Mark Williams, Chief Juvenile Probation Officer for Tom Green County shared his insights into what is influencing kids to break the law yesterday at the San Angelo Rotary Club.
He broke away from what he called his standard speech about juvenile delinquency and gave a full-throated denunciation of the culture that is maligning the current generation of children.
Through his court-appointed position over the past 28 years, Williams has seen children in Tom Green County from their tweens to near adulthood at their worst. He touched on single parenthood, and co-dependency. “Some of these mothers are as immature and unprepared to raise a child as their children are,” he said.
Broken homes and broken families in Tom Green County create a void of positive role models for many children, Williams said. And today’s sex-filled violent culture is willing and ready to fulfill the wants, needs and desires of area youth absent of family role models.
“The kids that come to us [do so] because they don’t have enough self-confidence, and something or somebody’s negatively influenced them." The kids are easily influenced by negative aspects of our culture because, "they need to feel better about themselves,” Williams said.
Speaking his mind while offering an informed opinion as a juvenile probation officer, Williams said that rap music and violent video games are not the same music and entertainment the middle-aged audience at Rotary grew up with.
“I get to see kids who’ve committed horrible crimes and I get to see them in some really ugly situations,” Williams said. “And it’s getting scarier over the years. My first case when I became a probation officer was a bicycle theft.”
More recently Williams said, he handled a lengthy murder case.
“Rap music used to be the subject of my soapbox speech until I found out what’s in today’s video games,” Williams said. “In my position I think I know what’s happening in the minds of our youth, and then I get exposed to more things reaching them and it just blows me away.”
“Rap music is all about hate, violence, total disrespect for women, sexual promiscuity… We just let this happen. We idolize these people [rap musicians]. But these kids I see, they really idolize these people,” Williams said. “They listen to that stuff [rap music] and there’s no doubt in my mind that it has an influence on their lives.”More ominous than the rap music genre, Williams said, is the content in today’s video games.
Gone are the days of the cute “Mario Brothers Double Dash” or “The Legend of Zelda” that the 30- and 40-somethings remember. Today’s first person “shooter” games are desensitizing modern youth to sex, killing and rampant violence, said Williams.
“As the body becomes physiologically accustomed to a little lift from a gateway drug, the person graduates to harder drugs,” Williams said, “I see video games as something where once the thrill of playing a video game is gone, what’s the next step?”
Real life, Williams believes.
This is particularly true for youth who have a family situation that provides no support, nor satisfies a child’s self esteem.
Williams then spoke very specifically about titles of video games that he said most parents do not know the content, but should. “I’m not trying to be provocative, but it’s important that parents know what their kids are spending hours upon hours per week playing,” Williams said.
Here are the video games Williams said are wildly popular with today’s youth. We have included YouTube.com video embeds of examples of the content that Williams warned about. The content of these videos is graphically violent and contains mature subject matter.
“I’m not trying to offend you, but I want to be very honest about what’s out there,” he said.
Williams outlined four examples of popular games to illustrate his point. They are (warning, they’re graphic):
Mortal Kombat. “It’s about ‘fighting you the death.’ It’s listed in the category of having the top ten best gore effects in gaming. It shows what happens to the human body while the body is being injured or dismembered.” Here’s a compilation of dismemberment scenes from Mortal Kombat 9 (this YouTube.com video has 1.3 million views).
Call of Duty. “In the 2009 version, the main character gets involved with terrorists and they go into an airport and just mow down all the people in the airport. Does that sound familiar?” Williams asked.
Grand Theft Auto 5 (or GTA 5). “The whole focus of the game is stealing vehicles. But it’s not only about stealing vehicles. If you want to, part of the game play scenarios contain the opportunity to go to a strip club and get a lap dance. And these games are not cartoons. The computer-animated characters almost look like real people in movies,” Williams said, suggesting that the realism is very sexually arousing to many, especially teenaged males. “Every successive version of GTA gets more and more like real life,” Williams stressed. If getting lap dances is lame, you think, other scenarios in GTA allow the player to hire a prostitute, and if you don’t have the money to pay her, you can just kill her instead, Williams said. Here is a “How To” video on how to “effectively kill prostitutes” in GTA 5.
“This is what our kids are getting exposed to,” Williams said. “And you can see the results of this on our streets even here in San Angelo every day.”
Williams noted that the counter arguments to his observations are that these games are only fantasy, and opponents of video game censorship will cite study after study that violence in video games does not translate into violence in real life.
“There’s a juvenile case headed through our local courts right now. The defense lawyer’s argument is based upon the fact that the kid was unduly influenced by violent video games,” Williams concluded.
Williams urged parents to investigate what their kids are being exposed to on their gaming consoles.
After hearing Williams speak, I went home and looked through my 17-year-old son’s video game collection. In it, I found Grand Theft Auto 5.