We Are Both Right

Handheld Video Games — A Gateway to Friendship?

I can never decide if this story makes me a “good” mommy or a “bad” one.

When my son C. was 4, there were no video game systems in our house — handheld, console or PC-based. There might have been one or two random Winnie the Pooh or Sesame Street games for the computer, but if there was, he didn’t play them very often as both T. and I used our computers to work. And certainly he had some electronic devices, but nothing that required the regular purchase of cartridges or discs.

So no video games. We weren’t taking or stand or anything, we just saw no need for a little kid to have one. Eventually we’d get something we figured.

And eventually came  – much quicker than either of us anticipated. C. started kindergarten. And began to get invited on playdates. “Yay!” I cheered inside. “He’s making friends.”

And then he started to get made fun of for his lack of aptitude in all things presided over by a little black controller.

Playdates for five year old boys, I quickly learned, had lots of different components and variations, depending upon who was hosting. At my house, they went outside or played Legos or superheros or watched a movie. At other places they played video games — PSPs, Playstations, XBox — whatever the hosting child has in his possession or whatever game the visiting child brought with him.

We would always bring a snack — wasn’t that good enough?

Apparently not.

And C. was quickly losing his street cred. How could that be? Boys his age were still sleeping on Power Ranger sheets! How could a 5-year-old possibly be uncool?

© Nintendo

© Nintendo

So what did I do? I tried talking him through it. Attempted to tell him that he would be fine, that he would learn how to play the games, to be patient, to hang in there.

Also, I panicked and began to privately lobby my husband — we needed a PlayStation 2 and quickly.

T. wasn’t convinced, but the more I saw C. in action with his friends, the more determined I became. He wasn’t good — not unexpected, he had never played before. But because his game play was so weak, he was either left out entirely or the other kids would do things for him — getting him to next levels and such so he could keep up. Which basically meant he was sitting there, watching his friends play.

So on a day that was neither his birthday or Christmas, T. and I took C. to the store and plunked down over $250 on a PlayStation2 and a handful of games, essentially securing his place with his peers.

I think back to that moment — and while I still have no regrets, I can see where it was definitely the gateway to what happened over the next few years.

Because that original console lead to a PSP and a DSi and a Wii for C. And a Leapster and a DS for our daughter, A. And who knows what our son S. will eventually wind up with (although at nearly 18 months, I’m *pretty sure* I won’t be running to the store for him anytime soon). Now would we have gotten those things even if I hadn’t succumbed to the peer pressure exerted by a bunch of 5 year olds? Most probably. Most likely. But still, I have to wonder about my original question: were my actions that of a good mom or one who was being a little silly? Hmmm.

Now while it sounds like we have a lot of video game systems, compared to some others I know, we have relatively few. And I don’t mind them — especially handheld video games. Car rides are peaceful. Waiting for the doctor has become a pleasure. And believe it or not, sometimes they learn something — math, vocabulary, reading — even their fine motor and problem-solving skills are strengthened.

We have rules though — strict ones. I try to limit them to about a half hour a day of “screen” time during the week (not including television). That means they can play whatever they want on any device of their choosing, but once their 30 minutes are up, that’s it. (And they are completely off limits during certain times, at the dinner table, home or out, for one.) If they choose to spend a half hour of their playdate with their friend (and sometimes I will allow it to be longer) playing a game sitting side by side, eyes trained on the little devices they are holding in their hands, that’s fine. I think video games are how this generation connects and socializes with one another and I don’t have a problem with that.

Clearly.

What do you think? Was my decision to buy C. a video game system necessary or desperate? Does your child play video games?

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