One of the things that I least look forward to during the holidays is heading home to Alabama with the kids. The thing that I dread the most is that, since the weather is unpredictable at this time of year, the kids and all of their cousins are usually stuck inside because it’s either too rainy or too cold to go outside. That means, the kids - primarily the boys – end up sitting inside all day playing video games on the big TV and handheld devices and watching inane YouTube videos. Always consuming, never producing.
While I do allow my kids to play electronic games sometimes, they are certainly not allowed to play for hours upon hours. However, whenever I’ve complained about the video gaming marathons that go on during the holidays, I’ve been told simply “that’s just what boys do.”
And so, because there is literally nothing else to do, and God forbid we adults shut the electronics down and have the boys make up an analog game to play (like we used to do in the old days), I have to sit and watch the boys, my own included, playing video games for hour after hour over the course of the visit. While it doesn’t appear to bother anyone one else, it drives. me. crazy.
To be sure, I try to remember to tell my own son to take a break every hour or so. At which point he complains about having nothing to do but play with the girls. I always find this protest interesting because he plays with a girl, his sister, all the time when we are at home. But I do understand the peer pressure of wanting to play video games when all of his boy cousins are playing.
The thing is, I grew up with four brothers. I grew up with over 20 male cousins. And at no time during my upbringing did boys simply sit in front of the television, the electronic device of the day. While most of my brothers and cousins were athletes, not all were. The ones who were not athletes read books, studied Spanish, took apart small appliances to their parents’ dismay, and engaged in all manner of activities that required imagination, self-regulation and self-control.
Sometimes they rough housed. Sometimes they broke stuff. Sometimes they mercilessly aggravated a sibling. But above all else, I remember all the boys in my family being active.
When did it become okay for boys to sit all day? When did they start wanting to do that?
Boys should be playing, especially outside. I've written a post about it. See also Here and Here.
The sheer lack of activity due to increased use of electronics has been shown to lead to obesity and the resulting health problems. What parents need to understand is that the lack of activity in their children today can lead to very real and severe health problems in their children much, much earlier than such problems should arise. And, despite what video game makers would have you believe, the inactivity can also lead to poor academic performance. See Here, Here and Here.
And it’s not just health - massive amounts of video games and screen times also lead to kids’ inability to concentrate and shorter attention spans. See Here and Here.
Finally, let’s talk social skills. I’ve heard many a parent express their belief that video games are good for their boys’ social skills because they have headsets and can communicate with their friends via the chat. Well, I’ve been present when headsets were unplugged and have heard the absolute garbage that goes on during the chat. Tons of obscenities and crudeness going back and forth among tween and teenage boys. Anecdotally, I’ve heard the same findings from other parents whose boys use video games as a form of “socialization.”
I am not sure how anyone can justify the “socialization” that goes on during FortNite, or any other video game, as appropriate and that which would lead to good social skills. Indeed, the definition of socialization is “the ability to behave in a socially acceptable way.” I have yet to hear, or hear of, any chat going on during any video game that could be called “socially acceptable.” Lots of research on this one: See Here, Here, Here, Here and Here.
[And speaking of socialized behavior, or the lack thereof, have you heard of video game rage? Or the meltdowns that many parents deal with when trying to take or restrict electronics use? I have to ask - where do we see the future of these boys who are allowed hours of unchecked video gaming time every day? ]
And so I endured the holiday gaming by getting the kids out of the house when weather permitted and in general limiting my son’s screen time. Other relatives organized games for the kids to play, also in an effort to give them something to do other than play video games.
But here’s the thing. I am a huge proponent of letting my kids become bored. This seems to be a lost art but it’s one that I believe in. Because we homeschool, my children have a great deal of free time during the day. This free time is intended for them to allow their brains to rest and relax between school subjects or to simply let off steam at the end of the school day (which could be as early as 11 o'clock). This free time never involves is screen time. Therefore, the children make up elaborate stories, games, play with toys, roller skate or play with balls in the basement or garage, draw, play with Legos – all manner of activities – in order to entertain themselves.
Thus, while I appreciated that the other parents came up with some organized activities for the children, I feel like a better approach would have been to simply shut the electronics down and let the children find their own way (like in the old days). Of course, there was nothing to do. Of course, the boys would have protested loudly about how bored they were. But to me, the best part of getting all the cousins together for the holidays is so that they can entertain themselves by spending the time interacting in a creative and imaginative way. Boredom, it turns out, is a good thing. See Here, Here, Here and Here.
With the holidays over, we are now back at home, going through our usual routine. As I have worked this afternoon, the kids have cleaned up the kitchen, eaten dinner and are now playing. They are laughing, talking, using different voices for the characters they are playing, running around and in general, having a great time. All without one electronic device. All without any intervention from an adult. They are making quite a bit of noise and it sounds like the house is coming down sometimes. But it is all music to my ears and makes me smile.