Thursday, January 22, 2009

My Kids; Junkies?

My nine-year-old son has a problem. He thinks about it constantly, asks for it incessantly. Begs for it during the week, makes deals to use it, thrashes and sobs when we take it away. No, not alcohol as one might suspect, or drugs as one might fear. No, my son is addicted to his Nintendo DS.

I do not say addicted lightly. This $140 dollar metal poptart has stolen my sweet son, who used to have other interests and cared about his family. But wielding his DS, our family could be perishing in a fiery inferno, and my son would look up long enough to say, “I just beat level three mom and dad! It was so much easier than I thought!”

My son has also dragged his sister into this sick and twisted gaming world. My seven-year-old was oblivious to video games until about six months ago. It started innocently enough, with that gateway-game on the XBOX 360, Cloning Cycle. He showed her how to play it. How to get ahead. How to make the little guy jump and dive. How to score points. Suddenly video games were on her Christmas list. Her birthday list. My video-dealing son got her hooked and moved in for the kill: he introduced her to the big-time DS.

Although my daughter does not have her own DS system, she wants one. She plays her brother’s and they fight over who gets to play it first or who played it longer. Their thumbs are starting to dislodge from their joint sockets, allowing for 360 degree thumb rotation. So much better for multi-tasking those buttons, but those same kids can’t pick their socks off the floor.

Our family has a no-tv-or-video-games-during-the-school-week-policy. We do let our son use the DS when he is in the bathroom, for a variety of really good reasons that I won’t mention here. But to keep things fair, we figured we also had to allow our daughter to play it while on the commode, but no more than 10 minutes at a time. There has been an amazing spike in the number of times my children need to use the restroom now. They must be eating and drinking machines at school, because they announce they need to use the restroom about 50 times a day. They grab the DS on their way to the bathroom. “Wait a minute! You can only use it to go #2!” I yell. “I better see some poop in that toilet!”

Things hit a real low for my son the other day, when my husband and I discovered for the second time (gasp), that he has been sneaking his game-heroin at night. Playing it in his bed while we think he’s sleeping. So that’s why he wakes up in the morning, groggy, miserable and bag-eyed. And I thought his pillow was too stiff.

My husband and I staged an intervention. Their 20-month-old sister was there to attest to the turmoil these games have caused in her life. More than once she has fallen down the stairs or ate some foreign object from beneath the baseboard heaters, because her siblings were too absorbed in the DS to look after her. We would have called in our pet guinea pig to testify that he too was ignored and abandoned due to the children’s obsession with gaming. But we got rid of Shadow a while back because….you guessed it….the kids couldn’t be bothered to look after another living being in the house. My husband and I each fought back tears as we choked out how much we loved them (our children) and how scared we were for their future, should this addiction continue. “Your grades will suffer!” we chanted. “Your eyes will pop right out of your head!” we cautioned. “You’re becoming kids we don’t even recognize! We can’t take it anymore!” we bellowed.

We threatened to send our son to Amsterdam, where there is a video-game detox program, ready to help and lend a hand. My son wasn’t quite ready to move across the country. We researched the contact information for On-line Gamers Anonymous, and read the signs and symptoms of game-addiction. My husband and I have wracked our brains trying to figure out where all our strict parenting went wrong…is it us? Is my son predisposed to addictive activities? Or perhaps is it a brain disorder like some claim?

I’m sure we’re not the only parents dealing with this childhood sickness. You may be thinking I’m over-reacting. I suppose you could be right. In fact, my good friend Pam actually plays video games with her sons; helps them beat the tough levels, helps them kill those virtual foes who simply throw the fireballs too quickly for a seven-year-old thumb to react. Apparently she is one of those “cool moms” that embraces things her children do; one of those parents who enjoy partaking in their children’s fun. She claims she teaches them such novel childhood lessons as being a good sport, taking turns, handling disappointment when they lose. She’s even been known to get so lost in the DS games herself (trying to help my son and her sons beat a level) that she actually told my son to shut up. I don't blame her. I’ve no doubt my addicted son was jones-ing for the DS-bong, nervously tapping his foot on the floor, waiting his turn to try and beat the level, repeating the phrases, “IcandoitletmetrynoIcandoityoudiditwrongletme-tryletmetryletmetrynorealyIbetIcandoit..” in eerie monastic monotones over her shoulder, and she snapped. I suppose the thrill of the video-kill could do that to a person. Or worse.

