It's always nice to be told someone loves you. It's even nicer when it comes in the form of a distracted 15-year-old boy, breezing past as you load a pile of towels into the washer. "I love you, mommy," he hurriedly and softly mutters in that deep baritone voice I'm still getting used to; flying out the back door for yet another visit with the friends who have suddenly become a priority. Given that he's almost six feet tall to my 5 '1', fiercely independent and often hard to read emotionally, I'm grateful for these spontaneous declarations along the with the random hugs I commonly receive.
My 13-year-old is more outgoing. His decrees of love are less random -- they are unceasing, they are boisterous. He often shares his anxieties and worries including a recent exploration upon the Internet that he feared may have been "inappropriate."
I remind myself of these instances when I see my sons playing Gears of War or Black Ops or Call of Duty -- games they have enjoyed for quite some time.
While not a fan of the games, they concern me far less than does the question of whether or not I am maintaining a connection with my kids. In my world, the parent-child connection is far more influential than any video game will ever be.
Look for convincing research on either side of the violent video game issue and you will find it. Sometimes I think the researchers would be better off walking into their local Game Stop and questioning the kid behind the desk, which I recently did.
This young man told me he had been playing games rated "mature" since early childhood. He openly shared his passion for such games. What about the connection, I asked him, between the playing of brutal video games and violence?
"Ma'am, I have been a pacifist all my life," he politely answered while looking me in the eye. "I don't see that changing. I just love the games -- that's all."
I left feeling more concerned about the excessive weight this kid had on him than about him taking out any game inspired wrath on society.
Not to say the games do not have an influence on a child's perspective. I do believe, however, that their biggest influence will felt by children who are already suffering emotionally.
We live in Newtown, CT. After the December 14th shootings, I noticed my kids were playing more sports-oriented games than the violent ones. They remarked that while they still liked some of the violent games, they have felt less like playing them since the shootings.
If only it were so simple that we could lay the blame for our kids' indifference, anger and disconnect on violent video games. When (and I say "when" rather than "if" because of the country's anguish over Newtown) societal perspectives on emotional health, community and parenting begins to shift from one of apathy to one of empathy, I suspect we will also see a subsequent shift in the appeal of these games.
No parent is ever sure if they are making the "right" decisions. However, in our gut we usually do know whether or not we are genuinely connected with our children.
If I ever sense the connection between my teenagers and I diminishing, it will be time to reevaluate my leaving their video game choices to their discretion. Till then, I'll drink in those frequent hugs, quiet talks and "I love you's" and live with Gears of War.