I hate video games. I hate the glorified violence and sexuality in many popular games. I hate the way kids get obsessed with them for hours on end. I hate that only 1 or 2 kids can play at a time, making it a nightmare for parents to promote sharing and taking turns. I won't even go into all the studies that link excessive screen time (computer, gaming and tv) with obesity. So when I see kids engrossed in any small handheld gadget with an electronic screen, it usually turns me off.
Whoooa!! Can you say uptight, judgmental mama? Okay, let me backtrack a little. I realize we're not living on an island. I know that eventually my kids -- my sons especially -- will be under a lot of peer pressure to play and own these devices. And I think that parents who criticize other parents for letting their kids get obsessed with handheld gadgets should be careful to look at their own lives (two words: Crackberry, iPhone). So I won't say that I'm going to ban all video games.
To be precise, I don't hate all video games, just the useless, violent ones. In certain circumstances they can be a good form of entertainment for kids and adults alike (Wii, anyone?). I certainly don't think it's bad parenting to allow kids to play video games -- as long as the content and usage is monitored properly by an adult (and not an adult who is secretly dying to play Grand Theft Auto or Mortal Combat). Surely parents can choose which games their kids play. Surely they can limit the number of hours spent in front of a videogame, make playing contingent on finishing homework or chores or outdoor play, ban videogame playing during playdates.
I like it even better when the video game doubles as an educational tool. If my kids want to play video games, especially at this young age, then better make it an educational game, right? Companies like Leapfrog make products that strike a great balance between electronic learning and video gaming. Nintendo makes some great educational games for DS and Wii. The Wii is even being incorporated into some classrooms. Hey, this is the 21st century: if Sesame Street taught me to read, why can't the Leapster2 do the same for my kids?
And let's face it, these videogames can be such a welcome distraction for kids and parents in many situations. We could certainly have used a Leapster2 on our summer travels, when we were stuck in one line or another (airport, museum, amusement park, you name it). We did have drawing materials and small toys handy, but the Leapster2 would have been one more tool in our arsenal against boredom and whining. Now that we have a Leapster2, I no longer have to dread the day that I have to schedule my annual gyno exam on a day that the boys are with me. At least they'd be staring at their video screens and not at me.
Now my kids have joined the ranks of those kids sitting with their games, furiously twiddling their thumbs to the sound of electronic beeps and chirps. But I know I'm in control -- and I know that other parents can be. And that makes all the difference. I'm honest enough to realize I've planted my toes at the edge of the proverbial slippery slope. With the right products and the right attitude, we'll make it all the way down without getting too much mud on ourselves.