When video games first came out, I warned my readers that they were not appropriate for children. I maintained they were not games; rather, they produced stress and were addictive, literally.
It was not a popular stance. Even my home paper, the Charlotte Observer, wrote an editorial critical of my position. Since then, my opinion has been confirmed by research, and hundreds of parents have shared with me their negative experiences with these nefarious devices.
Their stories go in my “I Told You So” file. The following, written by the mother of several young children, is the latest addition.
The parents in question have always limited television-watching to weekend nights. Furthermore, their children have very few toys, and those they do have are traditional and promote creative play (e.g., Lincoln Logs or Legos). The children spend lots of time doing arts and crafts, inventing things and making up games.
For the most part, they get along very well. They have squabbles, but those are rare and brief. The older children get good grades in school, do their chores without protest and are respectful and obedient.
A while back, the dad said he wanted to buy the children an Xbox for Christmas. The mom resisted at first, saying she had heard children can become addicted to video games and that playing them can lead to aggressive behavior. In fact, the research indicates that those outcomes are fairly common. Nonetheless, the dad continued his campaign, and the mom finally relented. They agreed that the children would be allowed to play for just a few hours a week.
Things started out fairly well but rapidly went downhill. The children quickly became obsessed with their new “toy.” Within a week, the first thing they were asking when they woke up in the morning was, “Can we play the Xbox today?” When they played, there would be fighting and tears. When the parents turned off the Xbox, the children would mope around and complain they had nothing to do.
Were these the same children who, pre-Xbox, never had a problem entertaining themselves? Actually, they were not the “same” children at all. They were beginning to exhibit addictive behavior, and as anyone who has ever lived with one will testify, an addict and the former non-addict are entirely different people.
“Then,” the mom writes, “my 5-year-old started telling me he didn’t like school and didn’t want to go. He even cried one morning. Only a few months previous he had loved school and couldn’t wait to go. Needless to say, I was very alarmed.
“Keep in mind that my kids used to wake at 6 a.m. and immediately dress and head down to their craft area to start building things and playing together. They always found ways to entertain themselves, and I used to watch them and be amazed at how many different things they could dream up and how many games they could invent to play.
“I talked to my husband, and he admitted he was beginning to question the wisdom of our decision. So we packed up the Xbox and put it away. There were some sad faces at first. This morning, however, we were all in the family room; my husband was reading the paper, my boys were all building a huge tower with their magnet building blocks and laughing and talking. It was just like it used to be on weekend mornings in our house.
“I said to my husband, ‘Isn’t this so much nicer than, “Can we play the Xbox?”’ He said he was thinking the very same thing.”
The mom ends her story with a warning to all parents: “I firmly believe that video games are dangerous to children and families. Do not buy one. You cannot control it.”
Yep. I told you so.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his Web site (www.rosemond.com).