Confession: I let my 11-year-old play M-rated Call of Duty. When his 19-year old brother is around, the boys play Call of Duty together. I know, I know, I know. I am a horrific mother. That is already a given.
I tell myself that it is only a video game. It isn’t real. I wouldn’t let my boys sit around watching real combat videos on YouTube. I wouldn’t let them watch real things happen to real people. Would I?
This week I was working on a column about the brouhaha that surrounds a combat video taken by PFC Ted Daniels, a soldier who served in 4th Infantry Division in Afghanistan. Daniels is injured in the footage. More than 23 million people have viewed the video prompting questions about how combat videos should be used.
But one stray detail in the Washington Post story got to me. Daniels intends to share the video with his two sons.
Daniels imagined that some day he would sit with his two boys and play the video for them, just as he had done for his father. The best way to preserve the footage, he decided, would be to upload it to a private YouTube channel.
Is that a good idea? Personal camcorders and helmet cams have been abundant in this war. In so many of our homes, real war footage is on a hard drive somewhere. Or it is on a flash drive floating in a drawer. Or it is uploaded to a private website waiting for a kid curious about their father or mother to come looking for it.
Will you let your kids watch it? Will you let them watch the combat videos of strangers? And if not, how are you planning to prevent that?
Since my husband is in the Navy, we don’t have any combat videos of our own. That won’t stop my kid from seeing it. My fifth grader is a child of the digital age. The boy can play Minecraft on the Xbox, watch a YouTube video game tutorial on the computer, keep an eye on the Backyardigans(??) on Netflix, eat a chicken sandwich, and tell me about his day all at the same time.
We have all the parental controls set up on the computers. (I contacted YouTube to make sure combat video is one of the things that is age restricted–it is) I do my best to keep a lid on the video games. But I have raised two teenagers already. I was, in fact, a teenager. I know for sure that there will come a point where my son’s generational skill set will far outstrip my ability to control him online.
If he wants to find video of real combat, he will—the same way I found gory Jack the Ripper photos at the library and sneaked into R rated films so I could check out the sex scenes and figured out how to get wine coolers without a valid ID. (Sorry, Mom).
Coming from a military family, I know my son will be curious about war. I just can’t see myself sitting down with him and saying, “Let’s look at these combat videos together, shall we?”
Maybe it is a generational thing. My own father did two tours in Vietnam. We didn’t talk about his wartime experiences until I was in my thirties. All during my childhood I was aware that somewhere in our box of family movies my dad had these reels from Vietnam that my mom called “nothing but planes.”
We never watched those. Maybe because it was hard to set up the projector. Maybe because the reels really do have nothing on them but planes. Maybe because it is one thing to take combat footage and another to sit down and show it to your child.
This is one of those questions our generation of military parents and tech-savvy kids will deal with in the coming years. When you come up with a good answer, will you let me know?