Jean and I were at a birthday party last week. While we dined with the adults, the boys were in another room with their peers enjoying kid-friendly food and games. One of the after dinner activities for the children was playing with a Wii (pronounced “We”). That’s the hot new video game console offered by Nintendo. As I learned, what sets Wii apart from other video games is a wireless controller that senses motion. This allows the gamers’ hand movements to interact with the on-screen action. In that respect, you actually get a bit of a physical workout if you “played” a tennis or golf game with the Wii.
Our five-year-old son, Troy, was hooked. Big time.
When I went to pick the boys up to go home, Troy blew a gasket. I’m talking an out-of-control, full body meltdown. No question, it was his biggest tantrum to date. You’d think after a couple of hours of playing, he would have had his fill. Nope. I literally had to carry Troy kicking and screaming away from the game.
At the risk of sounding like Scrooge, there’s one thing our boys won’t be getting this Christmas: a video game console. I know, I know. Video games are a central fixture in many homes. One report indicates that more than 80% of households with children have a video game system. In spite of such widespread popularity, and long before Troy’s conniption, my wife and I have just decided not to rush down that road. In fact, we’d like to see if we can’t raise our guys without ever buying a PlayStation, Xbox, Nintendo DS, or a PSP gaming system. Why?
For starters, there’s no substitute for real life activities. Video games, even those clean, positive options, are incredibly time consuming and, by design, take children away from exploring the world around them. Rather than getting outdoors, playing catch, jumping on a trampoline, reading books, or being creative with paint, paper, scissors, and tape, video games transport children into an artificial world with little to show for his or her investment of time.
Secondly, there’s the issue of aggressive content. Far too many video games rely on highly realistic violence as the central draw to the action. I know the hearts of my boys. I cannot see how they’d benefit from engaging in hours of aggressive behavior – even if the goal was to shoot “bad guys” or zap evil aliens. I’m not alone in this concern. If you’re interested in reading a scholarly, scientific-based study about the impact of exposure to violent video games, get a copy of Violent Video Game Effects on Children and Adolescents: Theory, Research, and Public Policy
There can be a third downside – physiological impact. It seems that a nine-year-old San Diego boy got way more than he bargained for from his Sony PlayStation at Christmas: a seizure. After endlessly zapping, whacking, and smacking things in videoland, Nicholas Lavin’s head started to jerk uncontrollably backwards and forwards.
Evidently, two symptoms tipped off Nick’s mother, Barbara Lavin, that all was not well with her son: the spasmodic convulsions and the little back flips his eyes were doing. Wisely, Barbara decided a trip to the pediatrician was in order. When an MRI failed to show any other cause for the severe twitching, Nicholas was banished to preadolescent hell: no video games for thirty days – doctor’s orders.
While kids everywhere might agree that requiring them to give up their PlayStation cold turkey borders on cruel and unusual punishment, the treatment worked. According to news reports, Nick’s mother noticed an immediate change. She said, “All the head jerking is gone and his eyes are completely back to normal. I think it’s a direct connection to the PlayStation and the amount of time he spent on it.”
Granted, Nick’s case is probably an exception, not the norm. At the same time, video play can contribute to a youngster becoming withdrawn, more fearful (grinding teeth while sleeping), quick tempered, or experiencing nervousness and irritability. If so, suspending play for a season is good medicine.
I maintain that even with the host of good video games on the market, there’s nothing like real-life experiences, chores, and involvement in a youth group to help a developing young person avoid social isolation. If video games are on the Christmas wish list, why not limit their game play to an hour a day? It might also be a good idea to balance their gaming with real life experiences.
If you’re in the market for a video game, the National Institute on Media and the Family has created a Top Ten list of video games to avoid as well as their top picks for children and teens. They’ve even created a helpful MediaWise shopper’s guide to help you choose wisely.
MediaWise’s Top Ten Games to Avoid 1. Assassin’s Creed 2. Call of Duty 4 3. Conan 4. The Darkness 5. Jericho 6. Kane and Lynch: Dead Men 7. Manhunt 2 8. Resident Evil: Umbrella Chronicles 9. Strangehold 10. Time Shift