Tag Archives: videogames

Taking a Tech Break

For days, the Taz had locked himself up in his bedroom, staring aimlessly at his computer screen. If it weren’t for the blue glow underneath his door, I wouldn’t even know he was home. And me? I was stuck on the living room floor with my phone in my hands, doing nothing productive in favor of playing mindless word games or checking my Facebook newsfeed for the umpteenth time.

Both of us were escaping. He was leaving the real world in favor of a virtual place where no one told him he smelled and needed a shower, that his room needed to be cleaned, and that his homework wasn’t going to check itself. I was escaping from the news of our company drastically changing, wrapping the last of the presents in my room, and the pile of clothes that weren’t going to fold themselves.

Eventually I did tear myself away from my distractions and saw the Taz’s after-dinner chores that still needed to be done. I knocked on his door and opened it, finding him mesmerized by whatever he was building onscreen.

“I need you to go back downstairs and take the recycling out and put a bag in the trash can. Also, these clothes need to go in the laundry room so I can wash them,” I told him. He sighed loudly, reluctantly leaving the desk and grabbing the clothes off his floor. I went back in the living room to rifle through the already wrinkly clothes.

Ten minutes passed when I walked in the kitchen. The recycling was still overflowing, and the garbage can still held no bag.

“Taz!” I called up to him. No answer. I went back upstairs and found him at his computer. “Taz, I really need you to finish what I asked you to do,” I told him.

“But I did!” he insisted.

“You didn’t. Remember the garbage and recycling?” And his mouth dropped.

“Oh yeah!” he said, jumping up. He raced back down the stairs and grabbed the box of recycling to take outside. When he was done, he went back upstairs. And of course, the garbage can still held no bag. One more reminder had him stomping downstairs, ripping a bag from under the sink, and angrily stuffing it in the empty trash can. But before he could race back upstairs, I stopped him.

“You’ve been on that computer an awful lot,” I pointed out to him. “I think it’s time for a break.”

“No mom! Please!” he cried, his face screwing up as he tried to convince me otherwise.

“Taz, you know how you’re having a hard time remembering all the things I’m telling you? I think being on that computer is making you forgetful.”

I was speaking from experience. My own head seemed to hold a huge block inside it, keeping me from being able to think clearly. I didn’t feel as connected to Mr. W or the kids. I was having a hard time concentrating. I wasn’t getting anything done. I knew it was the escape into virtual reality that was the culprit. Spending the whole day being on my A game at work and then coming home only to be back on the computer or my iPhone was prohibiting me from actually relaxing or being productive.

“I declare tomorrow a technology-free day,” I told him. And just as he was about to complain some more, I told him, “Myself included.”

“But how will you do your job?” he asked me.

“Not at work. I have to use the computer. But at home. I am not allowed to check Facebook or play games on my phone at all tomorrow,” I promised him. He lightened up a little. But then it fell again.

“But what will I do?” he asked me. I encouraged him to bring his book he was reading home so he could finish it. And I reminded him about the holidays coming up and he still needed to make something for his father.

And me? I’m thinking about the wrapping I’m going to get done, the annual Christmas story I need to plan out, and most of all, a fiancé and several kids who might like a little bit of my company.

Do any of you ever detox from technology? What do you do instead of plugging in?

Virtual Reality Bites

We took the month of September off of video games. Well, when I say we, I really mean the Taz. And to be totally fair, it was originally his idea (even though he came to regret it the very next day when reality hit).

Thing is, he had been sucked into the games hardcore. This was nothing new. Playing video games has always been his favorite way to spend his downtime. But it’s been getting way out of control. Every time I couldn’t find him, I’d just have to open his door to find him belly down on his bed with a controller in his hand.

It was like a drug he wasn’t able to quit.

It got to the point that I couldn’t even hold a conversation with him. All he’d talk about was video games. When I drove him home from school, he wouldn’t share stories about friends at school or anything that happened. Instead, he’d talk about stuff that happened in his video game.  He’d relay the story of the 5 year old killing zombies in his favorite game, or the guy who was hacking accounts and making everyone start from the beginning. He’d talk about the latest weapon he’d earned, or the cool secret place he’d discovered in the game. This had become his social world, and real life was taking second place. I saw it affecting his ability to think. His attention span was shortened. His fuse was as well. He’d become angry at the drop of a hat, losing his temper way too easy. He’d snap at me, his sister, anyone who made him angry.

