Computer wars, 5: Just five more minutes

by Wolf Pascoe on January 21, 2011


This is the last post in a 5 part series.

Read: Part 1. Part 2. Part 3. Part 4.



Andre: I wouldn’t put an electronic blanket on for anything….Turn on that electronic blanket it’s like taking a tranquilizer. It’s like being lobotomized by watching television.

Wally: I would never give up my electric blanket because New York is cold in the winter. Why, our apartment is cold.

My Dinner With Andre, 1981


Last Saturday, and Nick came down in the morning asking if he could play Sid Meyer’s Pirates. A really charming game, it’s one of the few we allow him now.

“I thought you said last night you wanted to read this morning.”

“First Pirates, then reading,” said Nick.

“Okay, half an hour of Pirates works for me,” I said. “Then reading.”


But when it was time to stop Pirates, Nick didn’t want to.

“Five more minutes,” he said.

“Okay. But five and not ten,” I said.


When the five extra minutes had gone by, I insisted Nick stop playing. He still didn’t want to. The game wasn’t going his way and I could tell he was frustrated. When Nick gets frustrated he can’t be reasoned with.

“Nick, I see you’re having a really hard time stopping by yourself.” I said. “Do you want me to help you stop by taking the game away, or do you want to give it to me?”

Words were exchanged. Mistakes were made. Nick stormed off to his room.

So much for reading.

I tell this mainly to confess that there is no happy ending here. The first-person shooter games are gone from our house, but the battle with computers continues. The battle over stopping continues. And so do Nick’s frustrations.

Dealing with frustration is a huge issue for Nick. I suppose Nora and I can be grateful that as we learn to help Nick deal with it, there are perks. What we discovered about first-person shooter games led to extricating our household from them. And those discoveries were born out of Nick’s frustration that led to the breaking of my computer.

I hope that as Nick grows older, he’ll become less easily frustrated, and more able to bear frustration without taking leave of his senses. But until that happens, activities such as first-person shooter games, which pander to his need for instant gratification, remain a sort of poison for him.

How does a parent encourage patience when a frustration threshold is minimal? Nora and I are working on it. It delights me when Nick’s intellectual life is motivated by curiosity, watchfulness, and play. Computer activities at their best can help with this. But at their worst they accustom the brain to impatience, which, for Nick, makes the problem much worse.

Meanwhile, Nora and I need to mediate between a world that grows increasingly digital, virtual, and populated by screens, and an eight-year-old son whose brain is easily hijacked by them.

. . .

This is the last of a five-part series. Thanks to all who followed!



You might enjoy:


Andre and Wally discuss the implications of technology in the modern world, circa 1981 (the year the IBM PC debuted.)



Your Brain on Computers – Index to a series of NY Times articles on computers and the brain.
. . .


Any final thoughts on computers, brains, or childrearing? Last chance. 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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{ 20 comments… read them below or add one }

jeff January 21, 2011 at 9:03 am

Parenting is tough at its easiest.The excess stimulation that currently exists for adults and children only confuses everyone.My last child has been in the Army for 2 weeks we will see what happens.


Wolf Pascoe January 21, 2011 at 9:06 am

All good wishes to you and your family, Jeff.


David Petrie January 21, 2011 at 10:54 am

I wonder how much of the struggle described here is really about the computer game or about the change in guidelines/boundaries. Young kids hold themselves to quite simple logic.

Guideline: I ask Dad for 5 more minutes, he says, “Yes.”

It’s like binary computing. You saying “No” to the same questiion after saying “Yes” doesn’t easily compute. It begs the question, “Why No this time?”

Having the experience of having four kids, we found setting clear limits is necessary, and sticking to them vital. Try setting a timer and making Nick responsible for coming to you at the end of an activity. That is teaching a life skill. Added time can be a reward, but again, you need to be clear that there will be one 5-minute extension, and he can’t earn others. As homework and studying increases the time-setting can come in very handy.

My kids know (most of the time) not to ask me a question more than once. When they do I ask them, “How often do I I change my mind after I say No?”

Their answer? “Never.”

And the conversation ends there.

Great writing. Thanks for sharing it. I’m glad you found Common Sense media, and hope you keep the first-person shooter games out of your house forever. They aren’t good for anyone.


Wolf Pascoe January 21, 2011 at 11:35 am


Thank you for a rich, thoughtful comment. Your limits sound very clear. I applaud you. We’ve done the timer thing, although we don’t reward (or punish) in our house. And thank the gods Nick’s elementary school doesn’t give homework, so we’ve dodged that bullet for now.

“How often do I change my mind after I say No?” LOL


Sandy Corner January 21, 2011 at 12:04 pm

… and then I think about “the devil’s music” and my trying to grok a techno-resonance that doesn’t belong to 20th century-type humans. I work with many late-teen/20somethings who are hard-core gamers AND are well-rounded blah blah blah… I think: “your children are not your children, they are life’s longing after itself”… Listen AS MUCH as I try to instruct, and respect that it is a bigger story… and i’m not the one writing it.
Ugh… shit’s hard. what can i say? love to the dadless ones trying to make sense of it.


