by thea marie
What's on my mind....
As I watched the images captured by the university camera of the young men beating the helpless man on the ground with what appeared to be bats, my mind went right to video games. With the superior graphics of today's games and the somewhat grainy quality of the picture, it was almost as if I was watching over the shoulder of one of my sons as he played one of those violent video games that kids seem to enjoy so much.
Mind you, this is not a lecture against the evils of video games.
My kids played all of them when they were little, both tame and violent. Even though they are now grown, they continue to play them. In fact, when they come home to visit, the game systems arrive, packed in their carrying cases as an essential piece of luggage.
Raising my children, I didn't believe in a lot of censuring. It never worked with me as a kid. As soon as someone tried to cut me off from something, I went way out of my way to see what it was that was being kept from me. With my own children, I figured if I cut a thing out at home, one of their friends would have what I didn't want mine to have, and they'd get to it anyway.
The best thing to do, I thought, when it came to those games or anything else unsavory was to talk with my kids about what was real and what was fantasy. We had conversations that reinforced what was role playing and what was reality. In short, we talked.
We had conversations about things and we exchanged ideas. I talked with them and they talked to me. I shared my values with my sons, and in having them share theirs with me, I was able to "see where their heads were". Even though they are now 26, 24, and 18, and they started way back there with Atari and Bally, working their way through Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Playstation I and II, and the X Box, not one of them has, to my knowledge, taken to heart and acted out the violence on the screen.
I think part of the problem with kids today is we talk to them, not with them. We tell them what we expect, but we don't take the time to see if we're being heard. Often what we say to kids is not reflected in what we say to each other within their earshot, nor is it always reflected in the things that we do in front of them. Kids are extremely perceptive; they know when we are being genuine and when we are not.
The incident with these young men was an ugly, sickening thing to watch. The video which was used to identify them as the perpetrators, was of their interaction with the one homeless man. I shudder to think what they did to the others, especially to the man who died, allegedly, at their hands.
As I looked on, the thing that stuck in my mind was that the one kid just kept hitting the man, over, and over, and over. Every time the man moved, the boy followed him. The man put up his hands to protect his face and head, but the kid kept swinging and hitting. The man rolled away, but the kid just kept zapping him, knocking him down as if every time he made contact, bells were pinging in his head and points were accumulating on some unseen screen.
The homeless men these young men attacked had become something less than human to them. They were nothing more than targets on the screen in some macabre realistic video game. It was Mortal Kombat with a very real fatality.
Somebody forgot to impress upon these boys that real is real. Someone didn't make it clear to them that all human life is valuable, no matter what color it is, no matter if it sleeps at night in a bed or a box. These boys were old enough to know better, but what they did wasn't something that got started on the day they got caught on that tape. The roots of that evil twist way back to something in their pasts.
As we grow busier and our lives become more complicated in our efforts to keep it all together, it seems we are seeing more and more bizarre, troubling behavior in our children. They're hoarding guns in our houses, building bombs in our basements, killing playmates and hiding the corpses between the mattress in their rooms, becoming suicidal, all underneath our unsuspecting noses. The blame cannot all be placed on substandard schools, peer pressure, violent video games, the media, single parent families, or any of that. Some kids grow up faced with all of those elements and turn out just fine. Then others come from what appear to be ideal situations, and they beat up homeless people with baseball bats or hold a whole school hostage by bringing a gun to school.
I don't claim to have any answers. I wasn't in any way a perfect parent, in fact on some days, I felt far from it. But, I can only say with pride, and some measure of relief now that it's done, that my boys appear to have turned out all right. The only advice I can offer is pay attention to and talk with the children rather than at them. It is a matter of seeing them as people apart from us, and of taking real responsibilty for their upbringing, not just giving it lip service.