It was on one night in the beginning of September when everything came to a head. Because he’s unable to manage his own time, we agreed on times when he could play, and times when he couldn’t. But there he was, on the video games when he was supposed to be doing something else. So I told him to hand me the controllers because he’d lost privileges.

The result was a total meltdown.

The Taz threw the controllers down. He screamed. He cried. He told me to just take it all away, that he’d had enough, that I might as well take everything he owned. He began unplugging all his electronics and pulling them from the shelves. He was angrier than I’d seen him in a long time.

My natural reaction would have been to lose my temper right alongside him. My blood boiled as soon as his volume raised. But I paused. And thank God I did! I was suddenly aware that he just needed to get out this aggression before we could actually sit down and have a real conversation. I unclenched my fists and my jaw, and stood calmly in the doorway while he had his temper tantrum. He kept glancing over at me while he raged on, eventually quieting to a cry on his bed. I entered the room and sat next to him. This is when he admitted to me that he needed a break from the games. They were making him feel out of control and stressed out. It was affecting him too much. He conceded that he was so drawn to them that he couldn’t keep from playing, even when he didn’t want to. He asked me to take them from his room, and told me he needed a break.

More than anything, I was totally amazed at the maturity my son had in understanding his own needs, and voicing them. And I was also astounded that by keeping myself calm, I gave him something solid to grab onto when he was reeling out of control. It was a huge lesson for both of us.

Like I said, he regretted his decision the next day, and every day after that this month. He spent the first week totally bored out of his mind with “nothing to do”, begging me to give them back. It was painful for him to endure life without electronics.  However, I held my ground, and held him to his word.

After a couple weeks of being lost without his electronics, this past week there’s been a sudden turnaround. He’s been riding his bike more. He’s found a dozen uses for a huge cardboard box in our backyard. The other day he sat outside and carried on a 15-minute conversation with one of our older neighbors over the fence. He’s found a passion for a series of books he’s been breezing through in his downtime. And he’s discovered Origami.

Yesterday he created a 16-point ninja star to join the hundreds of ninja stars he’s already created. Oh, and did you notice the bling he made too?

Yes, that is a dollar bill ring. Yes, I think my son is brilliant.

He gets his video games back this Saturday. And now that he’s suddenly discovering all the cool stuff he can do without electronics, I am really dreading it.

“I’m afraid you’ll forget everything you’ve been doing to have fun,” I admitted to him, and he agreed that the past few weeks really have been great being away from the screen while he learned new things. Our conversations have been excellent since he’s been talking about real life instead of video games. And his temper has been under control as well. I worried aloud to him about losing all of that once the video games resumed.

“Don’t worry, Mom,” he reassured me. “I don’t want to stop doing other things either. I promise to only play during the times I’m allowed, and do other things when I’m not.”

I’m a realist. Time will tell whether that will really be the case. But I see hope in the enthusiasm he’s showed, as well as a difference this time in how he’s learned to have fun.

However, I have a note to any of you parents reading this: If you haven’t already bought your child video games, hold off on buying them for as long as you’d like to carry a real conversation with them.

Supreme Court: Ok for kids to maim

Note: I chatted with KSRO 1350 on Wednesday morning about this issue. You can listen to the interview by CLICKING HERE.

If a 10 year old tried to get into the movie theater to watch any of the Saw movies (one of which opened with characters violently cutting off chunks of their skin for the demon who is demanding it for payment), he would thankfully be turned away indefinitely thanks to the R Rating that prohibits those underage from viewing that movie in a theater without a parent there with them. However, if that same 10 year old walked into a video game store today and purchased the game “Manhunt” – a game where gamers simulate motions with their hands on the Nunchuck and Wii remote to stab, maim, split someone open with a chainsaw, punch, impale, dismember….and it’s urged by a “director” that each killing be bloodier and more greusome – they could walk right up to the counter and do so.

