“Mom, I think the X-Box is taking over my life.”
The remarkable thing about our teen’s tearful admission was not its frankness, nor the way it made me wonder whether it was intended to be manipulative. The remarkable thing was that it compelled me to defend the game console, to build a case for giving it another chance.
After recounting the injustices each kid had suffered at the hands of the other, both were in tears. They were now mostly upset because I had threatened to throw away the object in question, which I really didn’t want to do. The object in question was pricey.
We’ve foisted screen addiction on them. We’ve plugged our kids into a matrix of daily thought control, where the influencers range from fast food commercials to internet predators. Where the products are obesity, diabetes, “nature deficiency disorder,” and an obstruction of the body’s ability to produce melatonin for a decent night’s sleep.
When I was their age, television was evolving from three network channels and public TV (which only ever played Sesame Street and the Michael Lehrer News Hour as far as I could tell) to twenty or so stations including one dedicated to music videos. Besides Cagney and Lacey, it was still crap.
Dad brought home an Atari game console, and we played Pong for a while. No one got addicted.
When Mike and I were married, we couldn’t afford cable and had to live with four stations. By the time we could afford it, we were proud of not having it. I poked fun at a woman in my office who spent more on cable than I did on my car.
Then there was the benefit auction where everything went awry.
“No more girly art in our house,” Mike said as I pondered a painting of two girls on a distant Victorian patio.
I guess we did have some rather feminine images on our walls. I hadn’t intended to surround myself with girlish art, but I hadn’t envisioned I’d be bombarded daily with the trappings of three males either, so maybe art was a defense mechanism.
But the bidding on the piece in question wasn’t going as well as I knew it could. I waved at the auctioneer, placing the winning offer as it turned out. Mike glowered.
The next item up was a satellite television system. Mike raised his paddle.
What the heck? What about our no-TV ethic? I motioned for him to cease and desist.
He kept eye contact with me, raising his paddle again and again, ultimately winning 300 channels of nothing on.
That was just the beginning. Today, my kids have the option of television, DVDs, DVR recordings, streamed programming, game consoles, hand-held games, computer games and – I am not kidding – watching YouTube videos of other people playing games; the digital equivalent of rooting around in a public ashtray for the butts of other people’s cigarettes to smoke.
We get to regulate this mess.
No one has come up with a solution that doesn’t involve scrapping the whole kit-and-caboodle. I’m a poor example. I like some of the programs. I need wireless internet for work. I get caught up by videos of cute kittens on YouTube.
And some of the games are intriguing. The graphics are great. There are plot lines. I read in the New York Times about the designers: brilliant and making loads of money. They started out playing Pong, then someone taught them programming and now they design cloud cities circa 1890 Chicago World’s Fair that everybody races to buy. One game takes the average player about 16 hours to complete.
We try to impose daily limits on the X-box.
“I thought you were done with your hour.”
“Oh, mom I’m on a live game. It’ll just be ten more minutes,” Jack says.
“They do get blackballed if they leave early,” Mike says.
Cyber space peer pressure. This was not in the What to Expect series of parenting tomes.
Or “we’re using Colin’s time. He wanted me to play with him, but he wasn’t watching the time, so we used up his hour. Now we’re using his time for tomorrow.”
Colin is in tears. I suspect he didn’t sign off on using future installments of his allotment.
I have a vision of my kids becoming programmers and turning their addiction into a vocation. It’s my only defense.
“Thank you.” Jack says from the podium where he’s hefting a golden Atari joystick, “I’d especially like to thank Mom for being my number one enabler,” he says, blowing a kiss at the camera.