, in general, is just wrong.
BUT, we understood why he would want to play a game at his friend's house, and find out for himself what “all of the other kids at school are talking about,” and that he would and should be naturally curious as to what the big deal is all about. So we allowed him to play it at his friend's house if he chose. And Kyle knew that we didn't plan (at least not for many years) to own this type of a game at our home because he has so many younger siblings.
Where do we stand on this, years later?
Ah- the benefit of hindsight! As it turned out, Kyle played Call of Duty a few times with friends and then pretty much forgot about it. He never was a huge gamer- and would rather be outside on a soccer field than playing anything virtually. And our second son has the same personality.
But our next two sons? They are definitely gamers. So with one of them in high school and the other in middle school, we finally purchased Black Ops III for them this past Christmas. And I'll admit that I cringed when they opened the package and high fived each other, but as it turned out- it's not been their favorite game to play (they are obsessed with Fortnite at the moment- yes another game with guns!).
But all of the other parenting we're doing (and that you're doing too!)- family dinners and discussions on all kinds of topics including violence in all of its forms, putting limits on video games and screen time, making sure that their focus is on their education and enjoying real-life activities vs. virtual ones- all of these things give kids a good basic foundation in their lives.
And playing video games, violent or not, is just one of their many interests. And I am completely okay with that.
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So please weigh in. Do you think that I made the right decision? What would you do? Stick to your guns (pun intended!) regarding your own family values, or give in to the social pressure to let your child try out the game?