According to the ESRB (Entertainment Software Rating Board), video games that are rated M (Mature) “have content that may be suitable for persons ages 17 and older. Titles in this category may contain intense violence, blood and gore, sexual content and/or strong language.” Since 2005, those under age 17 were unable to buy video games that allowed “killing, maiming, dismembering, or sexually assaulting an image of a human being.” Their parents could buy the games for them, but they would not be able to buy them on their own.

Today the US Supreme Court overturned the ban that prohibited those younger than 18 from purchasing games with a rating of M, deciding it was unconstitutional for the government to “restrict the ideas to which children may be exposed”.

I have seen games where animals have been skinned, a person is graphically blown up, and the imagery is so realistic it’s scary. I’m not going to claim “perfect parent” status here, as I have allowed my son to play video games that involve killing in them. But I’m aware of the games he is playing, and I’ve even told him “no” over some overly graphic games he wanted to buy. The overturning of this law means that my kid could walk into any video game store, pick out any of these games I’ve forbidden, and buy it without question. And I might never even know.

The funny thing is, the Court has decided that forbidding minors from buying violent games is against their First Amendment Rights. Since when did my 10 year old’s rights become more important than my own? Last time I checked, the kid couldn’t vote, isn’t allowed to hold a job, is prohibited from driving a car, is deemed too young to drink a beer, and isn’t even allowed to have a Facebook page. But suddenly, the government is ok with my kid choosing on his own to view possibly pornographic images or gruesome murder scenes as long as it’s a part of a video game?

Shouldn’t the parents have the most power when it comes to things their underage child is viewing?

I’m not going to claim that violent video games create murderers.  There have been so many conflicting reports on whether violence viewed onscreen could actually cause a child to take up that action in real life.  But I do believe that viewing images like that can cause a child stress and affects their ability to think.

Different levels of stress can cause a child’s attention span to lessen as their protective instincts naturally put up blockers.  In extreme cases, their brains pruduce high levels of the stress hormone cortisol, known for it’s tendency to permanently kill brain cells.  This can cause difficulties in dealing with anxiety and stress later in life.  While it can be argued that a video game is not a real event but just an image on a screen, it should also be pointed out the realistic images that are being rapidly flashed on the screen, the loud sounds coming from headphones, and the actions a gamer must phyically manage to make their avatar move on the screen are intended to make the experience much more than 2D.  It may just be on the screen, but video gaming is becoming more and more realistic with every upgrade. And a child’s growing brain has a harder time differentiating simulation from reality than an adult’s brain would.

What’s your take on this? Do you allow your son or daughter to play video games?  Have you ever allowed them to play games that are rated beyond their years?  Are you concerned that the ban has been overturned, or do you feel the Supreme Court was right in their assessment that this law was unconstitutional?

NOTE: You all really should read the blog article by our resident video game blogger, GameWit.  He gives another side as to why this new rule might be a good thing.

Video Game Addict

The doctor told us we needed to limit the Taz’ screen time to help with some weighty issues we’re having.

“Really, he only needs 1-2 hours a day of TV, computer, or video games,” she noted, making sure to also include my iPhone, handheld devices, and anything else that was electronic and promoted staying seated.

I nodded in agreement, but my mind was swirling. As I racked up the amount of time the Taz could stay glued to his video games, I realized that it was sometimes more like 5 or 6 hours a good weekend day, sometimes even more. And that seems like a lot, but it really did wonders in keeping my house super clean without the Taz spreading the remnants of his room and everything he ate for lunch all over the living room floor and beyond. And the backyard has been virtually silent without him taking his nicest clothes and sitting in the dirt, scooting across the yard in what could only be described as an effort to give me more challenging laundry to do.

But obviously, 5 or 6 hours is a lot of game time for any kid. So the Taz and I talked in the car ride home and agreed we would start with limiting his game and computer time before even touching the TV time in an effort to promote more play time outside.

Of course, everything works so perfectly in theory, right?

The very first day with newly set limits, the Taz woke up early to play. And when it was time to get off, I let him know.

“I just have few more minutes till I’m done with this round, Mom. Can I finish it, and then get off?” he asked. And I agreed. Except multiply this conversation by about 10, and watch my answer vary each time – from compromise to threats to walking in the room and unplugging the dang machine and carrying it into my room.

