There’s a school drop-off conversation that keeps popping up over and over lately with the same results. Our young kids are spending more and more time playing video games and we as parents are starting to notice that these electronic universes are having a serious attitude altering effect on them.
When they are stomping through puddles or trashing the house building forts we can see them blowing off steam, having a great time, learning and then coming back afterward feeling relatively calm and ready for a good night’s sleep. When their afternoons are spent eyes locked in tot forward position, glued to video games – even the Wii or XBox Kinect – they turn into a pack of wild dogs that are nearly uncontrollable the instant the screen goes blank.
This isn’t a holier than thou rant. XBox lives at our house and has been known to be the sole source of entertainment on any given afternoon. But, lately, the parents-of-6-year-olds crowd seem to agree on one thing – play dates and afternoons packed with electronic devices are changing our children in unholy sorts of ways.
Whether you are of the mind that video games are where it’s at or would never let your child near them (most folks, like us, I suspect fall somewhere in the middle), it’s a conversation worth having. As we look at the violence in our communities, the youths who are feeling disconnected from their families, the recent deaths of teens by their own hand and a loss of sense of place we begin to look at technology and wonder if it is the culprit.
It seems an easy out – video games make my kid crazy. What can I do? She’s going to play them. Technology is here to stay. I might as well just let her have at it and deal with the consequences as they come. But, I suspect the solution is not that easy – which is the playground conversation I seem to be having with other parents a lot these days.
It’s a mix of a little bit helpless and little bit WTF – like the craziness of Pokemon. You don’t want to ostracize your kid. But, you also don’t want to deal with the unholy wrath of video-game brain after a couple afternoon hours of Star Wars or even seemingly tamer versions of games like Kinectimals (a fave at our house). I loathe video games, but find myself playing Fruit Ninja on the IPad at 11 p.m. when I should be sleeping. If I read a book or listened to some music I sleep better, am far less cranky. Same theory, different human.
I’m not going to be taking the XBox away from our daughter any time soon. But, the one thing we will do is to counteract the crazy town of it all is spend a whole lot more time outside. We’ve been testing the theory lately and the crew of kids and parents out there with us agrees – play dates in the forest, on the farm, by the water, in the back yard produce kids with a much lower angry birds quotient. The other wow in it all is that while I’ve always been a huge fan of getting little kids (0-5) outside like with our NeighbourWood Walks program, I never realized until recently that getting older kids out may be even more profound.
Since our oldest started public school, we’ve found that the time between end of school and dinner is the perfect chance for her and her friends to get out to places in nature that they would otherwise not see. Cooped up in the classroom all day, the kids have come to look forward to the chance to run around in the fields at farms or along the river watching salmon spawn. They watch the seasons change. They have those kind of friendship moments that last well into adulthood…and they connect with the world around them. It is magical.
Then, there is an occasional afternoon of video games (with the expected aftermath of yelling, grumpy, disobedient, uncontrolled yuck). We accept it and move on.
Watching this in action has inspired me as parents have been asking for several years for OBE to institute and after-school NeighbourWood Walks program (Sometimes I’m a little dense).
These conversations in the school yard, the larger community in need of ways to develop deeper roots for our children, has served as an inspiration and call to action for me to help use technology in ways that bring us back to a simpler, more connected and familiar time in our lives.
We’ll begin simply by creating a space for school-aged kids and their families to get outside after class this Winter and explore. Whether it be stopping by a local dairy to watch them milk cows, a walk along the Tsolum River to check out the wildlife, a shore clean up along the Courtenay Estuary or a fun afternoon learning about shells, we’ll be making some plans and kicking off the after school program in January.
Maybe, just maybe, we can help our kids find a stronger sense of place in this pack-of-wild-dogs world.