Is the Game On?

TV can be addictive. Luckily, it doesn’t have to be.  Since I grew up in a home where TV was playing most of the day (and night), I grew to hate it. I didn’t realize it until I rented my own apartment. Suddenly, silence sounded so good. I still like to watch a good movie, if it’s not too long,  but limited and selective screen time has become a part of my parenting strategy. What about educational programs? I agree. There are a lot of great shows out there. Yet, regardless of the content, watching TV adds up to bad eye sight and bad posture, in my opinion. To sum up, TV has been  a part of our family life, but definitely not the centre of it. And not a babysitter either.

As  I was slowly getting used to the idea that the old tele was not a threat to my kids, along came (poly) video game systems. In other words, Nintendo, Wii and whatever else is out there. What is that Wii anyway???? Am I even spelling it right? Honestly, in the abstract world of video games, I am oh-so-ignorant. Whether it’s a personality trait or some handicap, I could never really get any joy from holding a joystick and my heart would not start racing while watching a virtual car race. Ironically, all that my five-year-old has been talking about since his last birthday, is the Wii system. Go figure! Naturally he hasn’t been introduced to it by me. I’m just smart enough to use my smart phone. But my husband, on the other hand, doesn’t mind sharing his smart devices to teach our son a new game here and there. He claims it’s important for the child to stay ‘current’. Sure. Or is it an opportunity for the dad to stay connected with his childhood? Apparently, many of our son’s friends and cousins have video game systems and use them. No doubt about it. After all, that’s how my son got this contagious video game bug in the first place.  At a playdate. My question from a few posts ago recurs. Is common normal?  Is the game on?

I’m all for the game. As long as it includes a board. Giggle away. I might be from the twentieth century, but this is what I think. Video games are addictive and time-consuming. It’s an extra screen time, which keeps children away from friends, outdoors and what bothers me the most, it makes them over-stimulated. We  have a tablet which our son uses…daily. Shame on us? Honestly, it’s the tablet that triggers all the fights and meltdowns. The play time is never long enough. Both me and my husband see that after playing games on iPad, our son is more aggressive, physically and verbally, more distracted and has sugar cravings. Is it an Angry-Birds-effect?  It was only this morning that he was writing a letter to Santa, asking for a video game. Not only is it February, but we don’t even have a video game console!  Should I upgrade my brain software? Should we get a Wii? Should we keep saying no to Wii? I can’t decide. Is my husband right with his “current” theory? What do you, fellow parents and various experts, think about this virtual insanity?

Where is Everyone?

It was another glorious day in our sunny California. If you are from the east coast and start feeling some resentment, don’t. The rainy season has finally caught up with us.  I know we have badly needed it, but does anyone know when it’s going to stop raining? Anyways, it was nice outside, so I took my boys to the park. At first my sons kicked the ball, then  had some good time on the swing, but it wasn’t long when my five-year old was done playing with his baby brother and  had a “better” idea. “Mommy, let’s play sleepy town!” He exclaimed excitedly. “What’s sleepy town?” I asked lazily. I knew he wanted to play a pretend game (which I ‘m no longer as good as I used to be thirty years ago) and I needed some time to either find an excuse or switch gears.  But now that I showed some interest, even though lukewarm, his just eyes lit up. He explained to me that I was going to fall asleep and then wake up in some unknown, scary place. I would see him, but I wouldn’t know who he was… And as he was going over the details of his intricate script, I was filling my head with wishful thinking. I wished there was a single five year old in the park to play with my son. How come the park  was empty on such a perfect day! Where is everyone? Where are the other kids?

Actually, I knew exactly where they were. Some were at home playing with their siblings or their computers. Others  had afternoon classes. From reading to art and tennis, today’s kids have a lot on their plate. I have nothing against organized activities. I would be a hypocrite if I said otherwise. I also drive my son to  TaeKwonDo practice and Spanish. When a child is ready for an organized activity AND wants to commit to it, organized programs can enhance child’s development in so many different ways. However, the question remains, can an organized  activity substitute a play date with his friends? In my opinion it can’t.

