Part 1 in a series of five posts.
We’re here to put a dent in the universe.
Recently, Nick broke my laptop computer.
He’d given me a warning, but I missed it. He’d been playing a first-person shooter game he’d gotten obsessed with, a game that often frustrates him. He’d respond by pounding on the keyboard with his fists.
I wish I’d said, “Computers aren’t for banging. Is there something else you can do when you feel frustrated?”
I didn’t say it, of course. I didn’t get that maybe he wasn’t ready to play that particular game. Or that maybe something was wrong with the whole picture.
Sure enough, two weeks ago he came into my study in tears.
“Dada, I think I broke the computer.”
I went into the dining room to inspect my shiny Mac Book Pro. Two keys were non-functional.
“Did you hit the keys?” I said.
Yes, he said, breaking down in sobs.
“You got frustrated with the game?”
He nodded. “Is it broken? I’ll buy you a new one, dada.”
Words cannot describe what was going on in the pit of my stomach. A game had become this frustrating? This was new territory. Where was the map?
“I can’t talk about this now,” I said. “You don’t have to buy me a new computer. We’re going to work this out. I just need some time.”
“Can I use mommy’s computer?”
“No. No computer for now.”
“Three days. No computer for three days.”
Like many parents, I was proud when, as a toddler, Nick first got curious about a keyboard. I remember the moment when he realized that moving the mouse made something move on the screen. I saw a sudden quickening in his hands as he gripped the mouse tighter.
He was thinking, Aha! This is how the world works.
On a Mac, you can create a separate computer for a child, and impose parental controls on it. This I did, as Nick soon learned how a browser worked, and there were plenty of websites I didn’t want him to know about.
Together, we played little games on the Sesame Street website, planting flowers, guessing on shapes that Oscar had collected. Nick couldn’t read, which was actually an advantage.
My style was to follow instructions and proceed with caution. But Nick pressed keys fearlessly to see what would happen. Soon he knew how the Sesame Street games worked better than I did. I foresaw a bright digital future.
What had gone wrong?
In the early, Sesame Street days, it was all exploration and discovery and joy. But lately, I observed in retrospect, his sense of freedom was gone. His behavior on the computer had a compulsive, demanding quality that spilled over into his interactions with Nora and myself.
It’s easy to see it in retrospect that Nick’s frustration was out of control, but at the time I was oblivious. Now my computer was broken. The future that had spun off the road. And I had given myself three days to think over what I was going to do about it.
. . .
Next time: Wake up call . . .
You might also enjoy:
Media used to be so simple. Tom Lehrer on the silent e:
I used the television as a babysitter (a confession by Jack B.)
Any thoughts on kids, computers and media? I’d love you to add your comment below. I (nearly) always write a response here.
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