“I was just getting off!” the Taz screamed from his room nearly 30 minutes after my first request to get off. And when I explained this to him, the conversation escalated to the borderline of me implementing the firehouse kid-giveaway rule because of some serious backtalk. And when I furthered the punishment to losing the games for an entire week, he promptly went outside where Mr. W was tending the yard and informed him that there was no point in living any longer because his video games were taken away.

Either my son is incredibly dramatic or he needs a 12-step program to get him off the tech-sauce. Or both.

At any rate, the week passed rather quickly. My son did end up surviving without video games, despite his insistence that it would be impossible. And in efforts to get the video games back quicker, he was as pleasant as pie – remembering his manners, asking to help with chores, and being the perfect child. He even took extra efforts to get off his duff and go outside, practicing his batting skills or spending the afternoon at a friend’s house. Of course, I was eating all this up. So there was no way I was going to stop it any time soon by giving back the video games early. But I had to give in when the week was up, as he had definitely held up his end of the bargain.

I think it was only 2 hours later when I had to take them away again.

Yesterday he got them back once more, and was adamant that he would not mess up this time.

“There’s no way I’m going to lose my video games, Mom,” he swore. And it was apparent he had learned his lesson. I was charging my phone at that point, getting ready to take my evening run. The Taz had already used up his video game time and was now chilling on the couch as he watched me get ready. “Are you going for a run?” he asked me. I nodded yes, that I was just waiting for my phone to get a few more battery bars so that I had some music to listen to. “How many does it have now?” he asked.

“Still only 30%, not enough yet,” I sighed as I waited.

“Oh, how long do you run for?” he asked.

“30 minutes,” I told him. I encouraged him to come with me on his bike, but he said he was done for the day. My phone was finally charged up enough to last for a 30 minute run, and I unplugged it.

“Is it ready now?” he asked.

“Yup,” I told him. He wished me well and I closed the door behind me. 30 minutes later, I walked in the door hot and sweating, earning my right to sit on the couch for the rest of the night.

“Mom, I’m sorry,” the Taz said immediately as I walked in the living room. “I played on the video games when you left, and it’s ok if you take them away for the week,” he told me with a very serious look on his face. I was shocked at his admission. But his brutal honesty became clearer when Mr. W filled me in later. Apparently he had been so interested in my run, how long it was and everything, so that he knew just how long he had to play video games without getting caught. The thing he didn’t factor in was that there was another adult in the house, and that Mr. W was very aware of the time he was allowed video games. And the Taz had been caught red-handed.

I don’t know. Perhaps I’m going about this all the wrong way. Maybe if I just let him keep the stupid video games forever he’ll be too distracted to try and get away with worse addictions – like drugs or alcohol. However, in his efforts to constantly try to win back the games, he’s really a sweet kid. And his game time average for the week is around 2 hours since I keep taking them away.

I think that means I win.

Inked

My mother called me over the weekend before the clock even hit 9 am.

“Are you at home right now?” she asked.

“I am.”

“What time are you going to take the kids over to their dad’s house?” she asked.

“Around 2,” I told her.

“Oh. That’s too late. Nevermind.”

She was being awfully cryptic, which of course got my curiosity up.

“Why? What’s going on?”

“Well…..” She asked me if I remembered the Ninja Star that the Taz had been coloring at her house. Of course I remembered. He had colored it pure black and told me how all he had to do was throw it and it would whip through the air slicing anything in its way. I suggested that he not throw it in the kitchen, at least.

“I remember. Why?” I asked her.

“Well, apparently he was coloring it in my living room…”

Crap.

“Where?” I asked her, almost afraid for her to continue.

“On my couch. With permanent black ink.”

“We’ll be right over,” I told her. I was still wearing my robe and slippers. I hadn’t brushed my hair or teeth yet that morning. I looked pretty scary as I marched outside to go find the Taz. He was not out at the basketball courts in our complex like he said he was going to be, and his friends who were already playing out there said they hadn’t seen him yet. So I tried my luck over at one of his friend’s house. The Taz opened the door.

“You’re coming home. And you’re in trouble,” I told him, not even beating around the bush.

