Video Games vs Reading

Among the many hats that I wear, I am the proud parent of an extremely creative little boy. Some time ago I got him a Wii for Christmas, but the motor wore out so he was game-less for quite a while – unless he went to his friend’s house.

After observing my son in both states – gaming vs. not-gaming – I have come to accept this as part of the culture we live in now. For his birthday he was given a handheld game system so that he could play while waiting for me to get done with certain necessities (like work).

And then his father got him a PS3 and, to be honest, my son uses it more for Netflix than anything else. I would balk at this but he chooses British shows far more often than I expected (thank you Doctor Who and the like) so I feel like I’m not having to regulate everything he’s doing.

However … Netflix is not a good book. And games are not good books.

Plainly – visual media is not a good book that really allows you to grow by digging into to the mindset of another person and walking in their shoes for a while. It’s a proven fact that people who read are far more empathetic to the world around them than people who don’t.

Reading fiction is, to be frank, not just about learning character tropes and getting a larger vocabulary. You’ll get those things, of course, but the larger and more profound effect reading has on us is a deep connection to humanity.

Yes, the characters are made up.

But the reactions – if they’ve been done right – are utterly true. Sometimes the settings are fake, but the human nature on the page is not. And reading about them helps us to understand both ourselves and the world around us.

How then do we find the balancing point between allowing our kids to enjoy the visual media prominent in our culture and the clearly necessary act of reading?

My son recently grumped about having to shut the game off and sit for his designated reading time and, as any writer-parent should be, I was quite alarmed. But I couldn’t take away his game system and make reading a punishment, that would be counter-productive.

My solution was a trifle unorthodox, I’m sure. And anyone who is a parent but not also a writer would find it difficult to do, but I’ll share it anyway.

I began to write a classic fairy-tale story for my son. And I told him about it.

This, of course, has meant quite a lot of work on my part because it means I need to have written every single day. Because every day, at the end of his reading hour (or sometimes at the beginning) we read the progress of the story together.

Sometimes he reads it from the beginning, out loud, to me. Other times he just wants me to read it (I apparently make a good wolf-voice.) And at the end he is always speculating about what he thinks is going to happen in this tale. He engages and asks questions about the main character and is, as far as I can tell, deeply interested.

When it’s finished I’ll likely publish it as a stand-alone novella, though I admit that is mostly so that he can hold it in his hands as an actual book instead of a spiral notepad.

Will this make a life-long reader out of my son?

No. Not just one book. It can never be just one book that does it. But it’s a start.

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Eating Bugs

I am having a blast being a mother.  I admit that I didn’t think I would.  For a long time, kids scared the crap out of me.  However, now that I have this little rough-and-tumble four-year old boy, I find that I am allowed a certain amount of freedom that I never had before.  I’m allowed to roll in the grass without people looking at me like I’m insane.  I’m allowed to shout; “Oh, no!  Quick!  Hot lava is coming!  Run to the bench!”  and no one will report me to the police for disrupting the peace.

Inasmuch as I love playing with my son, sometimes there are moments that are just plain embarrassing no matter what.  Point in case, yesterday as I was giving Hazen a piggy-back-ride from the park, I inadvertently ate a bug.  The darned thing flew right in my mouth as I was saying; “Yes, Buzz Lightyear!”  I tried to cough it out, but I think the thing had targeted my tonsils.

As disgusting as it was, I managed to laugh it off, counting it as another adventure in motherhood.

Then we went into a restaurant to have ice-cream.  The very good-looking waiter that has frequently tended to us when we make a stop in there was happy to explain what choices they had for desserts.  And, bless my son’s little heart, Hazen had to inform the waiter that; “Mommy ate a bug!”

I was mortified.  And amused, but mostly mortified.  Especially when the waiter asked; “Well, did it taste any good?”

 

Parenting

After spending the day crawling in and out of our homemade “fort” (aka: the bunk bed, lots of blankets and a flashlight) I opted to spend about an hour on Sunday night playing a video game with my son.  There are some nice learning websites that you can take young kids to go play, but Hazen decided he wanted to play Mommy’s game.  And at the risk of sounding like the biggest geek …

Well … I really am a big geek, so there’s no risk here.  So I’ll just tell you — It was Star Trek.

Hazen got to fly the space ship, which made me a little dizzy but he was giggling so I just let him go for it.  I mean, I love Star Trek.  It’s relatively safe as a game because it has no blood and gore to splatter across the screen, and if you look back on the show you see how it really highlighted the core elements of humanity whilst coming into contact with “new life and new civilization.”

I suppose I should thank my Mom for pretty much forcing me to see every episode of Star Trek there ever was.  I might have grumbled about it for a year or two, but I grew to really love it.  (Especially the Next Generation.  I never really liked the girlie Troy’s character — too vulnerable and wimpy for my tastes — but Data was absolutely fascinating.  And when I was young I had a crush on Wesley.)

Anyway!

So I caught Hazen saying we were going to “kill” the Klingon’s and alarm bells rang, so I told him; “No.  We don’t kill.  We have stun-phaser’s, so they’re not really hurt.  They’re just … forcibly sleeping.”

*cough*

Then he caught me cheering when we blew up an enemy ship and he said; “No, Mamma, we don’t kill.”

Thoroughly chagrined, I agreed.  “No, we didn’t kill them.  We just destroyed them.”

…. And in the back of my head I was like; ooooh, that is so not better.

So I tried to compensate; “The ship was empty.  It was just a computer.  A robot.”

And Hazen said; “Like a Borg!”

Ah, parenting.  I think the game is rated “PG” or something like that.  All I have to say is … this “Parental Guidance” certainly failed.