If Only My Kids Could Regulate Their Own Video Gaming Habits

May 06

No video games from Monday to Thursday. Of all the family rules I have ever devised, this is the one that I treasure most, and try hardest to maintain. You can read about when I first instituted it here. It requires serious vigilance because this unpopular rule is under constant attack by its detractors (my three sons).

But like any sympathetic ruler, I offer generous rewards for their compliance. In return for their 4-day screen drought, I let them play without restriction during the weekend. Well, that’s a slight lie (what good ruler doesn’t do that once in a while!)

That’s what I had said in the hopes that they would learn how to moderate their own video gaming exposure if given the freedom to do so. Unfortunately, that never came to fruition. They would play for hours and hours, if given the chance. I’d no sooner let that happen to allow them to drink soda pop for breakfast, lunch, and dinner.

When I observe they have been feeding off the IV of screen animations for too long, I will often erupt into a fit of exclamations that go something like this: “Turn that thing off! Can’t you find something better to do?” “Have you noticed how beautiful it is outside?” “Don’t you have a book to read?”

I don’t expect a response, nor do they have any desire to offer one. In fact, they’re quite skilled at ignoring me altogether (the dissidents). As their ruler (read: threatener of eliminating all things they love), I am eventually granted my wishes: they rise from the couch, release the game controllers, and march toward their new activity.

Why do video games irritate me more than any other activity? Certainly, I don’t resent my kids their copious amount of leisure time. They’re kids, after all. I never complain if they are playing a game of Monopoly for an hour. Or reading a book for two hours. And if they play outside, well, my entire body beams with parental pleasure at the joys of childhood.

I suppose a large part of my anxiety is a result of their inability to monitor their own screen time and balance it with other activities. I can’t think of any other activity that absorbs their attention so completely and for such long lengths of time than video games. Despite what my kids may think, I would be happy to let them play carte blanche all weekend long – if they could just figure out how to self-regulate the amount of time they spend playing.

In fact, once they’ve proven that ability, I will comfortably eliminate my rule completely. But I don’t see that happening any time soon. Just this afternoon, I hinted that perhaps they’d rather play a board game or go outside than continue playing on the computer. They ignored me, as usual.

It wasn’t until I forced them to shut their devices down, and they had to fill the growing void of boredom that results after an hour or so of screen entertainment, that they followed my advice and got out a board game.

Limit kids' video games

Play as long as you want, boys.

“Isn’t this better?” I asked, beaming. They nodded. Then lost interest in the game ten minutes later in search of something else to do. Now if only they could exhibit an attention span as short as that when playing video games. Then we’d all get along just fine.

More Posts You Might Like:

Welcome to the Screen Years, er, Tween Years

Top 25 Tips for Parents on Digital Safety and Literacy

Get Comfortable With Saying No

Family Battles over Video Games

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Video Round-Up: What My Kids Watch When My Kids Watch YouTube

May 05

Three boys hovering over a glowing screen is a common scene in my household. Every once in a while I ask, “what are you watching?” Invariably it’s some inane YouTube video they are more than eager to explain to me in painstaking detail. Or worse, they ask me to watch it with them. As a digitally-concerned parent, I usually oblige. So for today, on my first Porridge Report video round-up, I am showcasing my sons’ top YouTube video selections.

what kids watch online

For the record, I was a little shocked by some of the videos they recommended (and apparently watch regularly). However, I try to maintain an open mind so that my kids continue to share their viewing habits. Tonight they excitedly told me of two favourite videos, which I watched for the first time while writing this post. I was surprised by the questionable content. But on the other hand, I also recognized that the videos are very funny and somewhat reminiscent of the Mad Magazine issues I perused as a tween myself – vulgar, satirical, and edgy – and, well, sort of brilliant.

Below is one example of the hundreds of videos created by Smosh.com. This one is called If Video Games Were Real (my 11-year-old was adamant that I watch this one). It’s pretty darn funny, but there are references to fake breasts, cursing, and violence. I get that it’s all satire but I’m a bit concerned that my young boys are watching this. Note to self: schedule a “chat” tomorrow.


This next one is by The Computer Nerd. It’s pretty lengthy. Clearly these young YouTube sensations know how to hold a boy’s attention for longer than any mother or teacher (I can barely hold any child’s attention for more than 4 seconds). It’s a funny commentary on Justin Bieber’s song Baby, although it still manages to have one violent scene.

