My home is a Sega-free zone
I have been accommodating on matters
concerning hair style and colour, pierced ears, and gravity-defying pants that
magically hover below my sons' slim backsides. But when it comes to video games
The National Post asked "seasoned" parents to write
about an aspect of parenthood they'd wrestled with or felt strongly about, or
something that just seemed to work for them. This is the eighth in our series.
The last instalment will appear tomorrow.
- - -
Few things are more aggravating, exhausting and lonely in life
than swimming against the current. No truer words describe parenting in the age
of video games.
Parenthood came to me in the mid-1980s, when the computer industry
had experienced its first flush of success with technological gizmos for
adults, and was turning its greedy eye toward younger prey.
I waved off the breathless excitement of electronics manufacturers
as they boasted about what was taking shape on their drawing boards. I took
solace in the belief that Boomer parents like me would never fall for a product
with so little redeeming value. Loud, hypnotic and repetitive games were the
stuff of cartoon storylines: In our youth, we had giggled at the sight of some
kid with vacant eyes being seduced by mesmerizing products, and figured that if
the kid was too stupid to see what was happening, the parent was doubly so. As
we got older, we tested the first wave of these games in bars and arcades. But
even the most reckless among us wondered how many rounds of Space Invaders and
Pac-Man we could play before our brains seized from the boredom. What sane
parent would buy a toy like that for a child, we asked ourselves. Sadly, plenty
I vowed I wouldn't be one of them. I kept my children entranced by
a gentler world of stories involving bunnies, wizards, castles and dragons, and
toys that encouraged them to design and build mansions and space stations and
railway routes. When the menacing new sensation suddenly began battering the
doors of Toys R Us, I steered my brood away from the electronics aisles, and
herded them toward those containing board games, building blocks, and action
figures -- toys that allowed a child's imagination to run free.
But my children were not being raised in a vacuum. They had
friends. Eventually, they twigged to the idea that the landscape was changing,
and that Mom -- the woman with the secret recipe for Rice Krispie Squares --
was now the enemy. It was all I could do to clutch their chubby little hands,
sprint them toward the end of Grade 3, and throw them over June's wall into
summer camp just as the marketing juggernaut of Sega, Nintendo and GameBoy
crashed through my fortress of serene domesticity. This was war. With the
children safely -- albeit temporarily -- ensconced in the land of canoes,
crafts and campfires, I girded up and stared down the invader.
When school resumed in the fall, I gamely continued to read to the
children or engage them in a real game of checkers or chess. Meanwhile, their
schoolmates were busy killing off small countries or intergalactic invaders.
When word got out that my home was a Sega-free zone, I found
myself enduring low-grade taunts -- not from children, but from parents who
found my resistance to such toys antiquated and even cruel. They earnestly
cited studies that said such games actually help improve fine motor skills, as
well as eye-to-hand co-ordination. I smiled with feigned interest and bit my
tongue. Electronic manufacturers have wet dreams about people like you, I
wanted to say.
Still, the pro-video-game faction would not relent. They proudly
showed off their standard of parental vigilance by remarking that their little
Billy or Brittany was allowed only one hour a day of video games. Conveniently,
they ignored the emerging side effects such games produce -- aggression,
frustration, narrow-mindedness, obesity, poor reading skills, attention-deficit
disorder -- and found it easier to blame the school system, the government, or
-- my personal favourite -- the media. "The evening news is more violent
than video games," they exhorted, as if Peter Mansbridge and Lloyd
Robertson were somehow the evil counterpart to Super Mario.
I have endured a 12-year stand-off, and my resolve has not
diminished. Nintendo and its ilk have never -- and will never -- cross the
threshold of my home. Of all the trends and fads that come and go in the course
of a child's march to adulthood, on this one I refuse to back down. I have been
accommodating on matters concerning hair style and colour, pierced ears, and
gravity-defying pants that magically hover below my sons' slim backsides
without collapsing to the ground. I've allowed them to read whatever they want,
permitted verbal self-expression and have not batted an eye when an errant
profanity escaped their lips. But I will not be moved when it comes to video
It would be naive to say that video games are "a phase"
in the same way that Ninja Turtles were a phase. Video games are not a phase.
They are the beginning of a techy continuum that starts with a joystick and
ends with a Palm pilot. As adults, we have already seen the sort of workday
bondage that results from this sort of thing.
In the meantime, the Billys and Brittanys of the world have
negotiated longer periods for their video games and virtual pursuits,
mesmerized by the violent soundtrack of screams and gunfire that overwhelm
their senses. Their moms and dads have long turned the other cheek because, and
this is the nub of it, video games keep Billy and Brittany quiet and tethered
to the home. For hands-off parents, such games are a pacifier and an invisible
restraint system all in one.
Over time, I have seen many children sequestered in their dark
rooms, playing games alone on their computers and TVs. The parents excuse the
behaviour by saying: "Well, at least I know where he/she is."
Keeping a child imprisoned in a darkened room is considered child
abuse in any other circumstance. The fact that there's a PlayStation to babysit
him apparently makes it OK. The fact that the child becomes addicted to such
games and pursuits is also, apparently, OK. Anything to keep them off the
What have we done to our children? What sort of parents have we
become when we barricade our children in sunless rooms and use the excuse that
we are protecting them. From what? Our fear?
It seems to be an excessive price to pay for excellent eye-to-hand
Go To The Next Article