The fire sticks kept getting longer. And even when I was told they would move more slowly, I didn’t have much luck making it across my living room, or past the floating eggs either. I was losing to the mind of a four-year-old. Not that this was terribly surprising. Kids are notoriously adept at welding their imaginations. My daughter and my seven-year-old son are no exceptions.
But lately their world of make-believe has taken a different turn. They’ve been incited by a source I did not expect. Not long ago, I went deep into our closet and pulled out the old Nintendo. Now when I say old, I don’t mean last generation. I mean original, as in technology that was outdated 15 years before these kids were born. Their curiosity was piqued the moment I opened the box. Their patience was tested as I tried to make it work.
If you thought the temperamental nature of those cartridges was frustrating back in the day, image what it’s like after they’ve been sitting in storage for years. Then add a chorus of “Mom, when is it going to work? Mom, why are you blowing on it? Mom, make it stop flashing. Mom, try this one. Mom, why isn’t it working yet?” My patience may have been tested just a little bit as well.
Eventually, we had a game started. The recall was astounding. I couldn’t believe all the things I had no idea I remembered. There are days when I walk into a room and can’t figure out what I was looking for and times when I call my children by the wrong names. (I also have 1-year-old twins.) And yet as soon as the images appeared on the screen, I knew without hesitation which blocks were actually stars, which pipes to send my guy down and how to make the flying pig appear. The kids loved all the “secrets.” After a quick talk about how it might take a little practice, I let them try it out.
Video games have gotten plenty of bad press. I’ve read about the studies that show violent games increase aggression in children. That’s bad. I’ve read about how sitting in front of a screen contributes to obesity. Also bad. There have even been reports linking excessive media use to shortened attention spans and video games causing seizures in a small number of children. This is enough to make anyone feel like a Bad Parent for allowing such a thing to enter the house.
But I watched my kids happily taking turns. I watched them encouraging each other. They failed immediately the first time, then tried again and again until they made a bit of progress. And when we turned it off, ideas had been planted.
They turned stuffed animals into “pointy turtles” and starting jumping over pits of lava. They dodged imaginary hammers and climbed invisible vines. My daughter could be heard running from room to room shouting, “Look out for the flosses!” (She misunderstood when my husband explained about the bosses.) And one night at dinner, they even asked for extra helpings of veggies because they were trying to gain health points.
The thing is that many, if not all, of those bad reports have qualifications. They have to do with letting your kids play video games for too long or with too much violence. Even the American Academy of Pediatrics has a policy statement allowing up to one to two hours of screen time per day for kids over two. So I have decided not to feel guilty for introducing this “new” media to my kids. I’ll probably let them play it again. And I’ll keep working on those fire sticks in the meantime.