A Uncertain Future: The Desensitization of Violence in America

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  • At what point does someone else’s business become ours?

    Two days ago I flew on a Delta flight from Nashville to Salt Lake City, I was seated in Economy Comfort, the first row behind first class, directly behind two boys in first class, perhaps about 10 and 14 years old. As soon as they were seated both boys pulled out their iPads and started playing a game. The youngest one was holding his iPad up high so that it was impossible for those behind him NOT to see it.

    He was playing a game where he would move his iPad back and forth to center on someone walking on a busy street, place them into the scope of his gun, and then kill them… with a virtual reality feel similar to what it would be like to watch someone blow apart and die right in front of you. I was shocked that such a game existed let alone that someone would allow their young children to experience such violence.

    After 20 minutes of non-stop murder and unsuccessful attempts to block the view of his screen, I politely leaned forward and asked the older boy who was seated in front of me, if he would kindly ask his brother to move his iPad or play a different game, as the one he was playing was highly offensive to those of us behind him. He leaned over and talked with his brother, only to have the younger one turn around, glare at me, and switch to a different game.

    The problem was, in the second game was picking off tourists standing on the top of the Stature of Liberty through a long range rifle, and watching their heads blow off, with SUCCESS flashing across the screen with each kill shot. At this point I couldn’t believe what was unfolding in front of me.

    His third choice of games was one where he was holding his gun to the head of a taxi driver in New York City, forcing him to push cars from behind into intersections causing the other drivers to be killed. From there he switched to driving through crowds of people on the sidewalk while shooting random people out the window with an automatic gun. I was sick just watching this highly disturbing carnage.

    In light of the Las Vegas massacre and the church shooting in Texas, many are crying out for gun control. It makes me wonder, who makes games like this, and more importantly, why would any parent allow their child to become so desensitized by such violence? “Oh, it’s only a game”… but it isn’t. When this child takes a gun to school and kills his classmates, or gets upset with his parents and kills the entire family, should anyone be surprised?

    When we teach children that this violent, realistic behavior is okay- even in a video game, what’s to stop their brain from rationalizing this as their new normal?

    The look I received from politely just asking this child to play something else was frightening. If he’d had a real weapon I think you would be reading about the tragedy on a Delta flight from Nashville to Montana where a woman was shot for asking a child to turn off a game.

    Curious as to what kind of parents would allow this kind of violence to be a part of their child’s life, I asked the older boy if his parents were on the plane. He said they were in the first row. After their meal service when it was safe to walk around the plane, I decided to venture to the first row to speak with his parents.

    I went forward to the restroom and turned back to see who the parents were. Judgmentally, I expected a business executive with a beautiful wife who were raising kids with electronic babysitters rather than providing real parenting. I was so wrong. Instead, there was an older woman perhaps in her early 60’s, with three more little children ranging from 5-8 years old, taking up the 4 seats in the front row of first class. Forgive me for being judgmental, but she was frumpy with baggy jeans and a well worn shirt, overweight and clearly not what I expected to see in first class, let alone to be accompanied by FIVE raggedy looking children. (How does one afford that?)

    I explained that I was seated behind her two sons a few rows back, and that I wanted to apologize in advance for being so forward, but that I felt compelled to speak to her because what her children were exposed to was so violently offensive to those of us seated behind them.

    I asked her if she was aware of the games that her children were playing, and told her that as a parent and as a grandmother, I found the game highly offensive- especially in light of the recent shootings. I told her perhaps if someone had said something to the parents of those shooters, so many families wouldn’t have been destroyed by their violence. She just smiled and nodded. 

    I explained that I know that it’s just a game, but if we desensitize murder, especially to a child, we’re planting seeds that could do irreparable harm in the future. I told her that I would greatly appreciate it if she would ask her children to turn off the game or play something non-offensive. She just continued to sit there with a fake smile on her face, nodding her head like some creepy doll out of a horror movie. I felt goosebumps from head to toe. Something was clearly wrong with this picture.

