Whether we like it or not, our modern world revolves around digital media. We watch television to wind down after work, surf the internet or log in to social media if we’re bored. Having a computer is no longer a barrier to getting online—most of us have and use a smartphone daily to connect with those across the country while disconnecting from the person across the table.
Then there are video games. I recently spoke to my daughter and her 14-year-old friends about video games. I asked if they had heard about the latest game about shooting heroin (I don’t know if a game like this exists, I just wanted to see their reaction). When they looked at me aghast, I asked them about the difference between a game about drug use and a game in which the primary objective is to kill other players. To them, violence in video games was no big deal. They had grown up around them, played them with their friends. It was normal.
As I recently told the Doral Family Journal, this is exactly what desensitization looks like. Both of these types of video games are, of course, in the business of promoting anti-social, damaging behavior for fun and entertainment. But we can tell from the reactions of my daughter and her friends that only one of them is truly offensive to the younger generation.
We should not be surprised. Worried, perhaps, but not surprised. Many parents today grew up in similar environments—I know parents who were still in high school when the first Grand Theft Auto came out—and our reaction to these violent forms of media shows it. Not only do we not see anything wrong with our children spending hours killing “bad guys” (or even “good guys,” depending on the game), but we also don’t do anything to discourage them from playing them. This fact is what worries me most—as a parent, a psychotherapist, and a member of society.
I am not trying to promote censorship in today’s media. But I do believe that a conversation is necessary. There is a responsible way to present violence to our children, showing them how it has a direct effect on the world, on their peers, and on themselves. This is the boomerang effect, an analogy that I use in the Triumph Steps curriculum to explain that what we put out into the world comes back to us. What we consume through digital media has the potential to spring from our mouths and our hands, as well. Whether it is something positive depends on what our eyes have witnessed.