Have you heard about the 17 year-old teen in Ohio, who killed his mother and shot his father in the head, because they wouldn’t let him play Halo3? I know, it sounds too far fetched to be true. But the kicker is that the only thing he took from the house after the incident, was the Halo3 game. Okay, so not all video-game-playing kids are this sick. It only takes one jack-ass to upturn the apple cart and spoil it for the rest. But I have to admit, after reading this article, I might be peeking through my hands when my son says to me, “Close your eyes mom, I have surprise for you.”

Halo is also a game my son wants to play. He keeps asking when he can play games that are rated “M.” I keep telling him that when his is an “M” I’ll let him play M games. “What does that mean?” he asks me. I paused. Thought. And replied:

“You can play “M” games when you can explain to me in significant detail what ‘the dignity of the human person’ means.” This has stumped him for awhile, and he keeps insisting, “It just means be respectful to others, right?” Well, there’s more to it than that. I figure by the time he’s 15 or 16 he might understand it, and then we can revisit those “M” games. Right after his volunteer hours with the food pantry, homeless facilities, and battered women shelters.

And if you were all still concerned about the state of our economy, apparently not all businesses are going under. According to the Wednesday edition of the Wall Street Journal, Gamestop Corp. is alive and well, thanks to their sales of new and used video games. Sales from games are expected to reach $2 billion dollars, up from $1.6 billion dollars last year at this same time. If you are unemployed, you might want to apply at Gamestop, because apparently, in these tough times, what us American's need to fight off the recession and get our minds off the cost of groceries and our late mortgage payments, is a little gaming distraction. And I'm pretty sure they are an equal-opportunity employer, although a skater t-shirt and a body piercing probably wouldn't hurt your interview image.

Well, as a concerned parent, I'm trying. Trying to put the focus of life back where it belongs; in school, family, faith, and friends. (Not necessarily in that order.) I'm glad to know that my husband and I are on the same page, dedicated to protecting our children and helping them aquire some perspective.

The other day my son was looking for his DS, couldn’t find it anywhere. It wasn’t where he put it. It wasn’t charging. It was a weekend, and he needed to use the restroom. He was beside himself. I walked into my bedroom to help my son look, and find: my husband playing the Nintendo DS in our bed. “Have you been in here playing this the whole time?” I asked. “What kind of lesson does this teach the kids?” I grumbled.

“I don’t know..” he replied. “If you can’t beat ‘em, join ‘em?”


Megan said...

My crazy aunt/sister rule of no video game presents doesn't sound so weird now! So- I may not be their favorite aunt beecause of it- but I am thinking about their future...their future I say!

Anonymous said...

Way to out me on a national blog as telling Eli to shut up (which I fully cop too, I was totally horrified, to the point he had to tell me to stop apologizing!)
We also have the no tv-video game rule during the week and out gaming is kept to a minimum with this. Eli is not allowed to tell the boys about this bathroom rule, I will NEVER get them off the damn toilet!
I am going to kick all of their asses on Boom Blox man! (I also rock on the Karaoke!)

Melanie said...

I love your blog! It is so entertaining, as well as informative! Who knew they had video game detox? We don't have kids, but I am a strong believer in no violent video games, that's for sure. I don't let my 29 year old husband play M-rated games! :)

Rachel said...

Ha!He doesn't own the Halo series yet? No Grand Theft Auto? What is sad is that as your kids get older, you move from no violent video games, to grading the level of violence that is acceptable. Star Wars is violent, but it's science fiction. So is sci-fi violence okay? Jurrasic Park is violent, but it's all about survival of the species right? So Maybe animal violence is okay. After awhile, that line gets so blurry! It's difficult to keep track of what I've said they could or could not watch and play.
I thought parenting was supposed to be easier than this. Where's that black and white line my parents lived by?