    I again apologized and shared that I felt compelled to say something so that her children didn’t take a gun to school, kill all of their classmates and have people say “There were no signs that they were violent”. She smiled and said that I had nothing to worry about, because her children are from a good Christian family and that they are all homeschooled by her, so they wouldn’t kill their classmates. She told me that they were all Christians “doing God’s work”.

    Since she was touting Christianity, I asked, “Help me understand something…. If you’re raising your children in a “good Christian family”, what about “Thou shall not kill?”. Her response was, “This is different- we are at war!” She explained that killing can be okay. I politely pointed out that her sons were using a sniper rifle and killing tourists on top of the Statue of Liberty, and even if she’s thinks we’re in a war- that’s certainly not war. She just smiled and said that they were great kids practicing useful skills and that we had nothing to worry about. I was so stunned I didn’t know what to say.

    I returned to my seat visibly shaken, feeling like I’d just spoken to the mom of a future home grown terrorist.  I shared the conversation with my seat mate and we were both shocked by her comments. The more I thought about what she had said, the more concerned I became.

    About 30 minutes later the mother came back and talked with her boys. The younger one kept looking back at me during her conversation and glaring. I was so grateful there were no weapons on Delta.

    After three hours of extreme violence we landed and it was time to disembark from the plane. As my seat mate and I were standing next to the two boys waiting to leave, I asked the younger one if he realized how offensive his game was to everyone behind him. He looked at his older brother then turned to me and said, “It’s not like I was killing any innocent people”. My mouth dropped open. I said, “What about the innocent pedestrians, or the tourists on the top of the Statue of Liberty- they were innocent!”. He started to say “They weren’t innocent because…” but was abruptly cut off by his older brother who grabbed him and said, “Be quiet- we’re not allowed to talk about this”. And they left the plane.

    I felt like I’d just been punched yet I only had 35 minutes to catch my connecting flight. I ran to the new gate and felt like I was in a daze. I saw the mother and the three girls board a flight after dropping the boys off at a different gate. Something still wasn’t right about this whole picture. The more I thought about it, the more questions I wished I’d asked the mom.

    Although it’s been nearly 48 hours since that flight, I still feel shaken when I recall the experience. Should I have spoken out to her? Perhaps not. But, if we really are a community, then isn’t it my responsibility to help these children understand how inappropriate their behavior is -now before it’s too late? Is there any saving kids like this who are brainwashed by wacky parents or guardians?

    As a young boy, I remember my son playing Dr. Brain, an educational game that taught him math and spelling. Am I so old, so naive or so far removed from today’s kids who are growing up attached to electronic technology to think that violence doesn’t belong in children’s games?

    I play a game called Bejeweled on my iphone when I’m on an airplane. It’s a game of falling gems that you need to line up in rows of 5. After about 30 minutes of playing that game, I still see the colored rows of gems – after I turn off the game- when looking at other things. I’ll look up to see my gate number, and see rows of gems burned into my brain. What happens to a child who looks through a rifle scope killing innocent people for hours and hours?

    Am I wrong to thing that Delta should have done something about this? Several passengers complained but the flight attendant, while professional and kind, said there was nothing that she could do. (I’ve written to Delta corporate and I’ll keep you posted on their response stating their position. )

    I’m sure the kid’s games were perfectly legal, but there’s a there’s a difference between legal and what’s appropriate. Could someone legally watch a movie with graphic sex on a plane where everyone could see it, or watch an educational video of a doctor performing open heart surgery or an abortion? Just because something is legal doesn’t mean it’s acceptable. Where are the lines of what we accept or not? Did Delta have a responsibility to ask him to turn it off as it was blatantly interfering with the relaxation of other passengers?

    What would have to happen for YOU to speak up? What would you have done in this situation?

    Do you agree or disagree with what I did and why? I believe that if the powers that be aren’t ready to talk about guns now, we have to take matters into our own hands and have our own grassroots discussions- even if it means offending the parent of a future mass murderer.

    Please share your thoughts…..

