I admit, it was a bit impulsive. It was a spur-of-the-moment parenting decision that I did not discuss with Chuck. But there we were, in the car having an old argument on a new day, so I pulled out my phone and opened Twitter.
First, I am not an activist. In fact, while I have strong and firm opinions on many issues, there are only two or three that I would actually rise up and carry a banner for. This is not one of them. Instead of being another voice in a very loud crowd, I see issues like these as an opportunity to make the biggest impact I can – which is teaching my children about love. Jeremy and Jackson are my most important audience. You will not find me on a street corner with protestors. Rather, you will find me in deep conversation with my boys because they are the mission to which I’ve been called.
Now, the back story.
For at least two years now Jeremy has been asking to play first-person shooter video games, and for two years, we’ve continued to say no. For the umpteenth time, he asked on Thursday when he’ll finally be allowed to play Call of Duty or Battlefield or any other game rated Teen or Mature. My eyes roll and I cringe, but I get it. He has friends who play them, they are popular, they seem fun, it’s not really killing people. I get it.
The answer is still, “Not until you’re older.”
“But why?” he asks. “It’s just a video game.”
This is when I pause, the car in park, hands still on the wheel. We had just pulled into the garage and I had a choice. I could repeat what I’ve said many times (and bang my head against the wall) or I could go a step further to drive home my point. So I took the step.
“Because guns are real. People killing people is real. War is real. I don’t want you to be numb to those things.”
“I won’t be numb to it,” he says. “I promise.”
Out comes the phone. I say nothing while I scroll through Twitter looking for the video of Alton Sterling’s death. I had already watched it and even as I impulsively made this decision I knew I wouldn’t let him watch the full thing.
I find the video, press play, and turn it towards Jeremy’s face. He watches it, wide-eyed, mouth open. Just before the gun fires, I close the screen. He looks at me and says nothing.
“Does that shock you?”
“What was that?” he asks.
“This happened just yesterday in Louisiana, but shootings like this happen all the time. With cops, without cops, all over the world in war. This is real life and death stuff, and it should bother you. It is not a game.”
I pause, then ask, “Does this shock you?”
“This is why you aren’t playing those games yet. You aren’t able to process these emotions or even understand what you’re doing. There are plenty of other ways to spend your time.”
“I never thought of it that way,” he says, then, “thank you.”
We did not get into the details of Alton Sterling’s death, or Philando Castile’s, or the other 507 people (white, black, Hispanic) that have been shot and killed in an altercation with police officers just in 2016. We didn’t get into the details of how many soldiers have been killed while in service to our country since September 11, 2001. We didn’t discuss the insane statistics of violent crime among civilians or the ongoing debate about gun control or even how his father was an honorable police officer for all eight years of his service and continues to serve our country with integrity. We didn’t need to get into those things because he is 12 years old and there are many complicated points of view to unpack. Jeremy has a long life to live and I have no doubt there will be plenty of opportunities for us to have difficult conversations about evil and hate.
But for right now, to answer his question about those damn video games, I chose to shock him. I chose to set in his brain something that is real and horrific.
Like many of you, I was awake into the night as news came in from Dallas. As the day goes on, I’ll find the right words to tell Jeremy what has happened. But as far as videos go, I think we’re good for now.