What are your kids watching online? Be sure to ask them once in a while. You may be surprised by what they tell you.

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Book People Unite Video Will Inspire Parents to Read to Kiddos

Apr 19

This wonderful one minute video is a public service announcement by the children’s literacy non-profit organization, Reading is Fundamental (RIF). If this doesn’t inspire a parent to read to their kids, I’m not sure what will. Share it with your video gaming kids and see if it sparks their own desire to read more books (I’m betting it will!)

Nearly two-thirds of low income families in the United States own no books. Remember to donate your used kids’ books to schools, libraries, and organizations that support children of low-income households. Canadians can learn more about supporting literacy by visiting ABC Life Literacy.

Watch and enjoy!

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Why Trusting Parents May Not Buy Their Kid a Mobile Phone

Apr 13

A cell phone can hamper a child's leap toward adulthood

My soon-to-be 12-year-old son periodically pleads for a cell phone when he grows weary of watching his classmates constantly text on their cell phones as he twiddles his underused thumbs.

“Everyone has a cell phone EXCEPT me!” he exclaims with desperation.

“No,” I respond, my cold mono-syllabic reply cutting deep into his soul (I know this because of the ensuing tears and accusations of how cruel a mother I am).

While I prefer to leave the conversation right then and there, my son will ensue with the false hope that I will recognize the breadth of his suffering. But, here’s the thing. Buying my son a cell phone isn’t like buying an iPod, that, by the way, was also essential to his very survival as a tween (and once purchased, quelled the pleading for, um, a few weeks).  The cell phone is an ongoing gift that keeps on taking (from my wallet). But even more than the financial drain, the cell phone has the potential to undermine his journey toward independence.

If I were to purchase my son a cell phone, it would enable me to send him texts.

All. Day. Long.

u forgot ur math book :(

Don’t take bus I pickup :)

Bringing pizza 4 lunch :D

Having a good day? :)

Going to buy u underwear 2day :D

What pants u want me to wash? :)

Going on run. txt u when im back :(

I’ve spent the past 11 years fostering my son’s independence. Slowly disconnecting the figurative umbilical cord (of which he’s been more than happy to oblige). Yet a cell phone seems as though it would, to some extent, re-build that connection with a digital umbilical cord that is no less potent than the figurative one.

When I think back to my own childhood, my memories are a treasure chest of parent-free experiences where I strengthened my bonds with those outside my family, made decisions that – good or bad – I learned to live with, and in essence, prepared myself for the bigger decisions I’d one day be making. By the time I was 12 years old, I’d think nothing of heading straight to my friend, Erica’s, house after school without calling home to check in. I knew dinner time was at 5pm. So, that’s when I’d scoot back home. On weekends, I’d hop on my bike and take off to the park with Erica and Joanne, then hit another friend’s place for lunch, ride to the convenience store for some packs of Rainblo, find another friend’s house to make crank calls. Go home for dinner. All with nary a thought about my mom or dad. They didn’t worry about where I was. I didn’t worry about telling them. Pure golden independence.

I understand that many parents (including myself) worry about the safety of their kids, and hence, see the almighty cell phone as an assurance of safety. They may say, “I always know where he is. We text all day long so that if he’s at the park, I know. If he goes to friend’s house, I know. I never have to worry.”

Funnily enough, my mom never had to worry either. Because she trusted me. “It’s not a matter of trust,” many parents will argue. I get it. Yes, there’s a possibility that a child may be kidnapped – every parent’s biggest fear. But the chances of that actually happening are slim. We all know that. So, maybe it is trust?

As I observe my sons grow increasingly independent, I feel great pride in their ability to make smart decisions. They know how to keep out of trouble. They are respectful of adults and one another. And, I especially love that they are learning through their own mistakes. For a child entering in his tweens, I think there is no greater reward than having freedom from, well, Mom. For the millions of kids who are equipped with smart phones, that’s impossible as good ol’ ma beeps them every fifteen minutes:

Where r u? Having fun?:D

Making ur fave dinner :) Come home soon.

And, what should happen to a child who ignores Mom’s beep? Probably a lecture when he returns home to NEVER ignore mom’s messages.

