A Recent Discussion About Parenting

I recently had an email discussion with an author I’ve known and worked with for a number of years. He has, I think, four kids. I think he’s Mormon.

Me: “I know that you’re a history buff and obviously into video games. Do you ever worry about your kids being exposed to violent content at a young age? My son Lucas is 5 now and we have protected him from violent content as much as possible. He doesn’t watch TV at all, never has. We don’t play video games of any kind. He goes to private school with other likeminded families, etc. And despite it all, he has developed a fascination with weapons and war, armies, fighters, guns, warplanes, etc. Drives me crazy! Some people tell me it’s just his age and that he’ll soon move through the phase. I certainly want him to learn about history, but I would prefer that his exposure to the uglier parts of humanity happen later on, when he’s older and can handle it better. What’s your take on this stuff? Just wondering …”

Him: “That is a tough call. My kids play video games and my son, who is almost 8, has been doing it since he was 5. However, I try to be careful about the types of games he plays or watches me play. Though he plays some shooters, like Star Wars Battlefront, I don’t let him play games with blood or which are quite violent–blood and gore. He helped me take some of the parachute landing screens for Airborne, but I don’t let him stay in my office while I am shooting and stuff.

“In my office I have models of cannons, planes, tanks, and historical GI Joe figures. So my kids are exposed to military history and weapons. I have talked to them about war. My mother-in-law’s father was killed in WWII and she never even knew him since she was born after he had already gone overseas. I have his purple heart as well as a certificate signed by Pres. Truman recognizing his sacrifice. I have showed these to my kids and explained that war is sometimes necessary, but people get hurt and killed. I have also let my son watch some old war movies without all the blood and gore, but still with people dying so he understands that while the tanks and guns may be cool, they are dangerous.

“As for your son, boys seem to have an interest in weapons. I don’t know why, especially since he has not been exposed to it much. While not an expert, I would think explaining war to him might help. Therefore, he will understand the bigger picture rather than just guns are cool. You don’t have to be graphic or go into detail. But maybe give him some information that you can control rather than have him get it from somewhere else. (sounds like a sex talk).

“Take this advice for what it is worth. Sorry I did not respond sooner. I have really been thinking about it. My youngest son is 5 and he makes swords out of tinker toys and goes around like he is a pirate. My wife and I try to help him understand that swords can hurt people, even his play sword, and that hurting people is bad. So I work with him to build more peaceful things so he can make something other than a sword.

“Thanks for asking. It has given me cause to reflect.”

Me: “Thank you for the thoughtful reply. It’s a touchy subject for many people and I appreciate your honesty and sensitivity. I find I feel strongly that Lucas should know about this stuff and learn about it from reputable sources when he’s somewhat older. I think a 7-8-9-year-old is capable of handling the many contradictions that violence and humanity encompass: it’s good to fight for the safety of your family or your country, it’s not good to fight for the sake of gaining power over others or to harm people or to take others’ things.

“A friend suggested that comic-book heroes might be a gentle way to ease into topics like crime and criminals, violence, etc., and I think he may be right. I have no complaints with Superman or Spiderman, for example. Heroes who battle evil forces to save good people are cool! Trouble is, explaining WHY there are evil forces in the world is often difficult for me. Lucas complains of nightmares, as many children his age do.

“War is particularly touchy, given that our nation is currently engaged in one that some think is good and other think is unjust. I respect people who join the military out of a sense of duty, but dislike the many domestic situations in which economically disadvantaged people join the service because they have few other options. Ultimately, no matter how you slice it, armed conflict among professional, willing soldiers is still bad news for civilians, including children.

“We do talk with Lucas about war, armies, etc. I try to answer his questions matter-of-factly (controlling the info) and without too much emotion (you know how protesting too loudly often just shows children how to push your buttons–which may be a factor in my son’s interest). He knows intellectually that wars kill people, that guns and armored vehicles are designed to harm and kill. I doubt he has any sense of the finality of death, however. Perhaps that is best at this age.

“In Lucas’s Waldorf school they celebrate Michaelmas, which is essentially the story of George and the Dragon. The angel Michael empowers the boy with a sword of righteousness and teaches him he must fight only for good and against the darkness represented by the dragon, who brings despair and destruction. The children actually make their own wooden swords: they build, sand, and stain them. Only the older children in the Kindergarten are allowed to do this and it’s approached with great seriousness and reverence. (It sounds super-religious, but it’s not overtly so. The meanings are embedded in the story and the children absorb the lesson gently.) They recite versus about being honest, strong, brave and good.

“I guess in a way it’s just hard for a peacenik like me to see my son gravitate toward subjects I think he’s not yet ready for. Our society sure seems to push children to grow up quickly. And try as I might, I cannot protect him from all the things I would wish to. (And that, I suppose, is the most difficult part of parenting.)

“Anyway, thank you for the good conversation. I enjoyed working with you on PROJECT (it’s hypocritical of me to work in this industry and deplore the glorification of violence, eh?).”

2 Responses to “A Recent Discussion About Parenting”

  • pirategrrl
    August 2, 2007 at 6:24 pm

    You know, I don’t have kids, but I hope to at some point, and I really find this sort of thing interesting. I file it away for future use, and I really respect your approach. 🙂


  • sarabellae
    August 3, 2007 at 1:38 pm

    Thank you. I try to approach things like this thoughtfully. I try not to let my emotions rule me.

    This was an interesting discussion to have since this person is very different from me but still someone I respect.


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