BOWING TO THE VIDEO GODS
By Caryl Harvey
I want to make a confession. I grew up before the days of video games. Oh sure, when I was in my late teens and early
twenties I was pretty good at Pong, and later I flirted a bit with Mario and Domino Man. I am not really a video game virgin. I am, however, not the
most experienced gamer on the block.
My kids, on the other hand…
“Dinner,” I call downstairs.
No answer. Well, no human answer. I hear “Umph!” “Bump Bump” and then an assortment of pings
and electronic blips. I go downstairs to retrieve the kids for their meal. Each holds a video game control and each leans
toward the television screen as if trying to sink into it.
“Dinner,” I say again, smug that when they find out what I have cooked they’ll fall over one another
to get to the table.
“Mom…” one whines. I gather his virtual car is the one which just crashed. I decide to use behavioral
management and allow them some control by offering choices.
“You can either come up for dinner now, or you will have to have cold cereal later.”
“Thanks, Mom,” they say and I am dismissed.
I have been defeated (and deflated) by the video god.
The problem is that video games offer some definite advantages. Kids learn how to function as a team. In many games,
they have to take turns. They learn how to process information, work on eye-hand coordination and make judgments.
Some video games are designed to teach skills in math or in reading. There is even a commercial which depicts a smiling
mother telling her kids to play their V-Smile game, as though she is reminding them to make their beds. And you can’t
argue that this is a visual generation. People are used to getting a lot of their news and information from the Web. The research
for this article came, in part, from the Internet.
And games featuring exotic locations and unfamiliar animals may excite kids to learn more about their world.
But there is a down side to video games as well.
Time spent in front of the video screen is time not spent talking to other people.
It is hours spent sitting inside instead of outside playing participation games. Think running, sunshine, fresh air.
Think ball parks and track fields. Think childhood obesity.
Think carpal-tunnel syndrome and a whole gamut of related maladies.
Think eye strain and headaches. And missed chores.
And then, there’s the violence. The debate is
still on as to whether violent video games inspire violent behavior in children. That idea has surfaced as a defense in the
rash of school shootings we’ve seen in the past years. But Dr. Marc Prensky, author of “Don’t Bother Me
Mom, I’m Learning,” contends (in an article on the Disney website) that kids know “it’s just a game.”
He thinks the games actually teach ethical behavior. “Just because you can do this in a game, should you?”
But, most psychologists include violent video games with other media in addressing the mental health problems of
children. They say that the games, along with R-rated movies and TV shows inappropriate for children result in a stunted sense
of empathy and compassion. And they say that the violence is especially harmful to younger children because their brains are
Funk, a psychologist at the University of Toledo who has studied violent video-game play among young children for more than
ten years, says that first- to fifth-graders who spend the most time in front of the screen are significantly more likely
to see aggressive acts as normal and be less likely to express empathy.
do the psychological gurus lay the responsibility for regulating the games? You
guessed it. Parents.
"Parents can't just throw up their hands and think their kids' taste in video games are alien or weird. Part of the
problem with violent video games is parents who don't want to go past their own comfort barriers,” Funk says.
So what do they suggest we do?
Play the games with your kid and point
out where the moral dilemmas are different than what you have taught them. Ask them questions about what they like about the
games and listen to their responses.
Limit your children’s viewing
time…not just of the games. Think, they tell us, in terms of total screen time: recreational computer time (My Space,
etc,) video games and television. Once this total time exceeds two or three hours
a day, it is robbing your kids of other opportunities.
Learn the ratings codes for video
games and pay attention to them when buying games for your children.
Don’t be afraid to look through
your child’s video game collection for inappropriate material. Kids borrow and trade games with their friends. Just
because you didn’t buy the game for him doesn’t mean he isn’t playing it. What is inappropriate? Hey, it’s
your home. This one is your call. (And don’t back down once you make the decision.)
Get the computer out into family use
rooms instead of tucked away in a home office or in a kid’s bedroom.
Offer alternatives. This last one
is harder for Beyonders. It means we have to get up off the couch as well. We—along with younger parents—tend
to use the computer, the TV and the video games as baby sitters. But we could all benefit from going swimming, taking a hike,
playing golf or tennis…
We have to set the limits. Make the decisions. Take the heat. And you know why? We’re the adults, and we CAN. Kids aren’t going to thank us for it at first. But they don’t offer you
praise for telling them to make their beds, brush their teeth or eat their veggies, either. They’ll survive.