Bad Mommy Alert: My kids play video games and spend a lot of time on the computer and I am okay with that. It is kind of my fault, too. As babies, I sat their rockers in front of the television tuned in to the Food Network to calm them down when they were restless and I needed to free up my hands. As toddlers, they had some of the first generation Leap Frog electronic readers and they were both each reading fluently by age three. When they started using our old desktop computer, they practiced doing hard reboots because they got tired of calling me to fix it when the computer froze up on them. The trend started early and I have not done much to stop it. They have been through Nintendo DS's, a Wii, an XBox, iPods, desktops, laptops and now tablets. My kids are not at all unique in this area. Every family on our block has probably had the same history, but the way we view this development is possibly different.
When we get close to a gift-giving event like a birthday or Christmas, they ask for game store gift cards or iTunes downloads. When we go to a restaurant, they want to ask the waitstaff if the place has good WiFi. When we got one of the first generation DVR's a while back, it was my oldest son that was the first to figure out how to use it. When I first received my tablet and programmed a pass code on it, my other son figured out how to unlock it because he thought I needed help setting it up. Little did he know I locked the darn thing to keep him from messing with it. Needless to say, that idea back fired and I had to come up with more creative ways to keep my kids from toying with my electronics.
None of this should be a surprise when you consider what I do for a living. For years, I have been a campus technology coordinator in a local school district and my husband was a computer engineer for as long as I can remember. It is a no-brainer that some of the computer jargon and shop talk we did at home was bound to rub off on my boys. There was once a time when they played with stuffed animals and plastic action figures, but those days are gone now that they are rapidly maturing. Video games, through consoles and gaming sites, have taken the top spot as their most desired form of entertainment. I have learned from numerous editorials and talk shows that this is supposedly a horrible thing, or at the very least I should be concerned enough to be concerned. Too much video gaming is going to melt their brains and make the liquefied cells ooze from their ears and nose. They will morph into mute zombies and begin grunting requests for food and water because they are too obsessed with meeting or beating a high score. Oh, and at some point I should notice mushrooms growing under their arms because they will begin to ignore their personal hygiene in exchange for more precious minutes online.
This has not happened yet, but I assure you as the ever diligent hovering mom I will take action if any of the above scenarios begin to occur. I will smack their hands away from the game controller or mouse and stick an old fashioned book in front of them. Better yet, I will get their fingers counting with an abacus while recording repeating number facts on a school house chalkboard. That's how I will know I am raising well rounded children. Um, yeah right! Who am I kidding? When my kids go to their game room to play video games, I get blocks of uninterrupted peace to do whatever the heck I need to do, whether it is cooking or making a phone call or just reading a book. They are being entertained by something they control when I need everyone out of my hair for a few minutes of quiet. That's pretty bad, huh? I tend to disagree. I hear other picture perfect new age moms declaring how allowing your children too much time to play video games and surfing the web makes you a terrible mother and your ineffective parenting will eventually cause your children to develop into anti-social underdeveloped cavemen that will not know how to relate to other people and issues in the "real world". This blanket assumption by the critics is that these pro-digital parents (I just made up that name) are detached, hands-off and using these gaming devices as babysitters.
There is indeed a balance to achieving an ideal digital playground environment (yeah, I just made that one up, too). When they go to some of their favorite websites, they are actually reading and learning stuff that I fully admit to never having an awareness about when I was their age. Just today, my oldest son researched an how-to video on his own about ways to keep his shoes looking clean and new with a mix of household items. He is also learning sketch art techniques from an art site online. Both of my sons are learning how to play guitar through a series of YouTube videos that explain it on a beginners' level. They learned their multiplications tables through a math video game site that their teachers suggested. Even when they are playing your run of the mill mundane video game, they are still using problem solving skills to achieve whatever cyber task is in front of them. This is supposed to be a bad thing?
My knowledge came from books that were already ten years passed their date of relevance by the time they made it to my desk. These days, my kids don't have to wait for new knowledge. It is updated more times per day than we will ever be aware of thanks to the split second distribution efficiency of the world wide web. Of course I don't let them online to navigate through the wild on their own. I fully monitor the sites they visit and the household laptops stay in a common place of the house where either myself or my husband know exactly what they are doing online at all times. They are calm and engaged and their brains have shown no signs of melting at this time. When it is time to unplug from the digital devices and return to Earth from gaming heaven, they have a slew of real live breathing human friends to run around and play with on a daily basis. My hubby and I spend many evenings and weekends having old school family time with the boys to keep our bond strong. The healthy balance between their online world and their real world is still very much in tact.
I say all this at a time when there is great sorrow in my own digital playground environment. I am in danger of losing a very dear friend and her name is Samsung. We have been nearly inseparable for the last two years, so you can understand my attachment. She has kept me entertained on a daily basis by providing up-to-date information, the latest books and the occasional laugh when I wanted to catch up on episodes of my favorite sitcoms. She has been an unfailing devoted friend that tucked easily into my purse when I was on the go. However, I became worried when I noticed in the last few months that she was not processing things properly and her memory was slowly failing her. She would freeze up and forget what page of a book she was sharing with me. Then she started to forget my favorite songs and so on. As I type this, she is currently unresponsive despite my best efforts to restore her to her previous self.
This development comes just days after I almost lost my other good friend, HP. I am pleased to report that HP was out of commission only temporarily and is functioning properly today. But right now, my thoughts are with dear sweet Samsung as she struggles to stay with us. I am seeking professional help tomorrow and will remain positive in hopes that it is not too late. I acknowledge that sharing sweet Samsung with my children (er, to play video games) may have been too taxing on her aging self. There are only so many sessions of Angry Birds one can take. In the event that Samsung does not survive, I will wait the obligatory mourning period before I try to replace her. Please keep sending positive and healing thoughts our way for as long as you can...or at least until I pay off some holiday shopping bills and can afford a newer faster replacement for sweet Samsung. Let's hope she pulls through, because mamma needs her toys too :)