Computer wars 4, Starfall

by Wolf Pascoe on January 17, 2011

Part 4 in a series of five posts.

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Read: Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 5.

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Oh, I daydreamed as a boy
about the heroes of the Iliad!
Ajax was stronger than Diomedes,
Hector stronger than Ajax,
and Achilles strongest of all; because
he was the strongest! . . . Innocent ideas of boyhood!
Yes, I daydreamed as a boy
about the heroes of the Iliad!

— Antonio Machado

 

Nick continued to have bouts of sadness after we banned the first-person shooter games from our house. Time diminished his anguish, and the arrival of the Wii softened the blow.

It was hard sorting out the games on Nick’s DS. For example, Lego Star Wars seems innocent enough.

It has benign, cartoonish figures such as Yoda, no blood, and the trusted Lego name. But in essence it’s no different from other first-person shooters. The play is repetitive and hypnotic. Most rewards are instantaneous, and Nick’s absorption in it had an addictive quality.

Like the other shooter games, Lego Star Wars is digital heroin. In the end, we decided it had to go.

We’re now two weeks into Nick’s digital course correction. I’m happy to say that he’s adjusted for the most part. I feel less like a heel. And there have been unanticipated benefits.

We called the parents of Nick’s best friends and told them what we were learning about the games, and of our decision to ban them. The shooter games were becoming a regular feature of play overs, and we didn’t want Nick playing them at other houses.

To our surprise, most of the parents responded with relief.

“If these games aren’t permitted at your house, it makes it easier to get them out of ours,” Jay’s mother said to me.

We’ve also noticed that we have less difficulty in limiting Nick’s screen time. With the addicting games gone, Nick seems less interested in computer time, and more open to other activities he likes, such as Lego building.

There was a final surprise: Nick has developed a sudden interest in learning to read. I found a wonderful, free, interactive reading website, Starfall, and began doing exercises and reading stories there with Nick.

“This is really good for your brain,” I said to Nick. “It’s using it in a new way.”

The stories and graphics on Starfall don’t measure up to the flashy sophistication of the shooter games. If Starfall had to compete head-to-head with them for Nick’s attention, I’m sure it would lose out to the shooters. But now that the shooters are off the table, Nick can enjoy Starfall. And it’s clear that Starfall is really is engaging his brain in a new way.

Nick and I have agreed on a new limit: He can use the Wii or watch TV for half an hour, then he does Starfall for half an hour.

I’m glad that Nick’s reading skills are improving, but I regard that as a side benefit. What really impresses me that he’s more flexible and open.

You know, Nick said to me the other day, “Indar still plays Battlefield at his house.”

“You miss Battlefield,” I said.

“Indar’s going to have a lot of trouble when he gets to middle school.”

. . .

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The series concludes next time with Just Five More Minutes

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You might also enjoy:

Dr. Michael Rich, from the Center on Media and Child Health (CMCH), Children’s Hospital, Boston.

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CMCH is the best source of media research I’ve found on the web.

Common Sense Media gives practical information to parents on how to co-exist with media.

And, of course, Starfall.

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Image credit: Achilles held down by his hair by Pallas Athena, black-coloured pencil drawing by Stanisław Wyspiański
. . .

Any thoughts on kids, computers and media? Express yourself! I’d love you to add your comment below. I (nearly) always write a response here.

Want an alert to the next action-packed episode in the amazing adventures of Just Add Father? Scroll up to “Get E-mail updates” in the column to the right.

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{ 10 comments… read them below or add one }

Amy January 17, 2011 at 4:07 am

Although I’ve only read part of it, I love Can’t Buy My Love: How Advertising Changes the Way We Think and Feel, by Jean Kilbourne. I haven’t read ’em, but also by or co-authored by Kilbourne: So Sexy So Soon: The New Sexualized Childhood, And What Parents Can Do to Protect Their Kids, and Deadly Persuasion: Why Women and Girls Must Fight The Addictive Power of Advertising. All three are available through the Public Library (and someday I’ll read ’em all).

Yes, reading of your decisions makes it easier for me to set stricter screen time limits in my own home. Reminds me of the Asch conformity experiments, in which the study subject was more likely to give a factually incorrect answer when all the other study participants (in the mind of the true subject, but actually the other participants were study confederates) were purposely giving a wrong answer. My take-away lesson: it takes greater courage to do what is right or best when the rest of the crowd is going the other way.

Thanks for your posts. They help give me courage.

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Wolf Pascoe January 17, 2011 at 4:33 am

Others have told me they’re making changes also. There’s so much noise on this issue, it’s almost a political act to become more conscious of it.

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Barbara January 17, 2011 at 4:42 am

What a great punch line! I don’t have kids so I follow all this only as an interested observer, but it looks like you and Nora are doing it right.

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Wolf Pascoe January 17, 2011 at 4:56 am

I’ll put you down on the side of the angels. And you’ve refused to put a video screen in your theater, right?

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Barbara S. January 17, 2011 at 9:16 pm

Kudos to you for making this move now. Games have gotten so much more sophisticated, graphic and violent than when my boys were that young, although we were one of the last to break down and get a gaming system. Good luck – I think your son is lucky to parents who are more concerned with guiding him than being his ‘friend’. I have a feeling he’ll do fine when he hits the teenage years.

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Wolf Pascoe January 18, 2011 at 2:51 am

Thanks, Barbara. From your lips to God’s ears.

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Sirena January 18, 2011 at 7:29 pm

I see there’s another part to this series – I hope it’s happy as I thought this last one was so positive with such a happy ending. It sounds like everything is SO much better now!!!! Kids are so resiliant, aren’t they?

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Wolf Pascoe January 18, 2011 at 10:06 pm

This series, like the Dude, abides. One more post. Things sound better, but are they really? Stay tuned …

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Tracy TC January 20, 2011 at 4:03 pm

Kids are resilient and their brain wiring adjusts quickly — to the good and the bad. I’m not surprised to hear that Nick is adjusting, but I am definitely pleased to hear it. Score one for the mindful parents!

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Wolf Pascoe January 20, 2011 at 5:20 pm

So much about this is unknown. We’re keeping our fingers crossed.

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