Are Family Facilities Out of Sync With Family Norms?

Research published in the January issue of Pediatrics Journal shows that 2/3's of parents say it is never okay for children to play with toy guns and they never let their child play do so. Among moms, who make over 80% of decisions on where they take their children, the percentage was even higher. The percentage was also higher among preschool parents. Parents who thought it was okay for their children to play with toy guns were more likely to be male parents, have male children, and be white. The research was a survey of 830 parents of preschool and grade school children up to age 10.

This raises some serious questions of whether facilities targeting families with younger children that include game rooms are losing business as a result of being out of sync with the family norms in their communities. If parents won't let their children have toy guns at home, there is no reason to believe they will suddenly find it acceptable to expose their children to guns on games that present them in a violent context.

The game industry often argues that they have a rating system and stickers on games, so parents can choose which ones to let their children play. Unfortunately, that argument is not how the real world works. Parents don't follow their children around saying which games their children can play. And no parent wants to be set up to tell their child no when they and their child are supposed to be having fun. The logic of having gun games in a game room and saying parents don't have to expose their children to those games is as logical as asking parents to turn their children loose in a room of toys with toy guns in one corner and tell their children to play with all the toys except for the guns.

Another problem with the game rating system is that it isn't based on whether the games have guns, but rather on a liberal, games-industry biased interpretation of acceptability for children.

We are not suggesting here that the reason that entertainment facilities that cater to families with younger children should not have gun games because it contributes to social violence (although overwhelming research does show that games that glorify guns and violence, combined with all types of media and popular culture, do have an impact of the formation of children's values, especially in their early years). What we are suggesting is that many facilities could be hurting their potential business by being a turn-off to the majority of families with younger children. Families have many choices of where to spend their limited out-of-home leisure time along with their disposable leisure money.

Games with guns and violence in facilities that attract younger children also run counter to another emerging trend in America that a noted marketing guru, Marc Gobe, has called Citizen Brand. The concept is that to be successful in today's world, companies and brands must offer experiences that help people and make the world a better place. In other words, a company, and its products and services, needs to be a good citizen to the community it serves. The 2001 corporate reputation survey conducted by Harris Interactive and the Reputation Institute polled 21,630 respondents and found that trust, admiration and respect were the ultimate driving force in how consumers rated companies. If leisure facilities that cater to the family market want to be successful in today's society, they need to understand the culture and values of families, and especially the mom member who makes most of the decisions. Leisure facilities need to gain their trust and respect by acting in ways that are in sync with current family norms.