In 1992 the video game Mortal Kombat was introduced in arcades and on home video game consoles. The game was the first to feature lifelike, realistic violence. The game was so controversial, the Senate Judiciary and Government Affairs Committee conducted a hearing on video game violence a year later which prompted the establishment of the Entertainment Software Rating Board (ESRB) to assign age and content ratings to video games. Mortal Kombat, Doom, Wolfenstein, Resident Evil, and other video game titles worried parents and the United States government over the effects video game violence would have on children.
Last week, two shootings were broadcast on social media. And while the implications of these shootings has been widely discussed culturally and will continue to spark discussion in relationship to race relations in our country (I have contributed to that discussion here), I want to take a moment to talk about kids and technology.
I was 11 years old in 1992, the year Mortal Kombat was released. Now in 2016, my oldest daughter is 11 years old. And unlike 1992, where parents and government officials were concerned with children playing or viewing fake violence – my children will grow up in a culture where they can watch real violence, actual murder taking place in real time. Looking back historically, consider the moment when live television captured Jack Ruby shooting Lee Harvey Oswald – the moment was described as “shocking,” “absolute panic,” even “horrifying.” In 2016, video violence like this streams on our Facebook feeds.
As a parent, I can exert some control over the media consumed in our home. But digital tools are ubiquitous – they are not held within physical boundaries. So while I can guide my children away from watching videos of Eric Garner, Alton Sterling, Philandro Castile, or others – I have zero control over other people who might share these videos with my kids and most importantly, my kids will not have an adult or parent present to frame what they have seen. Given the rise in this type of violence being publicly available for young eyes, what will the impact be?
According to the National Center for PTSD, “Children and teens could have PTSD if they have lived through an event that could have caused them or someone else to be killed or badly hurt. Such events include sexual or physical abuse or other violent crimes. Disasters such as floods, school shootings, car crashes, or fires might also cause PTSD. Other events that can cause PTSD are war, a friend’s suicide, or seeing violence in the area they live.”
How will a child’s perception of law enforcement or human life be impacted? What guidelines do parents and ministry leaders need to consider? What will the psychological effects be for children who witness events like these with greater frequency over time? The impact children feel from traumatic situations is directly related to the severity of the trauma, how parents react, and the proximity of the child to the trauma (a gap technology closes).
As ministry leaders charged with the responsibility for caring for children and their families, it is critically important for us to address these issues and consider the impact children feel. I want to invite all of you to join INCM in prayer and action.
Pray for our fellow kidmin leaders and the children they serve in suburbs of Minneapolis/St. Paul, Orlando, Dallas/Ft. Worth, and Baton Rouge. Consider how you might stand firm in the Scriptures in this unique time in our nation. Brainstorm how the children’s ministry community can work together to support and encourage parents, while caring well for the children we all serve.