Just days after the confessed school shooter killed 17 people inside Marjory Stoneman Douglas High with a semiautomatic rifle, one of his former neighbors and friends told the Miami Herald that Nikolas Cruz played violent video games incessantly.
“It was kill, kill, kill, blow up something, and kill some more, all day,” Paul Gold said of Cruz’s video game habits. Cruz, now 19, would play the video games for up to 15 hours a day.
In response, President Donald Trump did not call for a ban on the sale of assault weapons. But in a meeting with state lawmakers about school security on Thursday, the president expressed concern about children’s exposure to violence in video games, movies and the internet. “We have to do something about maybe what they’re seeing and how they’re seeing it. … We may have to talk about that also.”
The Cushman School’s head of school Arvi Balseiro wants to talk about violent video games, too. So much so, the leader of the private Miami school is hosting a “violent video game toss” on Friday morning at Cushman, 592 NE 60th St., off Biscayne Boulevard.
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Students will be asked to toss their violent video games into bins near her desk at the school’s main office.
In addition, Balseiro, who cites her years of study on the research of video exposure on children, will ask parents to sign a pledge form at her desk that they will promise not to allow their kids to play violent video games, will eat at least one meal a day together with their children and limit the use of cellphones.
“I was deeply compelled to provide guidance to our families who are highly concerned for their children’s safety,” Balseiro said. “I sent the ‘call to action’ letter to provide actionable steps that we can take as a school community that raises our children together.”
Sample pledges parents will be asked to make:
▪ “I will not permit my child(ren) to play violent video games and will restrict their time on other video games.”
▪ “When at home, I will eat at least one meal a day together with my child(ren). These are wonderful times to engage in meaningful family conversations that lead to joint accountability toward one another and provide opportunities to learn social etiquette. Research has shown the correlation that students who perform higher on aptitude tests eat meals with their families.”
For parents of primary and middle school students, these are the pledges:
▪ “If my child has a cellphone, I will limit its use and will not allow him/her to have a social media account on any device. Their brain’s executive function is not developed and can’t process and respond to this information appropriately.”
For parents of high school students, these are the pledges:
▪ “If you think your child has demonstrated the responsibility needed to manage appropriate social media usage, please monitor their accounts.”
▪ “I will place a strong emphasis on social etiquette at home. Our children are watching us. They pay attention to what we say and the tones that we use. Reinforce ‘eye contact’ when in discussions and pausing when listening to what others have to say.”
▪ “I will monitor my child’s viewing of media on his/her computer, TV and/or phone. Excessive viewing decreases the ability to sustain attention, increases anxiety, and increases disconnectedness.”
According to the school’s publicist, “This is part of a One More Parent Pledge program … Balseiro has developed as a tool parents can use to raise children during this challenging time (and changing era of media) and in light of recent events. She hopes to develop this into a nationwide campaign on what parents can do at home and encourage all parents across the country to sign this pledge.”
However, Cruz’s motivation for the killings that left 14 students and three faculty members dead and many more injured has not been revealed.
Decades ago, late attorney Ellis Rubin created the novel defense that his client, 15-year-old Ronny Zamora, was addicted to violent TV programs like “Kojak” and could not be held accountable for murdering his 83-year-old neighbor in a botched robbery attempt. WPBT2 made national news by becoming the first network in Florida to bring TV cameras into a courtroom for the trial.
On Oct. 4, 1977, a Miami judge dismissed Rubin’s TV intoxication theory and Zamora was convicted of first-degree murder and sentenced to life in prison. He was released in 2004 after serving 27 years behind bars and was deported to his native Costa Rica.
Still, Balseiro thinks there are steps parents and administrators can take. “Paying attention to those who appear lonely, reaching out to someone who appears distracted through a lack of engagement, and showing others through word and deed that they are important are what is now necessary,” she said.