I’ve been thinking a lot lately about young kids and online games. For the record, I don’t like them. Also for the record, my son plays them. But he does a lot of things I don’t enjoy seeing happen, like dirt-bike jumps and growing.
I hate these games in general and in specific. I hate them the way our grandparents hated Elvis and socialism and people who wore their hat to the dinner table. These games make my skin crawl and I scream into my mouth when my son asks for his iPod. We have time limits for use, and they’re reasonable (no more than 75 min/day) and while the limits aren’t tied to requirements like exercise or homework, I’m not afraid to tell him “no” if I feel those things haven’t been recognized. He will be eleven years old by the time you finish reading the archives. Which you’re gonna, right?
But- BUT… the thing about these iPods?
It is very difficult to make myself tell him “time’s up!” when the timer dings. And I can’t control his use when he’s at a friend’s house. Thankfully his dad hates them as much (if not more) than I do, and time at dad’s house is “Luddite Time.”
I haven’t wavered (often) on the time limits I’ve imposed, but maybe this is the part that scares me most, because as the enforcer I don’t always have the best “moderation” techniques myself. (See also: Jeni’s baked potato habit.) The fact that I’m writing this on an iPhone isn’t lost on me. But I’ve earned the right to be tied to a screen because I grew up watching shows like “Charles in Charge” to get this far. (“Far” just auto-corrected to “fat” which works also.)
I never used the TV as a crutch in my parenting and I insist that my children are actively present and engaged in social settings. I’m the “crazy mom” (their term) because I insist they play outside without devices when they attend events. And we don’t do screens at dinner inside or outside the home. I hate seeing little ones with screens on and zombie eyes in restaurants.
“Crazy Mom” is a role I am happy to play; I’ve been practicing for 40 years and this is my moment.Where’s my spotlight, goddammit?
I’ve done all the responsible things like disabling in-app purchases so he can’t spend our savings (hahaha I don’t have any savings!) or our grocery money on “jewels” or bricks of butter gold or whatever the hell you need in some of these games. I’ve talked to him about limits in playing and how his brain will actually melt and slide out one of his ears if he plays too long. I even mentioned that poor kid in Indiana who lost his eyesight and the use of his thumbs after he played all night under the covers when his mother wasn’t looking. (Feel free to use this boy I completely made up- maybe we can get a page on Snopes and scare an entire generation at the same time.)
Did our parents hate anything as much?I don’t remember Pacman and Super Mario being all that popular beyond a phase with my friends. Am I missing something? We did things – not always good or legal – but the bulk of our activity happened outside so at least meeting creepy strangers took place in a fresh-air beer store parking lot and not over an Internet connection in a soggy basement.
Recently my son asked for a game called “Clash of the Clans.” I checked it out and it’s non-violent and seems to promote team building as you create clans with your friends online. I temporarily forgot that not only do your friends have access to the Internet, but so do several thousand creepy predators in hot sauce-stained undershirts. Today when my son asked me how to spell “amazing” and “three months” I came to understand he was having a virtual chat with people on the iPod in this game. I can read his history (and did) and everything seems above board, but I am disabling the feature except for parent approved usernames (his friends). He already knows – and I reinforce before every session – that he is to never disclose his name, age, location, blood type, favourite colour, or shoe size over the Internet.
I wanna smash his iPod and move to 1983. I’ve still got my acid wash pants and Pom-Pom ankle socks and I will make this sacrifice for the children.
Do your kids play these games? How old are they and what games do they like? Am I worried over nothing? Do you feel bad about it? Please tell me I am worried about nothing.
* Post-script: After I wrote this, I went inside and found my son playing with his Lego. He sat there, in his pajamas, building and dismantling a spaceship. He was at it for hours, and he didn’t ask for his iPod all day. So guess what, guys? Apparently all you need to do for something to happen is to write it here, so I am now opening this space up for wishes. Just keep it clean, folks.