Tuesday, November 3, 2009

Video Game Judgement

It’s easy to be judgmental when you’ve cranked out a couple of kids and feel like you really have the parenting thing figured out. It’s easy to be smug, confident enough to believe your sweet little toddlers will never be like the unpredictable tweens and teens you see who belong to your older friends. I know. I used to be that mom. When my oldest was starting school I was confident about the things we would allow and the things we’d never see happen in our home.

Then my kids grew older.

One such theme was video games. We did the Barney computer games, but by golly I was pretty sure my kids would never, and I mean never, play those video games that hooked up to the TV. I was okay with my boys playing with guns. Someone once told me that even if you ban toy guns from your house a child of the male variety will still chew his toast into the shape of a weapon and shoot his brother at the breakfast table. That insight turned out to be very true. And although my boys owned toy guns, because we didn’t make a huge deal of it, they really didn’t play with them that much. But I was pretty sure I would draw the line when it came to video games.

As life unfolded, and my boys’ toy guns fell to the bottom of the toy chest, something unexpected happened. My brother, who lived in the next town over, upgraded his video gaming system and offered his old one to us. My husband happily accepted the gift and hauled it home with a big smile

That night, after children were in bed, we discussed the implications of this new item that sat ominously on the kitchen table. I expressed my concerns, he expressed his. Because I’ve never been a boy at any point in my life, when it comes to decisions for our sons, I find I often need to listen closely to the expert in our house, the person who was a boy and has been male for more than a couple of decades. And this male that I married (and tend to trust) said he was not concerned about this new step. He assured me he would supervise the games thoroughly and we would never become the family that let the boys play for hours on a video game when there was a perfectly good day outside that could be explored. So we hooked it up and suddenly we were the people I used to judge. Lesson learned.

And I have to say, now that we are a decade past that momentous decision, I think my kids have done okay. Even with the video game influence. They started with race car games and sports games. One of my sons devoured the flight simulator game and mastered it with great pride. We have upgraded systems a few times and we’ve tried out a variety of games. Sometimes they play against each other but most of the time they play on teams, which means they are united in shooting the aliens, not each other. Brotherly love and bonding and all that.

As they have gotten older, their skills have improved and now they enjoy taking on dad. It’s just one of the many ways they hang out with their male parent. Sometimes they race down ski slopes, sometimes they toss the football to each other, sometimes they hike in the woods together. And sometimes they pull out a video game and face new challenges together. It hasn’t turned them into aggressive or violent kids. It’s just added another skill to the many others we’ve fostered.

And I have to say I’m really enjoying the way we are currently using our video gaming system. Some call it Guitar Hero, some call it Rock Band, but either way it involves each boy drumming, singing, or playing guitar. And it’s not just the hand eye coordination I enjoy about the game. It’s the songs.

Because suddenly all four of my children are walking around the house singing songs that are very familiar to me. “ I’d like to be, under the sea, in an octopus’s garden, in the shade”. “Lucy in the sky with diamonds”. These are tunes I’ve sung along to for years on the oldies stations and suddenly they are back in style. And my kids know the actual words, not just the ones we made up when we sang along with the cassette player so many years ago.

So it seems like my judgments and ideals from a dozen years ago maybe needed some tweaking. I know many families who choose not to allow video games in their homes. It’s a choice we all get to make for ourselves. But in our house it became much like the toy gun issue. When offered in moderation it was just another step on the ladder rung of childhood.

Speaking of guns, suddenly I find we are back to that phase. With the arrival of sophisticated Nerf guns, my bigger boys are now once again interested in playing hunt and seek. Neon orange foam darts litter my house and end up in my dustpan on a regular basis. It surprises me that even the girls enjoy a good game of chase when you get to shoot your opponent with soft darts. Who knew?

Certainly not me, the mom who still doesn’t have it all figured out.

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