     

    p.s. Photo credits-

    Next Time it May Be You

    Not a Game

    Gail Lynne Goodwin

    Gail Lynne Goodwin is the founder of InspireMeToday.com, bringing the best inspiration to the world. InspireMeToday.com provides free inspiration, each day from a new Inspirational Luminary, to a global community of folks from over 150 countries. Gail has interviewed many well-known names including Sir Richard Branson, Guy Laliberte, Seth Godin, Tony Hseih, Gary Vaynerchuk, Michael Gerber, Marci Shimoff, Jack Canfield and hundreds more. According to Mashable, Gail was one of 2009's Top 25 Most Inspirational People on Twitter. Prior to InspireMeToday.com, Gail spent several years as manager for her recording artist daughter, Carly. As a result of the success of their co-penned song, "Baby Come Back Home", Gail accompanied her daughter to bases in the US and to Guantanamo Bay, Cuba where Carly performed for our troops. Gail and Carly created the 'World's Longest Letter' of love and support and delivered the 18-mile long scroll on a month-long tour of Iraq and the Persian Gulf in 2006. Gail is excited to present her latest course, Love in 21 Days, a step-by-step guide to finding love online. Love in 21 Days is founded on a logical process that has been tested - and proven! - by not only Gail, but also by students around the world who too have found love. Gail is a published author and a regular writer for the Huffington Post. She offers mentoring and mastermind services to clients worldwide from her home in Whitefish, Montana. Follow Gail on Twitter or Google+.

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    1. Elaine Starling
      Elaine Starling says:

      I totally admire you for speaking up and sharing your concerns. Unfortunately, parents are busy so they ignore their kids and what they’re doing for entertainment.
      The human brain isn’t fully mature until age 25. Neuroscience shows that priming with specific words influences behavior. With violent video games and movies, dystopian stories, and polarizing news coverage, we are creating our own, home-grown terrorists. It’s only through open discussion and providing healthy alternatives that we can make a difference.

      Reply
      • Gail Lynne Goodwin
        Gail Lynne Goodwin says:

        Thank you Elaine. I’m grateful that there are people like you in this world who are actively making a difference.

        Reply
    2. Kevin Steinke
      Kevin Steinke says:

      Thank you for your opinions.You really didn’t think that your thoughts would have any effect on the mother did you? How would you feel if a stranger came up to you and lectured you about their religious beliefs and requested you change yours for their sake? Surely you would be dismissive. You hold your beliefs to be true above other’s.What would ever give you the idea that you were going to have any success at all with that mother? Your beliefs are just that, your beliefs. Be thankful the mother was polite and didn’t tell you where you could put your intrusive ideas as most people would have done!

      Reply
      • Gail Lynne Goodwin
        Gail Lynne Goodwin says:

        Kevin, thanks for your response. I’m happy to answer your questions. Yes, I did think that perhaps my thoughts would have an effect on the mother. I thought that perhaps she would be unaware of what her kids were doing, and I was shocked to see that not only was she aware of it, but she approved! If a stranger approached me with a difference of opinion, I would welcome the intelligent discourse, just like we are doing here. It is only through communication that lights turn on within and things change. I truly don’t understand how training children to murder innocent people is doing God’s work, and sadly I don’t believe God would either. Better to be a light in the darkness and risk offense than to do nothing and risk reading about another shooting tomorrow.

        Reply
    3. Kathy Slattengren
      Kathy Slattengren says:

      I admire that you spoke to both the kids and the mom about the violent games. It’s important that you let them know seeing this violence was bothering you and others. Although you can’t force them to change their behavior, speaking up may cause them to think twice about the impact of their activities on others.

      Reply
    4. Md Nayeem
      Md Nayeem says:

      Thanks Gail, You have shared a very important topics, where we should be a tactful parents to handle our children friendly. Some of PC & android games are really terrible to explain, its bad effect on kids. Real thing is, we can’t avoid such kind of innovation, but we can divert our children to physical sports, which is really needs for their mental growth +physical fitness, where friendly parenting is obvious.

      Reply

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