Video games, parental rights and double standards


Reactions to the Supreme Court ruling that struck down a California law regulating the sale of violent games to minors strike me as interesting, to say the least. Regardless of where one stands on this particular ruling, it is interesting to note how often legislators and the courts step in to take over the role as parent.

Utah Attorney General Mark Shurtleff was quoted as saying, “The government isn’t always able to step in and take over the role as parent,” in defending the Supreme Court ruling regarding these violent games. The Deseret News article further quoted Shurtleff as follows:

“Nobody likes the fact that there are violent video games out there, and no one likes their kids watching them,” Shurtleff said, adding parents and the gaming industry need to take responsibility for keeping violent games away from minors, just as with movies and music. “Parents, that’s the key. That’s what is going to control what movies they see and what music they listen to. Video games are no different,” Shurtleff told the Deseret News. He said he believes that the government shouldn’t step in and substitute for parenting.

“Parents need to wake up and be aware,” he said.

I agree wholeheartedly with Shurtleff’s first comment and would add that the government shouldn’t step in and take over the parent’s role. But why is it OK for the government to do it in some instances and then not do it in other instances?

Consider the following examples:

1. Why pass car seat regulations that require booster seats for children up to age 8? It often becomes a logistical nightmare for mothers and fathers when trying to create carpools for school and other activities involving children. Even in my Honda Odyssey, I can’t get three boosters to fit in a row. That means that after I put my four children who are under the age of 8 in the car, I can only have one other child under the age of 8 in the vehicle and must leave two seat belts unused.

2. Why ban the sale or manufacture of drop-side cribs instead of letting parents decide what they want to use? I have often been grateful for our drop-side crib. I have big babies, and when recovering from a delivery my back is often in a weakened state. On numerous occasions, I literally would have been unable to lift my baby out of the crib without the ability to drop the side down. Wouldn’t it have been sufficient to require warning labels on the cribs to remind parents to check parts that may loosen and to mandate high-quality parts from the manufacturers?

3. Why make it illegal to sell alcohol or tobacco to minors? Shouldn’t the alcohol and tobacco industries have to take responsibility along with parents? I don’t see how these extremely violent video games are any less toxic or destructive than the abuse of alcohol and tobacco.

4. Why prohibit parents from leaving a child in a car unattended? Again, it’s a logistical nightmare to lug all my children, including baby and toddlers, into a school to take my visually impaired child into her classroom. It takes longer to unbuckle them and buckle them back up in their car seats than it does to walk my daughter into her classroom. Can you imagine the crowd in the hall if all parents had to do the same? Or is it really so bad to leave my children in the shaded car for the two to three minutes it takes for me to run into a pizza shop to buy a pizza for dinner?

Now, I understand these laws are in place because of the physical harm that can and has come to children otherwise. But why is there a double standard when it comes to the potential for mental and emotional harm? Violent video games are one example of this. The gaming industry clearly has an incentive to get children hooked and addicted as early as possible – more money and power over the hearts and minds of our children.

As parents, we absolutely do have a responsibility to monitor our children, “to wake up and be aware” and do all we can to protect them within reason. What I don’t understand is why public officials feel they should intervene when a child’s physical safety is at stake but not when a child’s mental and emotional safety is at stake.

From what I understand of the California law in question, it would have supported parental rights by preventing minors from purchasing these violent video games without their parents’ knowledge. Parents could then decide if they wanted their children to have them or not. Unlike what Shurtleff views as government stepping in to take the place of parents, is it not more accurate to see it as the government stepping in to allow the parents to take their place as parents? These are the kind of laws that do make sense.

Government should find ways to empower parents, such as regulating how other adults interact with children (e.g., sale of video games, alcohol, tobacco) in order to preserve parental rights but not regulate how parents can act with their children (e.g., cribs, booster seats, leaving children in a car) unless the potential for harm is so great and so recurrent that it makes sense.