The pretend game, about which my son was so thrilled, is such a powerful learning tool in children’s hands. Or minds, rather. It unlocks their imagination, unfolds their creativity, enhances planning skills and triggers critical thinking. Playing in a group is children’s very first step into working in a team. Have you ever seen how easily kids fit into different roles, when playing together. There is always a leader, there are followers. There is someone with a bright idea, there are executors of the idea. Yes, there are also bullies, but even they  are a valuable part of the mix. They give our children a chance to stand up for themselves or others. What’s better to boost one’s confidence and awaken a hero in our little ones?

Organized classes, on the other hand, however useful and effective in developing cognitive and physical skills, teaching discipline and  following instructions, don’t offer the same advantages.  Children whose time is always planned for them struggle with setting goals and planning their own free time. They are often bored even in the room full of toys, they need attention and supervision in order to focus. They need an animator because that’s what they are used to. Is it really the way it should be?

In other words, fellow parents, today you have a valid excuse, because it is raining.  Or snowing, in most of the country. But as soon as the sky turns blue again, why don’t you bring your children to a local playground. Ask your friend to come along, so you can have someone to chat with. After all it’s cheaper than your children’s classes, and you won’t have to wait long to reap its benefits, besides rosy cheeks and healthy appetite, that is. You will know what I am talking about when you see your children making new friends and playing games too imaginary for us, parents, to understand.

With or Without You or A Few Thoughts about Volunteering at School

In principle,  volunteering at school seems like a noble idea, indeed. Schools promote it as a way of getting families on board and saving the money schools don’t have. Instead of paying for classroom aids, they can afford more qualified educators and more specialized programs.  Nothing’s wrong with that. But when I see that some parents virtually live at school, whole families go on field trips and talent shows, that in my schools were organized by creative students, are taken care of by their creatively unfulfilled parents, I start wondering if something hasn’t been lost in translation.   Is it a public school or a preschool co-op? Regardless of financial benefits for the school, how beneficial is this strong parental involvement for the children?

As one of the room parents in my son’s class put it, she makes every effort to volunteer at school, because even if other kids might not care, her children appreciate it. That’s one way of looking at it.  In my opinion, it is more about  balanced parenting versus being overly protective. The first cherishes independence, and the latter fosters neediness. But what do I know? My child apparently doesn’t care. Or does he? It wasn’t long before he started bugging me to come to school as well.   I was curious so why not?  I can’t say my help was crucial, but I had a good time peeking into my son’s school day. More importantly, I was glad to confirm that there is nothing to worry about. In other words, dear fellow parents and permanent volunteers, you can relax now. The teachers know what they are doing and the students are having a great time. Actually, according to some parents, it is their presence in the classroom that makes things worse. Kids are more clingy and act out more. What’s even more harmful is the parents’ intrusive participation during recess. Kids can sort things out among themselves much better than we give them credit for. They don’t need our constant assistance, even if we like to pretend otherwise. Still, not everyone is convinced. Like the mom, who I happened to hear venting about the poor field trip planning. Both of her sons had the trips on the same day. How was she supposed to participate in both? As she was complaining, I was really happy for her. The “cruel” circumstances were helping her to take a healthy distance to her children’s well-being. Little did I know. The resourceful mom found a way to get her way. It was time to engage the dad in the chaperoning duties. And he wasn’t alone. Looking at the sheer number of parents  going on the trip, I was kind of confused. Firstly, don’t these parents  have to go to work? And secondly, isn’t the whole idea of field trips to give children an opportunity to do things WITHOUT their parents? It’s a valuable survival lesson, so why should we deprive our children of it?   Unless survival lessons are a part of some old-fashioned curriculum and today’s children’s job is just to excel at everything.  Why worry about the rest, right? Today’s parent is there to take care of it. Gladly.