Daddy Talk: The Virtual World
A kid battle that my wife and I have yet to win — or even understand fully — is the realm of electronic devices. And it’s not for lack of heart or education. We’ve read articles and books and spoken with pediatricians and counselors and teachers, but the problem of kids and devices is just a juggernaut.
Part of the problem is that electronic devices create issues that we didn’t even know to expect. For example, if our kids are playing with toy soldiers or working on a puzzle and we tell them it’s time for supper, they just say, “Coming!” and present themselves at the table a few seconds later. But if they’re playing with an iPad and we call them for supper, we get no response whatsoever. They seem unable to communicate, and eventually, we are forced to approach them ourselves to forcibly remove the tablet from their grasp. If they see us coming, they start cowering like a trapped animal. But if we gently try to loosen their grips on the devices, they lash out like Gollum: “My precious!”
When we asked our pediatrician about the device’s power to transform our children into monsters, she confirmed that she sees cases like this all the time and walked us through some boundaries that we could try out. But now, it seems that our limiting the time they are allowed to spend with their devices, has made this time sacred. If they know that they will be allowed to play on their devices on Saturday morning, they will actually set their alarm clock and get up early…you know, the way we’d love for them to do during the week for school. So on Saturdays, despite it being an off day, they will sleep deprive themselves so that they transform into monsters even earlier in the day than they would have if their electronics time had not been so holy unto them.
Another problem is that the lines are getting blurred about what exactly constitutes “playing a video game.” As our boys have gotten older—they’re now 6 and 8—they have veered away from games like Monkey Preschool Lunchbox toward role-playing games where they enter virtual worlds, collect items, build things, and can even interact with one another from separate devices. If they both have iPads out at the same time, we can hear them yelling across the living room, “I’m going into the store!” or “I found 1,000 coins!” or “I’m going to work on my house for a few minutes.” I wish they would work on their actual bedroom for a few minutes and get the clothes off the floor. This thought always makes me wonder if their virtual houses have toys scattered everywhere so you can’t walk and dirty socks crammed under the dresser.
Since the role-playing games are so complicated, they discovered at some point that you can find Youtube videos that show you how to play the games. Can you guess what they want to watch after school instead of Odd Squad? Videos of people playing video games! So if they are looking at a screen, they’re either playing this video game, or they’re watching a video of someone playing this video game. What?!
The first time that I became aware of this, I glanced over at our four-year old, Lydia, who is fortunately, not yet attracted to role-playing video games. But my heart sank when I saw that she was watching a Youtube video of girls playing with dolls. Huh? I pointed out that there was a pile of real dolls just a few feet over from where she was sitting. She just glanced over at the dolls and then continued watching the video. I was at such a loss that I went to talk to my wife about it. She was watching a video of people sitting around on the beach drinking margaritas.