It's three days after Christmas 2008, and I've concluded -- after years of fighting it -- that we are a wired family. As soon as we finished opening gifts on Christmas morning, each kid pulled out their Nintendo DSs to play their new games -- Petz Vet for Mia, Club Penguin for Max, and Sonic Chronicles for Will. (This information is telling...) So as Tom and I were relaxing in our PJs, with the fireplace stoked and scones baking in the oven, we realized the joyous sounds of our Christmas morning were the beeps, ditties, and tones and of three Nintendo games. Sad? Not necessarily so.
I've done everything I can to redirect my kids toward creative pursuits, board games, great books, sporting activities, the great outdoors. To some avail. They humor me. They'll go outside for 15 minutes and ride something around, then come back inside because they're "cold". They'll play an occasional game of Backgammon or Monopoly. Mia’s learning to sew. They make their beds everyday and unload the dishwasher. But I know they're really just buying time to get to the "next level".
Tom and I have also set screen time limits -- an hour a day, DSs only in the car, no video games after dinner. But we're weak, and there are days when the kids play all they want -- even sometimes after dinner.
Honestly, my kids don't watch much TV. My daughter might turn on a few Disney sitcoms here and there, but we allow her that downtime. Heck, we watch "The Office" and "30 Rock" every Thursday. But if given a choice between a show or a game, my boys would choose a game every time.
So is this all bad? Other parents often lead me to believe so, with their renouncing of video gaming -- and attitudes laced with righteousness. And the American Pediatric Society says that we should restrict screen time to 1-2 hours a day of "quality programming". (I’m pretty sure Mario Kart doesn’t qualify as “quality programming”.) The Society suggests that screen time can interfere with activities such as being physically active, reading, homework, playing with friends, and spending time with family. These things I agree with, so we do what I consider a decent job trying to balance out game time with real-life time -- piano lessons, taekwondo, tennis, baseball, reading, and so on.
But consider this: Will was completely motivated to learn to read so he could understand his Gameboy games. Mia knows more about animals than most people I know from playing Zoo Tycoon. My kids know how to type. Both of my boys shock me with things they can compute in their heads. They can find answers to questions using the internet. We love spending a Saturday night at the Wii bowling alley. And this morning, after breakfast, we all went to the basement for a rousing Guitar Hero World Tour gig. Some quality family time to be sure.
We have our low moments though: Last night during a small party at our place, Max walked up to Tom, who was playing Guitar Hero, tugged on his shirt and said, "Dad, can I have a turn 'cause I have to go to bed soon." Poor little fella, needing to beg his dad for a turn on bass at 10:00 at night. On the way to restaurants, we also make sure everyone has their DS with them. It simply makes for a more enjoyable dinner out.
So my ultimate conclusion is that it's just the world we live in now. People are plugged in and charged up. Today's kids are growing up in a Global Super Charged Information Age, and I personally hope mine have all the tools they need to succeed. So if that means a little cyber bowling or baseball, hand over the controller.