Games best judged by supervising parents

Published 12:00 am Sunday, September 10, 2000

Managing Editor

Sept. 2, 2000 10 PM

In order to prevent the over-exposure of young children to violent video games, some area retailers have decided to curtail sales of some games to minors.

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Policies requiring an adult to purchase violent video games are, according to experts, a good start, but each child is unique and the results of exposure to violence will vary depending on the child in question, one area counselor said.

"There is no clear way to predict how exposure to violence in games, movies and music will affect a child," said East Central Mental Health Center counselor Ashley Johnson. "Every child is different and ultimately the child’s maturity and ability to separate fantasy or make-believe from reality is best determined by the child’s parent."

Studies show that long-term exposure to the stimulation of video games can, in rare cases, affect children with seizure disorders, but there is no clear way to determine how children without these types of disorders will react.

Johnson, who holds a master’s degree in community counseling and who works as a counselor for ECMHC, said policies geared toward limiting game sales to minors are a good start. Ultimately, though, parents will likely be able to make the best decisions about what is and what isn’t good for their children.

"Determining whether or not a child will react to the violence is something that really depends on the maturity of the child," she said. "Some don’t cross the line between what’s real and what’s make-believe. Some may have a tendency to do this. The best way to prevent problems is for parents to be aware of the kinds of games their children are playing and to closely monitor them."

Johnson said it’s difficult to target specific age ranges of children and how they could be affected because of the uniqueness of each child.

"What we do know is that young children can be very impressionable," she said. "Some may not understand that the things they see on television – even cartoons – or in games could cause someone harm. Each child’s ability to determine the difference in pretend and fantasy and reality is individual. Parents would be the best judge of what’s not good for their kids to watch on TV or which games their children should not play."

She said some children may be able to easily separate the difference between the results of real and make-believe violence.

"I don’t think anyone can say that just because a child plays a violent game sometimes, or watches violent movies that the child will do something like what we saw at Columbine (High School)," she said. "Some children can handle it. Some may not be able to do that. Parents who are involved are the best judge."

The movie and recording industries have reacted to concerns by placing warnings on programs and recordings in order to allow parents to be aware of the content of records and television shows, similar to a rating system used in movies.

These warnings, Johnson said, are good, common sense measures that put the power of making decisions about what children are being exposed to in the hands of their parents.

"These systems help give parents some guidelines about what their children are watching, listening to, or playing," she said.

Still, Johnson believes the best authority on what is and is not good for kids, is a parent who monitors and takes an interest in the things their children are doing.

"Certainly the raising of the child is best left to the child’s parents," she said. "Responsibly monitoring their children, taking an interest in their children’s activities and keeping up with children’s interest are the best precautions parents can take. If parents don’t like what they see, then they can take action accordingly."

Johnson said she understands that some parents may not be available to constantly monitor the things their children do. For those parents, especially, a warning system or an age requirement on video game rentals and purchases is a good tip for them to spend a little time to check out what’s happening.

"We would encourage any parents who may have questions or who would like advice regarding their child to give us a call," she said. "We will be happy to try to answer any questions or to help in any way if parents have questions."

To contact Johnson or another counselor at ECMHC call 566-7600, extension 1133.