By Gwen Rockwood, newspaper columnist and mama of 3
I admit it. We caved. But please spare me the long letters about the terrible thing we’ve done because I’ve already got plenty of irrational Mommy guilt about this and a long list of other parenting decisions I’ve made over the past six years. Our crime? We’ve let video games into the house.
It wasn’t a spur-of-the-moment thing, mind you. I’ve spent months turning the question over in my mind – “Should we? Shouldn’t we?” I know all the media-hyped reasons why video games are so terrible for kids: They play too much and avoid worthier activities like reading. They sit still and don’t get enough exercise. The games can be violent. They get carpal tunnel syndrome at age 8 and are never able to send text messages as fast as other kids. The joystick might emit dangerous levels of green, toxic gas. The list goes on and on.
Knowing all that, I decided to talk to my fellow parents who’d secretly already made a deal with the video game devil. “What’s the real scoop on video games in the house,” I asked. More importantly, did they regret it? The answers varied, but none of my friends related stories about video games triggering a breakdown of the family unit. Just to be sure, I asked my friend John, who is a Christian minister, a public school faculty member and a father of two very good boys. I figured if video games were either an educational or a moral sin, he’d know about it. Here’s how he put it:
“Well, it’s a tough call, but here’s how I see it. You know when you were in school and there was that one kid whose parents wouldn’t let him watch any television at all? What did you and your friends think about that kid?”
“We felt sorry for him and thought he was a little weird,” I said.
“There you go. You don’t want to lay that on your kids, and you don’t want to turn video games into such a big deal that they end up always leaving home to go secretly play them somewhere else,” he said. “Games can be a lot of fun, but you have to be smart about it and don’t let them take over.”
That made sense, but I still wondered if I’d be able to reign in the amount of playing time without creating a war of whining for more, more, more. I decided to sleep on it a few more weeks.
Then last week our neighbors asked my boys to come over and feed their cat and scoop the litter box while they were on vacation. At the end of the week, each boy would earn $20 for proper cat care. All week six-year-old Adam wondered aloud what he might do with that huge twenty-dollar bill. He could hardly wait, and I’ve never seen a kid scoop litter while wearing such a big smile of anticipation. Finally he made his decision. He brought me a sale circular he’d plucked from the newspaper and pointed to a glossy ad featuring a Nintendo video game called “Kidz Sports Basketball.” It cost $19.99, and he would have just enough to buy it. Of course, he didn’t know that the video system required to play that game would cost quite a bit more, but I wasn’t about to break the heart of a kid who’d scooped poop all week.
The next day I researched different game systems and finally settled on the Nintendo Wii, which requires users to move around to play the games instead of sitting on the sofa using their lightning-fast thumbs. I talked my husband Tom into going to the store with me, which was not a hard-sell seeing as how your average husband is secretly dying for a valid excuse to play video games again. “The kids really want me to play with them, honey. That’s why I can’t help fold the laundry right now,” they say. Yeah, right.
So we got the Nintendo system, and Adam bought his first video game with cat-sitting money. We’re spending our last few weeks of summer break – which has turned out to be the hottest of the year – in our air-conditioned living room shooting video hoops, swinging virtual tennis rackets and throwing electronic darts. We’re having fun, and so far nobody’s brain has rotted out of his head, thanks to time limits. Sometimes when the kids go to bed, Tom and I sneak in a few games of video bowling and wonder why we can’t beat the record of a 6-year-old.
But here’s the best news. I read a national news report recently that said researchers have found that doctors who spent at least three hours a week playing video games made about 37 percent fewer mistakes in laparoscopic surgery and performed the task 27 percent faster than their counterparts who didn’t play video games. Whew! All that worrying for nothing. Years from now when I’m 99 and my video game-playing son is performing my free gall bladder surgery, I’m going to be really glad I did this. Video tennis, anyone?