This week came with the gift of a public holiday. I chose to celebrate by shouting myself a sleep in and allowed the boys some extended time on the Xbox.
Now, before I bag video games in general, I’d like to offer an alternative point of view for anyone who is wondering if their children’s brains are rapidly atrophying each time they reach for the controller. A recent study at RMIT tested over 12,000 Australian 15 year olds and found that students who play video games daily scored consistently higher in maths and science. Something to do with problem solving and social constructs.
To the good people at Sony, Apple and Microsoft- I accept cheques, bank transfers and wine. Also, please stop reading now.
Because despite finding these kind of studies on video games somewhat comforting… I still hate the things.
And so, on what was turning out to be a beautifully sunny public holiday, I gave my sons the usual 10 minute warning, walked up to the gaming console and turned it off. “How do you get your kids to stop playing video games?”, I hear parents ask. It’s easy. Like that. You walk up to the machine, extend your index finger and turn it off. I spun around to my children with the beaming smile of a flight attendant and heralded their landing with:
Welcome back to the real world. We hope you enjoy your stay.
I’m such a pain. I know. But even if there are problem solving and social opportunities to be found in the virtual world, can it honestly offer any competition to the thrill and terror of the real world?
There are thirteen boys on our street. For the rest of the afternoon, I sat at my desk writing as they came and went in waves, and one game turned into the next. I saw them problem solve their way down from trees and negotiate over soccer teams. There were many times when I wanted to jump up and intervene- give the little kid a go… that bike isn’t supposed to have three people on it… spit that stick out…
But in the end, I held back and resisted. It’s not up to me to teach them every lesson. Sometimes, the hardest/funnest part, is standing back and allowing to learn things for themselves.
It occurred to me that while we’ve all grown protective of our children playing too many video games, perhaps we’ve also gotten too protective of them playing in the real world. Could it be that the kids in those RMIT studies are benefiting from playing on video games, because they are otherwise not playing at all?
Overloaded with homework and extra-curricular activities, consumed by devices and tv, growing up isolated in a world where we worry about even trusting our neighbours- children spend so much time inside. It’s no wonder that Halo and FIFA tempt them with a much desired escape.
The sun was almost down before I finally called my grubby children inside and shooed a few of the others back to their homes. As I set the table, I wondered if there was anything of value that I might want to share with the boys that night. But as we sat down for dinner and I listened to the stories from the afternoon- filled with victories and biffs, lost balls and sticks- I mused to myself, that I could take the night off.
In those few hours of being outside and unplugged, they had already learnt so much.
Article referenced: Alberto Posso (2016), Internet Usage and Educational Outcomes Among 15-Year-Old Australian Students. International Journal of Communication 10(2016), pp3851–387