My son is loving Cub Scouts! He gets to meet new people, earn patches, learn useful things, visit with friends, support his local community, and be part of something bigger than himself. Lately, the pack has been collecting food donations for our local Manna House, so that those less fortunate than ourselves in our community can have a yummy Thanksgiving. Yesterday morning, he put on his uniform and got to go around to several of the other downtown business owners and raise money for his pack while earning a patch. Not only did he sell out, but he had additional donations...he was smiling ear to ear and couldn't wait to tell his den leader! He said, "I think I need more, Mom!"
So, I wanted to touch on the topic of video/computer games in this post. There are a whole host of fear-based reasons to NOT allow our children to be on the computer for much of any length of time. Even as someone in my late 30s, I remember a time before the internet-beast rose and took its place among us. I remember the dial-up tone, the dinosaur-tube monitor and the loading screen. I remember turning the computer on and then going to do chores because it took that long to boot up. (Gosh, it makes one feel old to reminisce in this way!)
Just think about how FAR the internet and electronics in general have come in just a few short years! Cell phones went from non-existent to the James Bond-esque watch in 2.3 seconds! Could it be that even our generation fears what we once didn't even know existed? Could it be that we are challenged to envision a future (our kids' future) where technology is even more heavily involved than it already is? They were born into technology. Even my generation can say that, when we were kids, we spent the bulk of our growing up playing outdoors or reading. A life with dictionaries, encyclopedias, and library call numbers where today we have Google. A life with 2-way radios and a stationary phone and hand-written or typed letters where today we have Facebook. A life with week-long photo development at Eckerd's Drug where today we have digital cameras and Instagram.
So, what's the harm in video/computer game play for our tech-savvy kiddos? This is the question I've been asking lately. What would bother me, was the challenge of getting my son to put the tablet or electronic device down. It would become a fight. But, as I've been researching (and remembering), getting me away from a good book would be just as difficult: "I'm right in the middle of a scene/chapter!" What's the difference?
"I've also known kids who spent huge amounts of time reading--just sitting and reading, "doing nothing!" for maybe 10 hours a day. There were always some kids like that, even when I was a kid. I could never understand why they would want to just sit and read when they could go fishing with me instead. What a waste of time. However, I've never known a parent to limit their kids' reading time. Why is it any better to limit TV or computer time than to limit book-reading time?" (The Many Benefits, For Kids, of Playing Video Games)
Is the fight to get off the electronic a sign that my child is addicted or obsessed with it?
"Some researchers who should know better have based their claim for the addictive nature of video gaming on brain research. If you do a little tooling around the Psychology Today blogs, you will find that one or more of my fellow bloggers are among those who have made this claim. Yes, indeed, functional brain imaging studies have shown that certain so-called "pleasure pathways" in the brain light up when gamblers hit the jackpot, and these same pathways also light up when video gamers achieve some goal within the game. Well, of course they do! If they didn't, that would just mean that hitting the jackpot or achieving success in a game isn't pleasurable. Everything that is pleasurable is pleasurable because of activity in pleasure centers of the brain.
I'm sure that if I were hooked up to an fMRI scanner my pleasure centers would light up every time I played a seven-letter word in Scrabble, or every time I got a favorable review on something I wrote, or every time I took a bite of pistachio ice cream, or every time my wife gave me the right kind of kiss. If we were to define every activity that activates the brain's "pleasure centers" as addictive, and therefore to be curtailed, we would have to curtail everything that's fun. We'd have to become Puritans, but then some of us might discover that our very success at Puritanism caused pleasure centers to light up, and then where would we be! Hey, what's the purpose of life anyway? Our national founding fathers perhaps betrayed their puritanical background when they declared that "pursuit of happiness" is a basic human right. Now we've got neuroscientists saying, "If it lights up the pleasure centers, beware of it!" Especially if it does so in kids." (Video Game Addiction: Does it Occur? If So, Why?)
Researchers are actually finding positive benefits of kids playing video/computer games. Things like:
* Improved visual contrast sensitivity (the ability to discern subtle variences in the color grey
* Successful treatment of lazy eye
* Improved performance on the ability to locate, quickly, a target stimulus in a field of distractors (needed for safe driving)
* Reduced impulsiveness
* Overcoming dyslexia
* Improved executive functioning
* Increased mental flexibility
* Reduction of mental decline that accompanies aging
* Improvements in job-related skills such as eye-hand coordination, attention, excellent working memory, and quick decision-making
"The bulk of the research suggests that the claims about negative effects of video gaming are largely myths and that there are real positive effects. The kinds of mental skills that video games help to develop may be increasingly important in today's world." (Cognitive Benefits of Playing Video Games)
More Research = Video Games: Play That Can Do Serious Good
One positive that I have noticed of games like Roblox and Minecraft (specifically for my child who struggles with social interaction) is the potential for social interaction! My son loves to physically get together with friends and play together, while each is on their own tablet or computer. They also play together online and get a chance to visit. We do discuss the dangers of giving online strangers personal information.
TONS More Reading = Unschooling Mom2Mom: Technology + Video Games
So, here's what we've come up with for our family to try: Computer time begins at 1pm. This encourages my son to eat a good breakfast and lunch before he begins his tech-immersion. He gets to read, be creative, go outside, be active, complete his chores before getting on his games. Then, computer time ends when we close our shop at 5pm. This allows us to work together to close the shop, gives us the evening for family time and/or running errands, and end the day with reading aloud under a nice warm blanket.
This is one of those trial and error things that we're still experimenting with but this plan seems like a fair and healthy way to give my son opportunities for gaming and other activities. I'll let you know how it goes! :)