My son is 6 and recently checked out a wii game from the library that was of high interest to him and it didn’t contain any inappropriate material. It was rated for children older than himself but I didn’t feel there was any reason he couldn’t play the game.
What I, as a parent underestimated, was how smart game developers really are, and their craft of design. I underestimated how well they know their audience and what makes them tick. I forgot how deeply my son likes challenge.
So, very quickly as he started playing the game I saw a few signs of unhealthy “connection” to the game.
1. He was talking about the game often in a way that showed me it was consuming his thoughts. He does often talk about games and I know his mind works on solving the challenges in games when he isn’t connected, but the way in which he was talking about this game felt different.
2. He wrote about it in his journal at school, he asked his friends about it. He skipped over greeting me at the bus stop to start talking about the game. His day seemed to revolve around the time he was going to get to play the game, and didn’t want to go to sleep until he could have confirmation about the next time he could play the game. Some of these things are completely fine, but when paired with all the rest, it let me know as a parent, the game was entering the unhealthy realm.
3. When asked to stop the game he couldn’t disconnect himself in a reasonable amount of time and started to cry. He’s showing me behaviors of deep emotional connection to this activity.
My son was entrenched into this game in an unhealthy way. So, of course the teacher in me said “This is a perfect teachable moment.” Yes it was, and it was also hard. There were more tears and lots of explanations about concepts I’m not sure he even understands or is ready for, but we are having conversations about them. They are about his personality, his brain and his development as a child.
But, like many teachable moments he was able to work towards new understanding about himself, and identify feelings associated with media and have real reflection on his experience. I knew we had made a break through when he said to his father, “You know Dad, I did feel sucked into that game” I’m glad I’m not playing it anymore.
It was like he was expressing relief. It was like we had freed him from something that had taken ahold of him.
This was much harder than saying “You can’t play that game anymore,” which part of me would have like to have said because it would have been easier and we could have just moved on.
But I know, like other elements in parenting, it is worth it. And the next time something takes “ahold” of him I know he’ll be prepared.
What’s your experience with parenting in the digital age?