Friday, December 9, 2011

To Game or Not to Game, That Is the Question. Or is It?

Remember the Nintendo era? I have fond memories of spending hours curled up playing Mario and watching my cousins take each other down in Mortal Kombat. Back then, there were a limited number of games on the market. You’d play for a couple of hours, then got so sick of the game that you moved on to something else.
And if you didn’t get off on your own, your mom would shove you in a coat and shoes and take care of that for you.
Maybe it’s because I grew up with one television channel, no computer and very few video games, but monitoring screen time in my house wasn’t really a problem. I have more memories of my grandmother telling me to stop playing in the creek than to step away from the TV. These days, it seems like I spend half my life dragging my kids away from the computer and back into real life.
Video Games Aren’t Doing Our Kids Any Favors
There’s been a huge amount of research done in recent years on the effects of video games on our kids’ growth and development. What our parents deemed harmless entertainment when we were kids is turning into a global problem. Video games are being linked with poor social development, childhood obesity, falling grades and the early onset of addictive behavior in children.
In other words, they’re so busy spending time sitting on their butt in front of the computer screen that they’re not out there doing anything else!
As a parent, it’s my job to make sure my kids eat right. That they get their homework done. That they have the opportunity to develop socially, make friends, expand their horizons. I dedicated hours to playgroups, dance classes, pool time, school events and teaching my kids how to read. Now that they’re thinking for themselves, am I really going to cross my arms, sit back and say, “My job’s done. Go ahead and do whatever you want.”?
I don’t think so.
Be Their Parent, Not Their Friend
“I can’t get my kids to stop playing video games!”
Get a dozen parents together and that’s the complaint you’re going to hear, over and over again. All their kids want to do is play video games. They just don’t seem to want to do anything else. Hours upon hours their little darlings fritter away in front of the big screen while their parents gnash their teeth in the background because they don’t want to go outside.
Here’s the thing. Saying you can’t get your kids to stop playing video games is like saying you can’t get your shoe to go on your foot. Of course you can. You’re the parent. Unplug the Wii. Disconnect the modem. Take the Playstation controllers. Limit the number of hours your kids spend in front of the computer and TV screens each day and stick to it. If they can’t play video games, they’re going to have to find something else to do.
It’s kind of like eating brussel sprouts. They don’t have to like it, but it’s something they can live with.
It’s Easier Said Than Done
For those of you rolling your eyes and thinking, “It’s easy for you to say,” I’ve been there. My husband is an avid gamer, and when the kids were little I didn’t put a whole lot of thought into the amount of time they spent playing computer or watching TV. It was okay for a few years. They still went outside to play tag, still spent hours at the pool, still nagged me, day in and day out, to go to their cousins’ house to hang out.
As they got older, however, getting them outside got a lot harder. My oldest buried himself in video games, started dropping out of other activities, spent hours in front of the computer when his friends came over-if they came over at all. All three of the kids would whine and complain when I turned off the computers and the TV and tried to get them to do something else. Before long, video games (or in my daughter’s case, the TV) were all my kids could talk about.
Something had to give. I started cracking down on the amount of time the kids spent playing games and watching TV. I signed them up for swim classes and after school activities, and started kicking them outside on a regular basis.
I implemented a firm policy that those who complain when it’s time to turn off the video games don’t get to play them again until mom’s good and ready to turn them back on.
Sure, video game marathons still happen. When my oldest has friends over, I’ll let them geek it up for a few hours. On days I have to work and they’re bored out of their minds I’ll lift video game restrictions, just to keep them entertained for most of the day. I try not to grind my teeth too far down when they’re home with dad, who lets them computer it up whenever they want as long as their chores get done.
But these are special events, and the kids know it.
It’s been an uphill battle, especially in light of the fact that my husband continues to game as often as possible. We’ve argued more than once about me telling the kids to turn off the computers and find something else to do. It’s a fight I’m determined to win, however, because I’m seeing a difference.
In a world without video games, my kids spend more time with their friends and with each other. They’re learning problem solving skills that have nothing to do with swords or shooting people in the head. They’re discovering new interests; they’ll start Tae Kwon Do next month, and I’m tripping over Yu Gi Oh cards every time I turn around. My oldest is celebrating his first marking period in middle school on the honor roll. My youngest is learning how to read.
They’re making friends, learning valuable social skills and setting the stage for a bright future that has nothing to do with spending days hunched like a mole over a computer screen.
Yesterday was early dismissal day. The kids came home early from school yesterday and immediately broke out the Uno cards instead of making a mad dash for the computers, the television or the Wii. It brought a tear to my eye.
How do you manage video game time at your house?

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