In his ten years, I’ve never seen him concentrate so completely on anything like he does video games. Not schoolwork, or cleaning, or friends, or sports… nothing.
That’s why everything he does with screens has limits, because the fact is, if I let him, he’d play games all day and all night, never showering or brushing his teeth. He’d never see the light of day or cut his hair. He’d more or less become some pasty monster boy that can’t handle sunlight.
But ultimately, this is the reality of little boys in 2017. Most of his friends are like this, too. They are obsessed with playing Pokémon, Minecraft, Terraria, and watching all of these games played by other players in other places, the men with pimply faces in little side screens narrating their every move.
I don’t know if my parents knew how good they had it. When I was growing up, they complained about us watching too much TV. But the reality was, there wasn’t always something good on. At some point I Love Lucy era programing and Ronco infomercials would force us to venture outside and find something else to do.
But right now, my son has an endless stream of low budget, yet somehow highly entertaining, programing on YouTube, along with games that have no real ending.
This is his childhood, and I’m not sure what to make of it. I’m not sure if it is ruining him, or if it’s just some new transition in childhood.
What I do know is that games are his everything, so all his screen time has to be accounted for. He is on a strict schedule of allotted time. He has a list of duties he must accomplish to earn screen time, and ultimately, screen time has become his currency.
Before he can play games he must tidy his room, finish his homework, be active or creative for 45 minutes, clean his room, brush his teeth, and comb his hair. We used to give him money for all of these things, but now it’s screen time.
That’s all he wants, so we are making him earn it.
He blows through this list. Nothing motivates him like playing games, and in so many ways, it makes me nervous.
Playing games is such a huge part of who he is and his social life and as a result, managing screen time is a huge part of parenting right now.
Here’s the thing: I’ve seen the downside of gaming in adult life.
I work at a university. I’ve had bright, very accomplished undergrads fail out of school because they spent too much time playing games.
As a parenting blogger, I have had mothers reach out to me about their husbands who won’t get jobs, or wont interact with their children because they are locked away in some gaming room for hours on end. These mothers ask me for advice, and I don’t have any.
All I have is sympathy.
What I do have, though, is a 10-year-old boy who I love unconditionally, and is completely obsessed with video games. He’s a good kid. He does well in school. He plays soccer and has friends. He goes outside. He’s a wonderful big brother to his younger sisters. And when I think about that, I have a difficult time seeing him choose games over college, or his children.
That day when I found myself taking a hard stand he looked at me for a while, after I asked him to shut down his screens, clearly not happy, but understanding that I wasn’t going to budge.
Finally he shut off his iPad and his Kindle, and took off his headphones. Then he said his usual refrain of, “I wish you’d just let me play games all the time.” (It was in his sorrowful, I’m so picked on, little boy voice).
I looked him up and down. He was still in his charter school polo and brown shorts, his hair a little messed up from recess.
“Here’s the thing, dude,” I said. “Some day you are going to have to choose between those games and going to college classes, or being there for your family, or going to work, or a million other adult obligations. And you know what, in the moment it’s going to suck. But the thing is, it’s what you have to do to make it in the world. And I want you to be the best person you can be. I want you to be a really smart, hardworking, and wonderful father someday. I know you will someday make good decisions when it comes to games. But I don’t think you are ready just yet, so until then I’m going to help you by monitoring your screen time. But I want you to know that it’s not because I hate you. It’s because I love you enough to teach you how to grow up to become an awesome person.”
I don’t know if it came out exactly like this, but it was close. He looked up at me with big blue eyes. Then he nodded and went to his room to put his games away.
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