It is my son's birthday today. It seems utterly impossible that he is twelve years old. But he is.
He had a party last Friday - friends of his from school met up and went to the swimming pool and then we had a picnic and a kickaround after (or a rollaround for those who didn't like football). It was a good day with great weather and a really good bunch of kids.
We have steered clear of computer games for most of his life, but this was the first birthday he had ever really asked for anything (apart from new pencils or a book or whatever) and so an Xbox 360 has finally come to live with us. I remember telling one of my son's friends in art club that we didn't have a Wii or a PS2 or an Xbox or anything, and he gave me a look of utter disgust. If I had said that I fed my son nothing but gruel he would have been more forgiving.
One of the many issues that will come up with the Xbox is the issue of age-rating on games. There has been a lot of talk about age-banding on books and how it will put children off reading a book that is banded as being too old for them, or make a child feel foolish for reading something too young.
Age-rating seems to have another effect altogether. Basically it is ignored by most parents - on games as well as DVDs, but especially on games. An age-rating is an incitement to buy for the child. The bigger the age gap between child and age-rating, the more desirable the product. Primary school children regularly play games that are rated 15 or even 18 with the full knowledge of their parents, who clearly feel these guidelines are yet more intrusive nannying from the state, and not applicable to their child who is much too sophisticated to be affected etc etc etc.
And I've done it too. My son has watched 15 rated movies. He was given a list when he started secondary school of movies to watch when they were doing the Romans. One was Gladiator. Rated 15. He was 11. He was probably the only one of his friends who had not seen it. We are so mean.
When I was buying my son's Xbox there was a French teacher trying to buy Resident Evil (rated 18) and other games for her 12 year-old students. Good on HMV for refusing. 'But it's OK - their parents trust me,' she said. Well, that's OK then.
I blogged a little while ago about the loss of childhood by over-protection by state and parents, but there is another loss of childhood - that very precious bit of childhood before the onset of teens and troubles - by the continual pressure on children to grow up and out of it as quickly as possible. There is no good reason for children to be exposed to explicit simulated violence. We weren't as children.
It is just laziness on our behalf and a fear of being seen as uncool parents that allows it.