“We had to take away the Xbox again last night,” a friend lamented to me. She had caught her son in the wee hours of the morning, plugged in with his headset on, chatting with friends across the country as he maimed opponents in his latest game. It wasn’t the first time, and she was aware that it wouldn’t be the last. And short of taking the game system and throwing it in the Russian River, she wasn’t sure what to do.
Like many teens, her son had been spending way too much time in his room lately. After homework, he would lock himself in his room and plug into the Xbox 360, playing until it was time for bed that night. Weekends were the same story. Except on these days he spent the whole day playing. He stopped spending evenings with his parents catching up on CSI or Fringe like he used to. He hadn’t been reading for fun, even though he used to be a big reader. And he hadn’t socialized with his friends in months.
Actually, I take that back. He had been socializing with his friends the whole time. But instead of going to their houses and hanging out, they were hanging out virtually, blowing each other up as they played the same games and talked smack through a headset.
This has become the norm for the society. The past decade has shown a steady rise in online activity and electronic game use. The fault lies behind the upgrades that have happened rapidly for both. Phones now plug into the internet with a tap of a key, making Facebook and other social networks the preferred way to keep up with friends. In a moment’s notice you can find out what your friends are up to, random trivia such as Prince Charles surname (true story), or the price of the next iPod you plan on purchasing – which you can also do by phone.
As for game systems, they keep coming out with a better model each year. When I was a kid, Atari was the craze. We could shoot little missiles into centipedes, shortening them before they got to us and annihilated us. It was very state of the art. Then came the Nintendo, and Mario and Luigi became the spokespersons of the 90’s. Times changed, and Nintendos became Game Cubes and then Wiis. Playstations made way for Playstation 2 and 3. And the simplistic Xbox became the Xbox 360. The game stations of today allow you to network with people all over the world, and the graphics have become so realistic that you have to shield the eyes of any wee ones who happen to be witnessing the carnage.
While the violence depicted in today’s games is definitely a cause for concern, another aspect of life that is being lost is the capability to socialize. The formative years for learning how to interact with others and develop interests outside of school and work are doomed to be lost as teenagers choose online socializing over hanging out at each other’s homes and places of interest. Parents, myself included, are guilty of letting the TV and internet occupy their child in the interest of getting things done around the house or even just having a few moments of downtime. I’ve even witnessed a couple with their young son enjoying a quiet meal out at a restaurant while their child was entertained by a portable DVD player showing episodes of Spongebob. Kids aren’t even able to endure a 20 minute car ride without being plugged into the car’s movie screen.
There is hope in society. An article that posted today in the New York Times told of teenagers who have sworn off Facebook for long periods of time so that it didn’t interfere with their quality of schoolwork or social lives. SSU students rose to the challenge of giving up TV and internet for one week, and realized how distracting the media can be to life. And my friend’s son? He told his mom the story of how one of his friends sold his Xbox so that he could get his girlfriend a really nice present for Christmas. But don’t count on my friend’s son doing that anytime soon.
“That’s crazy!” he told his mom. “I’d never do that!”
Give him a year or two and a really cute girl that has stolen his heart……
iPhones, Xboxes, personal computers, cable television that knows of no bedtimes…
A teen could be deemed a social pariah if they simulated living in a cave and distanced themselves from all forms of technology in favor of the simple ways of life. And with all the technology that is available, it almost seems impossible to live that way. So where’s the happy medium? Without throwing an expensive piece of equipment out the window, what can a mom do to appease her son’s need for technology while still encouraging non-electronic forms of entertainment? How can she keep him from sneaking out of his room at night to play, even when she has locked the game system away from the stealthy ninja teenager in her room? And is there anything out there that would capture a teen’s interest the way the internet and game systems have?