Wednesday, April 19, 2006

Why Do Parents Push Boys to Use Video Games? I’d Like to Know!

This is on my mind. I don’t have much to say about it but want to put this out there. Please feel free to leave a comment or to email me privately (by clicking on my profile then clicking on my email).

I would like to know why it is that mainstream American parents push their boys to use video games for entertainment. (I am not talking about computer games which are educational in nature.) Yes, I say parents push, because most of them do. I know parents of boys aged two who are buying them video games (i.e. Game Cube) and handheld devices (i.e. Game Boy). The children seem to know numerous games that are available and when they are coming out. These games are not cheap. The parents I know whose kids use them, buy loads of them. The parents create this.

I know many homeschooling families who do not allow their children to use video games. I know only one family who does not allow their children to have these games who uses school. Other than that one family, every family I know who has boys who attend preschool or elementary school lets their boys play these games.

I say boys because most of the users of these games are boys, not girls. I know one family who has boys and girls and the girls have Game Boys as to the boys. Now that I think of it, two of my nieces have Game Boys as well. However I hear from my friends that even within their family the boys play the games but the sisters usually don’t care about using them even though they have access to them.

Video game playing and too much screen time has been linked to delayed reading, I have heard. I don’t have a study to cite right here and now. If you are looking for information to support reducing screen time, read Endangered Minds by Jane Healy. Based on the delayed reading issue I decided that my children would not play entertainment video games until after they were reading well. I had no plans after that occurred. I used to state this clearly when my older son was very young. As he was learning to read we didn’t discuss it and he was not asking for the video games as he knew how much I didn’t want him to play them, so I didn’t bring up the issue. The problem with it was that if he was expecting to get a video game when he was reading well we’d have a situation on our hands as our younger son was not yet reading. Without telling my older son my husband and I made the executive decision to not allow video games into the house until after both boys were reading.


I could go on and on about why I hate video games. I am going to hold back from that right now. The main reason is that I feel that playing these games is anti-social and I resent them being played in social situations and places that are meant to be social events. For example I resent handheld devices being brought to events such as special restaurant dinner celebrations for a grandfather’s 75th birthday, brought to a playdate and used by one child instead of that child playing with the children who he traveled to see and to play with, having them brought to restaurants and used so that the family doesn’t even speak to each other over dinner and to other special events such as Christenings. It is also unfair for one child to bring one and sit there and play it and not offer to share it with another child. Playing those handheld games should be a solitary activity that the child does when alone, in my opinion.

I have been thinking about my own experiences as a preteen and a teenager with the first Atari video game for home use, of my many visits to the local arcade to play the games, and of the time I spent while single playing the Nintendo system with my boyfriends (one of whom is now my husband).

We did a little experiment here with giving my boys a Game Boy and another experiment with taking out my old Nintendo console (from about 1989). My boys were also given (without my permission), some of the Plug –n- Play games which plug into the VCR to play games on the TV. We also bought a LEGO Star Wars computer game that I later realized is also sold for Play station and frankly would be easier to use if it was on TV with a joystick. I will blog about all of that at another time. Rather than keep you in suspense I will just say that for now the old Nintendo is put away and banned, the Game Boy is banned and hidden. Some of the Plug –n- Play games are out but are never used. I set limits on the LEGO Star Wars game usage. The educational computer games are used in cycles by my children and I have never put limits on those. The kids seem to play them frequently (up to three hours on some days) then will not touch them for 3-6 months at a time (or even longer) then take them out, use them often for a few days or a week, then shelve them again.

But back to my question: why are parents shoving these games on boys?

One answer that my friends tell me that I tend to agree with is:
“to shut them up, keep them busy and out of their hair”.
Some friends say that moms they know admit this freely and I have also had one mom tell me this also. The moms complain that the boys are too active, don’t like to sit still in restaurants, don’t like long car drives, etc. so they give them the handheld game and they sit still, shut up, and basically ‘behave well’.

Do you agree?

I also think that these devices can further separate and divide a family. I think it is sad if a child goes to school and they barely see their parents and some or most of that time they could be together bonding is spent instead using video games of one type or another or using a computer or a television for yet more ‘screen time’.

I am also curious about why not all young girls seem to be drawn to the video games. Do you have any thoughts about that?

I suspect that an element may be in peer pressure. Kids at school may have the games and the children talk about them and they ask their parents for them. There could be a level of this just being about parents giving children the type of toy that they want and are asking for, to make them happy.

One last issue is that those of us who don’t use these video games much sometimes have issues with the boys that do use them because they don’t seem able to play in other ways with other children. Sometimes at the playground at social gatherings, a child will refuse to socialize with other children as they want to play their video game instead. I think this is a mistake that the parents are making. I feel that limits should be set on using these games and that the parent should realize that social time with friends is of more importance, so for those specific times that a child is with other kids they should be able to disconnect from the video game and to connect with other children. I also find that when my sons play with kids who spend lots of time with the video games the boys ask to play the games, and when we say ‘no, we don’t have those here’, they are disappointed and say they don’t want to do other things. I think this is sad. Boys are even taking Game Boys to Cub Scout campouts and refusing to do Scout activities at camp in favor of sitting alone and playing their games. Some Packs have rules against their use but not all Packs enforce it. My friend’s Pack also had an issue with some fathers who brought portable DVD/TVs to camp and let the kids watch it at camp, just some certain kids in a car, while other Scouts were left out. How sad.

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1 comment:

Melissa O. Markham said...

I can't answer for anyone else, but here is our situation. When my two stepsons came to live with my husband and I, they were 5 and 3. The 5 yo had already heard about Super Nintendo and that was his dearest wish for Christmas. Our dearest wish was to have our first Christmas be as special as it could be. He had learned of Super Nintendo at school, I guess and on the bus. So we got it for them and it has been in our house ever since. It was 5 more years before my first sone was born, but by then, Super Nintendo had been replaced by Nintendo 64. DS loved playing with his big brothers and was pretty good at it by the age of 3. In our case, it encouraged his reading. He wanted to read for himself what the screens were saying.

I have noticed in our house that our son plays more than our daughter. But she goes through spells and she enjoys playing. We do limit game cube time and the games they play revolve around racing, Mario and Pokemon figures, and role playing in that you are the character who has to find hidden treasures and beat 'monsters.' We don't allow a lot of the more mature real life games that are out there now.