D-Day came and went last week, and with it Graham’s 7th birthday (June 5th, the day before D-Day). For us, the war we have suddenly entered into as a family is the battle over Graham’s new Nintendo DSi (an amazing little gadget that he used himself to create the above photo, and which does alot more). Specifically, this “war” is an ongoing negotiation with him about how much time he will be allowed to play with the DSi or on his websites (as opposed to reading, playing outside, anything that does not involve addictively sitting in front of a video screen). And in this negotiation, luckily, my wife and I are holding almost all the cards.
He’s a good kid, very smart and quite imaginative. All the more reason to set limits now, immediately — to keep that mind activated, before he starts worrying too much about improving his high scores or D-pad skills.
I saw a news report a month or so ago (during TV Tune-Out Week) that stated over 10% of American kids age 8-18 — especially boys — are now considered video game addicts. And that’s not some conservative, alarmist report. These are medical folks doing the studies, specialists in addiction. The kids show many of the classic neurological, psychological and anti-social signs (and consequences) associated with any other addiction. And actually, I wonder if that 10% figure is too low.
I’ve seen it firsthand, too: in teaching at a K-8 school for a couple of years, and in the way that several of Graham’s peers at his after-school program, especially the second-grade boys, spend their free time taking turns playing or watching the one or two standard Nintendo DS games (so last year…) that have been brought from home.
As a family (and because what I learned through my combined background in media production and education have made it a matter of conscience), we instituted a once-a-week TV tune-out day for Graham, about a year and a half ago. We’re not strict or anal about it, but I feel it’s important to keep it in place, if for no other reason than to keep some perspective about how much time he’s spending on the computer or watching TV on the other six days (he’s chosen Fridays). He’s gotten past the whining stage mostly, though he may re-enter a new one now that “no Nintendo” is a part of the Friday plan.
We will limit his game time on other days as well. So far, he has not been much of a player of our PS2 games –even the ones designed for younger kids — partly because he has a hard time with the fast fine-motor stuff involved in working the controller well. Which is fine by me. If he can’t even tie his own shoes yet, no reason he should be tearing it up on the Disney Cars videogame racecourse.
A fun little side note: for those who have not read the sci-fi classic Ender’s Game, by Orson Scott Card, it takes on this “kids and video games” theme head on. A mediocre movie (The Last Starfighter) was also made based on this book — the first book in the series that made a name for Mr. Card. I highly recommend the book, for preteens through adults… which is also why I’m not going to give away the plot.
But back to Graham. Here’s the challenge: he is an only child, definitely a homebody, and his funky eyesight/depth perception problems may mean he won’t be much of an athlete, either. And he’s sort of shy, and bossy, so his handful of friendships have not resulted in many play dates or close, dependable peer relationships so far. Thus the need to press him even more to get outdoors, or step away from the computer games and Cartoon Network: he’s already inclined to starve himself socially, and that ain’t good for anyone. I try to reach out on his behalf, but Skokie’s an odd little town with lots of ethnic subcultures, so we’ve only had limited success “breaking in”.
On the plus side, he actually likes board games, and putting on little plays with his Webkinz (Webkinz: a Satanic plot… but that is an entry for another day). He can even be kept occupied for quite awhile with stuff like dominoes, or three hundred year old English dice games like “Pig”. Can’t get more old skool than that!
So the Battle of the DS Pocket-Bulge will continue for the foreseeable future. But I don’t plan on losing my child to the black hole that is modern entertainment and gaming technology. Preventative strikes and holding occupied territory are essential. I won’t tolerate another 12-year-old vidiot… not in MY house.