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Control the controller

By Nathan Rice

We finished our long weekend retreat, where we enjoyed a lot of the traditional things of a get-away to the woods. We hiked some trails, played a few games in the cabin, threw a fishing line in the pond, cooked hotdogs over an open fire, made s’mores and took the occasional trip to the nearby small town to enjoy its ice cream stand.

I was taking the kids who went for the weekend back to their respective homes when one of them said, “It’s good to be home. I missed my Xbox. I only get to play video games on the weekend, and this weekend is almost gone.”

I’ve known this young man for a long time, and it surprised me that he was not allowed to play video games during the week. I asked surprisingly, “You don’t play video games during the week?” He replied, “Well, yes, but only for an hour or two a day.”
I have nothing against video game systems. I have defeated Bowser more times than I can remember, and I’ve been playing Mario Kart twice as long as the boy pining for his Xbox has been alive. I see no problem using a controller to move an Italian plumber seeking to rescue his kidnapped girlfriend or playing as a digital version of your favorite NFL team.

The problem I do see is the amount of time some children spend on these games, the way it can destroy their ability to enjoy other types of activities and how it often pulls them away from other important social interactions.

Video games are a great way to enter a fantasy land where children can slay dragons or fulfill their dreams of playing basketball in front of a sold-out arena. It becomes a problem, however, when children can no longer use their own imagination. Too much time spent on video games robs children of their own active imagination, which is one of the greatest gifts of childhood. It’s OK to slay a dragon on the screen, but children should also be slaying the make-believe dragon that is the bush outside their own house.

Too much time spent on video games also has a way of making other childhood activities seem less attractive. Young brains that are inundated by digital pixels end up needing these flashing lights to feel stimulated and entertained. The ability to enjoy numerous and varied activities are taken from them as their brains scream for the screen.

Playing video games non-stop can also remove children from real-life interaction. It’s important that children learn how to play with kids who are different from them, handle the neighborhood bully, and live in a world with a variety of children and adults. A digital world can be fun, but we must not allow our children to master a digital world at the expense of real-world skills, knowledge and grace.

It’s OK to allow kids some time to play their favorite video game system, but we should be careful that it doesn’t become their only source of entertainment or an obsession that damages their real-world lives. We should make sure they use their own imaginations, play outside and interact with others, and we should help them discover there is a lot to do on the other side of the screen.
I’m not one to say children should never be allowed to play video games, but I am going to say that parents need to control the controller.

 

Nathan Rice is a Hampton Roads native and can be reached at nrice@abnb.org.