ON THE RANCH

These are trying and stressful times on a global level. The continuing war in Iraq creates news coverage and daily conversations that include many allusions to violence.

Because holiday season generally means time to buy gifts for our children, itís worth noting that this yearís menu of computer games and toys contains many that are as violent as ever. Once again itís important for those who give presents to children to think about the impact of giving violent games or toys as a gift.

 

What difference does it make if children play with violent games?

Children learn through play and they absorb values by mirroring what they see and hear. When we give a child a violent game, computer game, or toy, weíre saying itís OK to play in that way, and that those activities are acceptable. There is a subtle message being sent — and one that in this day and age is reinforced at every turn — that violence is ďout there,Ē and itís OK — maybe even good — to fantasize about it.

 

 Itís really not OK for children to fantasize about violence, especially at the personal level. We should make that message clear to young people as early as we can.

 

The problem is that we live in a media-saturated world and the media messages are filled with violence. This is a big departure from when most of us were children. Many of us played with violent toys, but it was easier to separate that play from reality because the movies we watched, the books and newspapers we read, were gentler and more innocent than the current fare. Play and fantasy were clearly separated from reality.

 

Thatís not true today. Cartoons, reality shows, and video games seem to blend with informational shows or news. We have become numbed to tragedy and suffering.

 

Giving a child a violent game or toy reinforces the notion that violence is everywhere and itís OK to fantasize about taking part in it. Whatís more, the current advertising and promotion of toys and video games has taken a twist thatís unprecedented. We now have toys and games that are developed first, and then cartoon programs that are created strictly to market those toys or games, under the guise of programming. The programs serve as models of how to play with those toys, and, more often than not, they are distressingly violent.

 

We all know the pressures our own children exert on us when thereís a toy or game they really want. Especially around holiday time, we want to give children gifts that will make them happy.

 

But when movies, television programs, videos, and even the morning newspaper and the evening news are filled with messages of violence, it becomes more difficult to separate the cartoon messages from those of the real world. Our children are becoming numb to human suffering simply because news of it surrounds them at every turn.

 

As parents and relatives, we send messages to our children through everything we do, and — whether we mean to or not — through the toys and games we give. If we really hope to achieve a kinder, safer, more civil world, we must act on those values and reinforce them whenever we can. Actions always speak louder than words, and giving violent toys and games can counteract what we say to our children about kindness and compassion.

Whatís a parent or relative to do under pressure? The hardest thing of all — just say ďNo.Ē