“Mom, I tried to call you to tell you I was at Todd’s house!” he protested.

“That’s not why you’re in trouble.” He followed me home, asking me over and over what he did.

“But it wasn’t me!” he said, once I told him of his crime. I saw red. I laid into him as we walked home, fully aware that the neighbors were probably hearing every single word I was saying to my son. I didn’t care. Now I was not only furious about the ruined Ethan Allen couch that sat in my parents’ living room, I was furious that he had the audacity to LIE to me. The next door neighbor sat on her front porch, smiling and waving at me as we walked up the walkway. Without breaking my tirade against my son, I smiled and waved at her. It was only seconds later when I realized how ridiculous I must have looked as I lectured my son and still kept up appearances, somewhat, to the neighbor – all while still sporting my robe, fuzzy slippers, and wild hair.

We got dressed and went over to my parents’ house. My son sat miserably in the back seat, occasionally letting out a sniffle. If there was anything scarier than his mom (and lately, I think I’ve lost the scariness factor…), it was his grandparents.

“They’re going to kill me,” he sobbed, finally admitting fault about the marked up couch.

“You’re right,” I told him. “And this time, don’t even look to me to protect you. You’re on your own, buddy.” It brought back memories of the golf ball through the window. I had felt it my duty to take the brunt of the punishment of my father’s anger before it was passed down to him. But this time? No. It was all on the Taz.

We got to my parents’ house, and my dad greeted us with a smile, obviously trying to lighten the situation. My son slunk out of the car and faced my dad, much like walking the long pathway to his executioner. My dad led him into the house and called my mom. Together they went over the various things that the Taz had done just this past week. He had left the gate open so that the horse was able to get out and potentially stomp all over my dad’s newly landscaped backyard. He had missed the toilet and peed all over the floor. And now my mom’s couch held numerous black marks that might never come out.

It came time to talk about correcting this situation. My parents looked to me, the hopelessness in their eyes. They had been growing increasingly frustrated over the past year as the Taz messed up at their house. He had been eating their leftovers planned for dinner after school. He had been eating food in the living room. The house was growing messier and messier because he wasn’t picking things up. He was going to his friends’ houses and not coming back when he was supposed to.

“Maybe he needs to go back to daycare,” my mom said. “I’ll even pay for it if I need to.”

“No, Mom,” I said. I couldn’t let him go back to daycare. His teachers there had been wonderful. But the Taz was a handful there too. I was constantly being called in because of something the Taz had done – breaking the pencil sharpener, experimenting with potty language, not following direction, doing gymnastics during circle time… With a bunch of kids as his audience, the Taz’s behavior would only get worse. “But he can’t come over here anymore. I’m probably just going to have to take him to work with me and let him sit and be bored for the last 2 hours,” I said. It was the only option. At my parents’ house, he had too much unsupervised time. My dad was there, but he was working. And the Taz’s ideas for self-entertaining were just not working. I turned to the Taz.

“And your Xbox is gone, again.” He shrugged his shoulders.

“That’s ok. At least I have my friends,” he said. Seriously? I mean, seriously? The kid was under scrutiny right now, and actually had the audacity to brush off his punishment?

“Well, they’re gone too. Is there anything else you’d like to mention that ‘at least you have’?” I asked him, daring him to speak.

“I’m thinking…” he said. I think smoke may have been coming out of my ears at this point. “Nah, I have nothing.”

“Taz, aren’t you tired of getting your things taken away from you?” my mom asked.

“Well, I’m kind of used to it,” he said. “I get my things taken away from me all the time.”

And it’s true. The Taz screws up. And then he opens his mouth and denies it. And then we argue about it while he shifts the blame on everything and everyone around him. And by the end I am so mad that I have taken away his video games first, then his friends, and then, if he continues, anything else that is within eyesight that he cares about. He’ll then be on his best behavior for a couple weeks or so until he has earned everything back. And then, the cycle starts up again. It’s never ending.