Wolf Pascoe January 21, 2011 at 12:33 pm

In the ancient world, the adults threw up their hands as young people embraced the new technology of writing. The old ones asked, What is to become of memory?


Barbara January 21, 2011 at 3:39 pm

LOVE your last comment, Wolf! Made me laugh. And it reminds me of a quote discovered on an ancient Sanskrit engraving, “What has become of the younger generation.”


Wolf Pascoe January 21, 2011 at 3:41 pm

What I’m sayin’


Sirena January 21, 2011 at 7:17 pm

Well, I don’t think this is an UN happy ending. At least you’ve dealt with the games issue. 2 steps forward, 1 step back, or is a pilgrimage the other way around????


Wolf Pascoe January 21, 2011 at 11:00 pm

We still feel very much on the road. Many years to Mecca.


Raffi January 22, 2011 at 12:13 pm

All children know they can negotiate. We adults need to prepare ourselves when we see a similar situation arising, we need to be prepared for the negotiations. After all, did you not give in when you took away the shooter games by replacing them with the Pirates game?
Nick dealt with his frustration his way. He walked away. This was his way.


Wolf Pascoe January 22, 2011 at 4:14 pm

All true, Raffi. And much better to anticipate problems and negotiate in advance. What made this whole thing so difficult was our not anticipating the shooter game problem in the first place.


Elizabeth Wong January 24, 2011 at 4:13 pm

Wonderful site, Wolf. If I may, I’d like to send a link to my brother who is a stay-at-home dad…he’s moved his kids’ computering into common areas where he can keep an eye out for excessive IMs in the disguise of “doing homework.” But the true challenge, as you so astutely pointed out, is the challenges of dealing with frustration, yours and his. Thank you for your honest/candid/insightful and funny blog!


Wolf Pascoe January 24, 2011 at 8:37 pm

Thanks for visiting, Elizabeth. Please do share with your brother. And I’m relieved to know this blog is funny to someone. 🙂


Barbara January 24, 2011 at 6:08 pm

I think what this might indicate as much as anything is an admirable trait to not give up on something when it becomes difficult – in this case the game he was playing presented a challenge, and he was frustrated but refusing to give up. I think all of us still have those moments when we’ve challenged ourselves with something and hate to quit in the middle of it. What we need to learn to recognize is that moment when our frustration is about to lead to a loss of self-control or other negative feelings. It takes time and maturity to recognize that moment, different for everyone. He’s just human 🙂 But lucky because he has you and his mom to help him learn to recognize that moment.


Wolf Pascoe January 24, 2011 at 8:35 pm


re: we need to learn to recognize that moment when our frustration is about to lead to a loss of self-control

This is exactly it. Very hard for me to do as well as Nick. But lately I’ve been sharing with Nick my own attempts at recognizing the moment. It’s a relief not having to be perfect around him.


Tim Silver February 1, 2011 at 2:54 pm

I’ve enjoyed this five-part series, and this blog in its entirety.

I’m not a parent whose first response was pride when I observed my son’s interest in a computer mouse following his control, that moment remarked in the series’ first part. When that moment came in our lives, I was ambivalent, at best. What I can forestall of computers and screen time, I think it best to; and so, I was relieved when you moved beyond the question of first-person shooter games and alluded to the larger question of screen time spent out of children’s lives — to a measure unprecedented in human history. The shooter games are pernicious, but insidious is the time spent playing, or “learning,” as some contend, on screens whose content is scripted largely if not wholly by commercial interests in a consumer society.

I’m no Luddite, but I do believe that computers, video games, all media devices should be introduced into children’s lives and continuously monitored with great prudence. It ain’t easy, to be sure. I recommend the film “Consuming Kids” film from The Media Education Foundation to those interested in a closer look at the matter, and Campaign for a Commercial-Free Childhood.

Thanks again for the blog.


Wolf Pascoe February 1, 2011 at 11:28 pm

Thanks for those references, Tim. Yes, it’s screen time, and it’s commercials. It’s sort of a war, isn’t it? I just heard today from a source I trust that they teach a course at USC on how to make video games that are addicting. That is, they teach video addiction at college.


shelley February 15, 2011 at 5:04 pm

On HuffPo today (and in her new book which she’s promoting) Jane McGonigal posits that video games can have positive impact on self-esteem. Interesting, and speaks to the need for both balance and parental involvement I think.

Here’s the link:
Video Games: An Hour a Day is Key to Success in Life


Wolf Pascoe February 15, 2011 at 8:15 pm

The comments on Jane McGonigal’s essay are at least as interesting as the piece itself.

McGonigal is a game designer and represents the industry point of view. This isn’t to say she doesn’t have good points to make, but although she asserts that research backs up her opinions, she only gives one specific reference in the article. This reference, as pointed out in one of the comments, doesn’t really justify her claims.


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