It is truly a challenge to parent a generation that is growing up with access to so many tools and information that was not around when I was a child. I remember at the beginning of my journey as a parent I was certain my children would watch limited amounts of TV and NO I repeat NO video games would EVER show up in our lives. I laugh as now we have a Wii, a PS3, a dreamcast, 2 xboxes, a racing simulator, 4 laptops, 2 iPads and some stuff I am forgetting. We are hooked in to the world of technology and we use it to the extreme each and every day. In fact, when the internet goes down it as though someone cut off an appendage.
How did I get here? The first time my boys were exposed to video games at 3 and 5, it was everything I feared, right in front of me. They loved it! Nothing else would do. Hours disappeared. I went home and assured my husband that crack would NEVER make it’s way in here. He said “Hey I used to game and it didn’t hurt me.” How dare he hold an opinion that did not support mine. It’s worth mentioning that as this time both he and I worked from home on line to support our family. That’s right hours each of us spent in front of a screen while I held this irrational view that my children would not let this evil in to their lives. Ah, do as I say not as I do.
My husband did bring his old gaming console in to the house, perhaps to prove his point. The boys were so in to it. My oldest had an all out anger meltdown when he could not get passed the level he wanted to. As all good parents do, we lied told them the system was broken and banished it back to the garage where it belonged.
This was the point in my boys lives when they were super in to Star Wars. They collected boxes of characters, books, treasures and LEGO sets. So it did not seem for me such a leap that they would want to play the LEGO Star Wars game on dad’s laptop. I consoled myself with the fact that the shooting only caused LEGO parts to scatter and rebuild themselves and that there were quests or challenges that they had to complete to progress in the game. I was, for the first time, seeing the value, the learning, in this before now terrifying world.
When they had completed the game, in what I as a proud mother was certain was a record time for children their age, they wanted more. Nothing I could find on line, that held my teacherly view of educational value, could engage them like this game had. The other options at the time, were games that just had more violence then I (or my 3 and 5 year old) were really ready for. So, we bought our first gaming console, the Wii. It promised to provide young child appropriate games and encouraged the whole family to be engaged.
I would be lying if I said the whole transition went by peacefully and I instantly embraced the world of gaming and the increased screen time unfolding all around me. I did not. I was terrified seeing my then 3 year old sitting in front of the TV playing video games for time waaayyy passed what I was comfortable with. Internally, I was freaking out! Externally, I continued to create a stimulating environment, that was secretly there to entice them away from the games or computer.
It was when I took a step back that I was truly able to see what was really happening. I had happy, engaged children. They had at their fingertips information, answers to questions that I did not have. I was able to get them the instant details they wanted to encourage them to keep digging in to the passion they had for a topic. We could take off on a journey to a whole other land with a click or two of the mouse. Complex problem solving scenarios, beyond the scope of my understanding, were being presented to them and they were finding solution using the sort of out of the box thinking that my schooling never afforded me. Text and comprehension requirements where being hurled at them from all directions. They were constantly in the moment developing decoding skills in order to understand and engage in the environments they were curious about. All of this being fueled by their own passion and enthusiasm. Which made the information and skills stick like super glue to the location you never meant it to land on.
I could see that these tools I had feared were enriching my children’s lives in ways than I could not if I took them away. And in the act of limiting or denying them these things I would be creating walls between myself and them. Embracing the world of technology and gaming has been more about reframing my own mind then it has been about the devices or the games themselves. I could choose to fight and resist and create barriers with in my relationships. Or I could take care of my own issues (away from my children), engage with them, inform myself and be their partner. The world of technology has sky rocketed since I was a child, so to expect my children to play with the same toys I did, or move through childhood as I did is irrational. What I can expect is to incorporate these new shiny, exciting, awesome toys in to the way we live together, lovingly.
For me this looks like, gaming way more then I ever imagined I would. Reading lots of reviews about games and their content so I know what to watch for and what sorts of conversations to be prepared to have. Discussing content that makes me nervous or unsure so I can get a sense of who it is falling on my children. Attending midnight release parties to get the newest games, so we are ready to play when it feels like everyone else got it before them. Providing food and water, when the intensity of awesome might otherwise leave these cues unnoticed. Giving ridiculous amounts of warning when we need to leave the house and being ready to wait those extra moments so a check point or save spot can be reached. Constantly, providing fun, new activities outside of the world of technology that are way to delicious to turn down (and not throwing an tantrum in the moments when they are turned down).
My boys are growing up in a time when it’s hard to predict what the future innovations will look like. They will likely work at jobs that do not exists yet. For me to think, keeping this away from them is helping them grow up as capable human beings just does not make sense. Embracing the passion they have for the world around them, free of judgement and parameters is truly they only way I set them up to do just the same for themselves. To head out in to the wider world ready to think outside of the box, put in the extra time to solve that niggling little problem that no one else can find and to collaborate with others who are just as passionate as they are. This is how I can contribute to raising children ready to jump in feet first to a world that is forever changing.