We Are Both Right

Leaving TV Out of the Playdate

Chris Chidsey/stock.xchng

When my husband and I were dating, we rarely went to the movies. As in less than five times in the first three years we knew each other.

Now before you go and assume that either he was cheap or I was a cheap date, I’ll tell you why. Neither of us wanted to spend the time we had together sitting in silence focused on something else. (Ah, young love. What I wouldn’t give now to sit silently in a movie theatre — with him or by myself.)

Instead, we opted to go on dates that were more active and gave us a chance to talk without fear of being shushed. Ice skating, wine tasting, dinner with friends, hockey games, even walks around the mall were all more participatory than a night at the movies.

So I guess it’s no surprise that we encourage our children to do the same — at least as far as playdates are concerned. (My three-year-old happens to be practicing for her wedding in the next room, much to her daddy’s chagrin, but I’m hoping we still have time before the real dates commence.)

By leaving TV out of their playdates, I’m hoping my children get more quality time with their friends. I don’t have to worry about other parents’ philosophies on screen time either, since I won’t be stepping on any toes by insisting they don’t watch TV on a playdate (anything’s possible, but I haven’t heard of anyone who thinks their child watches too little TV).

In some cases, I don’t mind if they play video games for part of the playdate. At least in that case, they are playing together. Sort of. I usually cut them off after 20 minutes and suggest they go outside or play a board game. Even chasing each other around the house with Nerf guns is better than sitting in front of the screen with their mouths open.

I can think of a few times when I wanted to break this self-imposed rule after hearing cries of boredom because two preschoolers couldn’t agree on what to play. But even then, I think I just broke out the Play-Doh.

Despite all the interference I cause on my turf, when my son goes to a friend’s house I have no limitations. The one time a mom actually asked if I minded if they played video games while he visited (because her son had just received a new game for his birthday and was excited to try it out with a friend). I told her that I had no problem with that at all. And I meant it. If that’s how his friend wants to spend their playdate, it’s fine.

Just not in my house.

Despite my opposition to TV on playdates, I can’t say I mind when I glance over at the five children sitting quietly watching a movie in Amanda’s living room while we have uninterrupted adult conversation in the kitchen.

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.


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

Holding Out On Handheld Video Games

Ssshhhh, don’t tell my son — but he just might be the last eight-year-old around who doesn’t have a handheld video game unit like the DS.

The original verdict came down from my husband about four years ago. We were having dinner in a restaurant where the family next to us included two bug-eyed boys glued to their handheld video games.

“He is not getting one of those.” And with those words, the ban was in place.  (This coming from the guy who was sitting with his feet up on a desk, playing Playstation with a friend in a college dorm room, the first time I met him.)

I went along with the ban on handheld video games though, because I also agreed that we were seeing more and more instances like this where kids were detached from anything going around them — whether it was a visit to grandma’s or a trip to the beach — all because of the hypnotizing force field they held in their hands.  But I also thought it was one of those parenting decisions we would gradually let slide, giving in to what is socially acceptable.


In the meantime, when L. was five, we bought an Xbox 360 for the house.  (See, we’re not ogres and didn’t really intend to deprive him of the video gaming experience entirely.)  It was different (or so we reasoned) because 1) it wasn’t portable and wouldn’t interfere with our family activities and 2) even his time at home playing video games would be limited since he was in school or playing sports outside most of the day anyway. 

It turned out to be quite the male bonding experience, father and son, facing off in football, baseball and hockey.  To this day, these remain the only games that interest him.  Once he gained some skill (and outgrew the whiny remote-throwing phase), I could see where video games might actually be a welcome presence in our home.   

So while still being DS-less and PSP-free at this age certainly puts L. in the minority, he has never challenged our decision (translation: we’ve never had to enforce it). He seems content to get his fill of gaming on our console unit. Even after all the times he’s peered over a friend’s shoulder at a party or on a playdate, he never comes back and begs for one.

I think he’s just figuring out ways to respectfully outwit us at this point. He has been zeroing in on my husband’s smartphone more often — and most noticeably on a recent family trip while we were in restaurants waiting for our food (the art of conversation just might die with this generation). Only an incoming call from work prompts L. to break free from his baseball video game or fantasy football trades and hand the phone back over to his father.

But I guess we’ll let it slide at this point, because he seems to (mostly) know the place and time for things like that.

The only thing I’m worried about (after attending a recent demo on robotic surgery technology at work) is that we might have to eat our words someday. I can picture it now: L. ends up in medical school, but is left in the dust by all the other PSP-trained surgeons who are seated at their video consoles suturing ten times faster than him.