My sons love video games. After being raised with no technology and not even a toy with a battery for the first several years of their lives, they have entered tweenhood in full force. They don’t yet have phones, but they have tablets. And we have laptops they sometimes use. And I have an old PC that has games in our house that they have recently taken a strong interest in.
I’m told this is not abnormal. That kids—especially boys—in this age bracket often like video games a lot. And they want to play them a lot. And I’m also told that despite the World Health Organization recently establishing a “video game addiction” diagnosis, many people play video games and it does not make their lives a mess or turn their brains to violence (fear #1) or mush (fear #2).
I am skeptical, honestly. I want to put fences and walls around this so badly. My ex-husband and my Manfriend both assure me that this interest my boys have in video games is nothing to be troubled about. That they played—and still play—and it does not indicate that I’ve done anything wrong or that my kids are playing video games to avoid me (fear #3).
The way I am trying to frame it is that my sons are not playing video games at me. And while I tend to have good instincts, in this arena, since I have very little personal experience gaming and I see very little reason I would want to spend a lot of time gaming, I am relying on the two good men in my life to help me chill out about it.
What all of us agree on is that we can control where and when they play. No playing at the table. No playing when out at restaurants or events or parties. No choosing to game when we have family or friends over, unless that is agreed upon for some spectacular reason. And no gaming in private in bedrooms. In addition, I control the amount of screen time my boys have, reminding them about every other day that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours screen time TOTAL in one day.
It’s been working out, honestly. But now that their interest in video games has increased, my anxiety has increased. Here are a few reasons why I worry…
- I worry about the violence. I just do. They play games where they are killing people. It is not gory–we control the game choices–but the goal is to kill. And maim. And steal dead people’s things. My boys have never been aggressive at all. Not even with each other. I’m serious. But still: I worry they are becoming desensitized.
- I worry about the time commitment that comes with gaming. I worry they will become addicted. And I suppose if they are going to become addicted, limiting the time they play may make absolutely no difference. Still, I worry.
- I worry about the “zoning out,” which happens when you game. I don’t like asking them a question and them not hearing me because they are so absorbed in their game. I don’t like being the mom who has to repeat herself over and over or ask them to pause the game, and I worry this dynamic will lead more to me being seen as this naggy witch when I am just trying to communicate.
- I worry they will only talk about their games. My Little Man, who is almost 10, is so dialed into the games that he is soaring with glee. And he wants to talk about his games a LOT. With me, with other grown-ups who show even an inkling of interest. I want him still to talk about all of the other cool things he likes and does.
- I worry about their other toys. I worry they still “need” the stimulation of setting up scenarios with horses and knights and with tiny figurines and Playmobil villages of ghosts and pirates and kings and queens. I worry their youthful sense of wonder with fantasy has been replaced by guns and collecting money and getting to the next level and winning. Playing with toys is different than playing video games. And I worry they grew up too fast.
- I worry that I am being left behind. And I am. Their dad and Manfriend love video games and have a rich history with them. It’s just a constant video game party whenever they all chat about it. I am left out. I didn’t hate video games, and I spent many many hours and countless rolls of quarters in the arcades of the ’80s. However, I shifted my interests as a teenager.
And here I am still learning to felt. I do cross stitch. I play piano, and I write. My sons have other interests as do the grown-up men in their lives, but by and large, they want to play video games. I try to find the way to let that be, to blend into the background and not be seen as a dividing force between them and their games.
But I’ll also be vigilant and watch closely for signs of overstimulation from video games. And if there arises behavior that is unsavory and I can trace it to their games, believe you me, I will be on that like white on rice.
But in the meantime, I will continue the process of going through toys long neglected and finding homes for them with children whose families have no money to buy them toys. And I will make my sons part of those decisions since I value the transitions they go through and want them to have awareness about those transitions.
And I will try to act interested when they want to tell me about their games. But only to a point. Because as they know, on most days, I have pies to bake, pillowcases to cross stitch, and cobwebs to sweep.