It reminds me of my childhood. When I was a teenager, I was a punk, straight up. And because I symbolically stuck my middle finger up at my parents by blatantly disrespecting them in all things I did, I constantly had things taken away from me. First to go was always the car. Then it was time taken from being with my friends or my boyfriend. Phone use was taken away, as was my stereo. Little by little, all my belongings were taken out of my room and stashed away until I had learned to talk a little more respectfully and had done my time for whatever infraction I had committed. Thing is, I got in trouble so much that I stopped caring, and pretty much acted like I could do what I want. If my parents took the car away, and everything that came after that, it stopped phasing me. And it definitely didn’t improve my attitude.

And now, I am having this same battle with my 9 year old son, struggling to reach him as he makes himself unreachable. And if he is acting like this now, what is it going to look like when he is a teenager? If he has a constant need to break rules as if he’s forgotten them, lie and blameshift when he gets caught, backtalk when the conversation isn’t going his way, and then get in a power struggle with me as I try to correct the situation and he acts like he doesn’t care, how horrendous will it be several years from now?

I’ve tried everything. I’ve tried talking to him, getting down to his level and allowing both of us to talk about our feelings in this situation. I’ve tried the silent treatment, limiting my conversations with him to one or two words, telling him I cannot speak with him until I have cooled down considerably (and sometimes taking days because it has set me over the limit). And of course, I’ve been mainly resorting to taking away his possessions.

Nothing’s working.

The only answer I have left is constant supervision. Obviously I have to be the Taz’s shadow. If it’s attention he wants, well, he’s going to get it. When he isn’t in school, he will be at my side. Truth is, he does better when he is under my thumb. So I will be taking the extra measures to make sure that this is what happens. I might be losing my freedom in a big way, but the behavior issues need to be addressed and put to a halt before they get any worse.

I’m not going to lie, though. This bites. Totally open for suggestions…

Teenagers and Technology, pt. 2

Matthew Gollub of Tortuga Press wrote me this morning in response to Teenagers and Technology, the article that ran in the newspaper today.  Here’s what he had to say:

I read with interest your article this morning, “Are teens in tech overload?” I’m a local children’s author, performer and reading advocate. (I’ve spoken at over 900 schools and continue to visit around 60 schools a year.) Tech overload is a topic about which I speak during my school assemblies. Here are some suggestions which may help your readers:

*Tell your children from an EARLY age that too much screen time is not good for their growth. (By the time kids hit the teen years, it’s late and that much more difficult to get through to them.)

*Keep the media games, computer and TV OUT of the child’s bedroom. Studies show that kids spend LESS time on electronic media, and less time on questionable content, if the media equipment is in a central location where people (like parents and siblings) may walk in at any minute and see what’s going on.

*Place books in the bedroom instead of media equipment.

*Limit electronic media to, say, 30 minutes per day, maybe 1 hour on weekends. Or as Gov. Schwarzenegger’s family does, ZERO time during the week, to ensure plenty of time for school work and healthier activities. Again, the limits should start from an early age, like 5 or 6; a teen who already spends hours on electronic media each day has long since been allowed to make a wrong turn.

*Give kids healthy options to electronic media like sports, board games, outdoor games, etc.

*Model moderation! As parents, we need to limit TV and the time we spend ourselves on digital entertainment.

*Stage excursions to bookstores and libraries; de-emphasize the importance of places like the mall and Best Buy.

*Buy books for children as presents and rewards; make kids use their own money to buy video games, etc. (Making them figure out a way to earn money alone will make them spend time away from the screen.)

*Don’t allow your adolescent to have games rated beyond their years. (The rating industry exists to take the “blame” for young teens not being allowed to play M-rated games, etc.)

*Talk often and in depth about the games your teen play, exploring the games’ format and appeal. This will train them to view their games objectively. At times they’ll cringe at having to “de-brief” their fascination with a game, but communication works to de-mystify games and analyze the sway they hold over our kids.

For more parenting ideas, I invite readers to check out my picture book for parents, “Give the Gift! 10 Fulfilling Ways to Raise a Lifetime Reader.” Copies are available at the Sonoma County library. On a personal note, I know these strategies actually work. My wife and I have a 14-year old boy. He’s an A student who also stays active with music and sports. But, like most kids, he would be all too happy to spend hours a day on videogames, if only we gave him the chance.

For more information visit Matthew’s site at www.matthewgollub.com.

Teenagers and Technology

“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?