Part 4 in a series of five posts.
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.”
. . .
The series concludes next time with Just Five More Minutes
You might also enjoy:
Dr. Michael Rich, from the Center on Media and Child Health (CMCH), Children’s Hospital, Boston.
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.
Image credit: Achilles held down by his hair by Pallas Athena, black-coloured pencil drawing by Stanisław Wyspiański
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