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Parenthood in the Hills: Video Game Invasion

Part of being a parent is sacrifice, and even if something that invades your home pleases all of you...it's your job to extinguish it for the health of your child

Something has entered my household and is spreading like a disease wreaking havoc through our family.  It arrived slowly, sweetly, innocently with a big smile on its face, spreading happiness and cheer.  But it slowly evolved, its true intentions developing with more clarity daily, and but by the time it had us in its grip, it was too late.  No, it’s not my mother-in-law.  Sadly, she died before I met my husband, and yes, it’s sadly according to the rest of the family.  Apparently she was a good woman.  No, it is something far more insidious and influential.  I am talking about computer games. 

When my daughter was born I told my husband that we would never have any Playstations, Xboxes, Junkboxes or whatever you want to call them—no video games.  I knew exactly how addictive they could be and I would not allow my daughter to be seduced by their flashing lights, cute characters, and detailed drama. 

What I didn't realize was that the computer could be just as evil.  I’m really not sure how it happened.  I do know that I have my husband to blame for the introduction but I can only blame myself for the continuation.  I have become an enabler and I have only myself to blame. It sneaks up on you, you know?  I think it all started when she got one of those Webkinz dolls that comes with an internet access code and we thought, “oh, why not…simple little games”.  How foolish and naïve we were back then.

As I have mentioned before, my daughter is an only child and therefore, my husband and I become her playmates when she is at home.  For aging bodies like ours, it can become exhausting especially if we are expected to complete all those things around the house that adults need to do on a daily basis—all those “un-fun” things like cleaning, cooking, yard work, etc.  And I will admit, those computer games give us that little extra amount of time to get things done or to get some much needed relaxation.  You should see how quickly we move when we know we’ve got a finite amount of time to finish something while she is entranced by the squeaks and dings on that computer. 

But she is now completely engrossed, in particularly with one game called Monkey Quest.  She talks about it, asks complete strangers if they’ve played it, excitedly rattles off a synopsis of her character and its interaction with the other monkeys…it’s distressing and I have decided it’s time for an intervention.  Yes, my daughter is 7 and I am planning an intervention. 

It is going to be rough.  There will be some withdrawal, some anxiety and stress…sweating and whining…sleepless nights.  But it will be worth it if I stop hearing about Monkey Quest.  And well, all that withdrawal begins with me and my husband.  I have already laid the groundwork.  I have set strict rules “no playing games in the morning” and “no games on school days”.  So far, so good. 

The challenge is the weekend, when I would like to enjoy This Week with a cup of coffee without incessant bantering about when I can do something with her.  In case you aren’t aware, This Week is on at 8:00am…too early for bantering, despite my love for the vessel.  And when we return home from the farmer’s market, I want to lie down on the couch and rest after lugging around bags of food and their subsequent cleaning and storing and then lunch-making (not to mention the usual stop at the library or park on the way home).  But my daughter is only getting started, her engine is revved and I am the driver.  So my guard is usually down—as well as my stamina and, “mommy, can I play on my computer?” sounds like music to my ears. 

“But that doesn’t sound so bad”, you might say.  Yes, only playing on the weekends is probably not such a bad thing.  The problem is the amount of time spends playing.  That is where the trouble lies and the addiction begins.  Even if it is only two days a week, the length of time is admittedly too much and less than an hour really isn’t enough time for me to get a decent nap.  Now that she is older she is definitely more capable of entertaining herself on her own, but she is not always willing to do so.  Even as I write this, I am being left completely uninterrupted--it is incredibly alluring.

Kids who play excessive video games can show signs of aggression and irritability.  In fact, my daughter started exhibiting some of this at one point, and when I pointed it out to my daughter, she agreed.  It helped us to limit the number of days she played.  I was grateful she understood. 

The other problem is that while kids can certainly glean some skills through playing them, they can also lose interest in other things with which they would be spending their time such as reading, playing outdoors, creating…well, you get the idea and I don’t think it’s such a novel one.  That is where my concern lies.  My daughter is an avid reader, she carries books with her everywhere she goes.  She also enjoys puzzles, drawing, and board games, but when she computer games too much, she shows a lack of interest in those areas, and the inevitable question arises, “what can I do?  I don’t know what I can do?”, as if gaming is the only fun thing to do. 

So my challenge is to find a good balance.  I know how much she enjoys them, I really don’t want to cut them entirely out of her life.  I know that can eventually backfire.  And as you see, we both enjoy her computer games, but I will have to suck it up and give up my free time for her benefit.  I will have to sacrifice as we parents do in so many ways.  Much like the pain of losing her nap times when she was a baby and I got consequential free time, I will endure it, armed with the knowledge that it will result in a healthier human being, a more positive development and a wealthier childhood.  I suppose my poor old body can live with that.  

Alison Johnson May 07, 2012 at 01:41 PM
Our just-turned-9-year-old daughter (also an "only") has the rule that screen time happens when her homework is all completed correctly. Some weeks she completes her homework by Tuesday, others, by Friday. (Screen time also includes shows on Netflix-- we don't have TV.) As for the parent-as-playmate issue, we have nipped that in the bud: if she says to me "I'm bored" or "I don't know what to do," she knows that she will be handed a feather duster, a mop, or some other handy-dandy chore that always seems to be available. We've been doing this since she was about 3 or 4 (when they actually like helping out around the house), but it's never too late to start. If she doesn't want to help out, I tell her "then I have every confidence that you will find some way to entertain yourself. I'm not available right now." She knows enough to know that the discussion is over at that point. BTW, onlies at this age need a good set of friends to call up under these circumstances. They'd rather play with peers anyway, and need no real intervention when together. If a friend comes over, the screen stays off!
Nina Malone May 07, 2012 at 05:15 PM
I love that, I will have to remember the cleaning trick!! thanks for the comments ladies!
Ilona Saari May 07, 2012 at 10:39 PM
Tweeting and sharing...
Nina Malone May 07, 2012 at 10:49 PM
thanks Ilona!
Lisa Maiorana May 07, 2012 at 11:29 PM
Yea, I can totally relate. My daughter enjoys Pixie Hollow and $5.00 later for monthly membership fees and "diamonds" for the game so she can purchase certain items for her fairy's, it's like having another bill. When I notice she's on it too long I suggest that we go outside to play. It's my fault but she was and is a very intelligent child and needs to be constantly stimulated. Would I prefer that she read a book in her room, yes. She actually prefers it sometimes. I'm not too freaked out about it. As long as we constantly monitor what they are doing and for how long, it's all good.

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