When my son begs for a cell phone, I don’t think he understands the full ramifications of what he is asking. He is a naturally free spirited boy who’s been working diligently toward full independence since he was about two years old. As much as I love his company and could very easily fall into the trap of wanting to ensure he is 100% safe 100% of the time, I recognize that a cell phone will encourage me to grow increasingly attached to his every decision, every worry, every moment. Conversely, my son will likely grow increasingly reliant on my approval and permission when he really should be moving in the opposite direction.

Twelve years is, truly, a transformational age for kids. When their youthful creativity and sense of independence swirl together to create magical experiences that straddle the world of childhood and adulthood. Experiences that will help them become the amazing adults they are meant to become.

Mom’s constant presence, whether digital or real, will hamper that from happening.

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Welcome to the Screen Years, er, Tween Years

Mar 27

My eldest son is almost twelve years old and the rules of the household are becoming increasingly “optional” in his mind. Mind you, he has always been alarmingly adept at finding clever detours to get around the rules that I so painstakingly try to uphold.

For years, the boys have been forbidden to turn on the television before going to school. It encourages a harmonious morning routine and inhibits the likelihood of the kids missing their school bus, and hence, being late for school. Before implementing the rule, I’d wasted far too much time begging (read: yelling at) my kids to turn off the TV as they blissfully ignored me. On the best of days, they would begrudgingly unplug themselves from the TV screen, rush to grab jackets, boots, bag, and leave me with three half-empty cereal bowls to clear from the coffee table. On the worst of days, we would become embroiled in a family feud that would make the housewives of New Jersey cringe, during which time the bus would roll on by, and I’d be forced to drive them, late, to school.

However, my No TV rule keeps our mornings as honky-dory as a Mr. Rogers episode. That is changing, bit by bit, thanks to the introduction of the iPod into our household. Now that my son owns one of these digital devices, my coveted screen-free mornings are quickly becoming a thing of the past.

iPod with cereal

My son's morning fix

Although it is not as disruptive as a big screen TV show, his new morning ritual is causing some tension. Not the least of which is among his younger brothers who regularly remind me that their older brother is breaking not one, but two rules. No TV in the mornings, and no video games from Monday to Thursday. And, why can’t they, too?

Needless to say, I am spending more energy begging him to turn off his screen. Typically, he turns it off before I must resort to yelling, however he likes to remind me that it is HIS iPod and therefore, has every right to use it (he knows he’s skating on thin ice with this reasoning, but like I said, he likes rule detours).

As much as I detest the sight of the above image, we have come to an amicable arrangement. He is allowed to turn on his iPod to check his email, texts, and DragonVale.He has convinced me that the game DragonVale needs regular attention to maintain (funnily enough, so does our dog, but he doesn’t seem too concerned about staying on top of that).

My middle son, God bless him, is still in the voracious reading stage, so I’m more likely to find him reading a book than staring at a screen most mornings. I will try to enjoy every wonderful moment of it before he becomes a tween himself. And, yes, that includes ignoring his continued pleas to have his own iPod.

Read books, don't play video games

A part of the morning ritual that I encourage

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Beware: Hunger Games Book and Movie Will Disturb Younger Kids

Mar 23

My just-turned-10-year-old son is begging to read The Hunger Games. My oldest son, who is almost 12 years old, finished reading it a month ago. All three of my sons (ages 7 to 11) have informed me that the school population is abuzz about the book’s movie. Which is a bit odd.

“It’s about kids killing kids,” I’ve explain to my middle son. “And it is extremely violent and disturbing.”

“You mean, like when the guy gets chewed up by that wolf monster at the end?” my 12-year-old pipes in. “And when that guy gets stabbed at the beginning of the games.”

Yes, that and many more. The book is rife with bloody scenes that are a far cry from those depicted in the Henry Huggins book I’m reading to all of them every night before they fall asleep.

I, personally, read the entire Hunger Games series over a year ago. And I loved it. The main character, Katniss, is one of my favourite literary heroines of all time. She’s smart, resourceful, caring, and strong. We see the horrible atrocities through her sympathetic eyes, and this is what makes story such a compelling and worthwhile read. Even for younger readers.

However, I am still on the fence as to whether I’m ready to allow my 10-year-old son to read it. Because the story is so well-crafted, it is not mere violence for the sake of violence – which might make it easier to dismiss as ridiculous. The Hunger Games has the potential to alter a young person’s impression of their world because it is that good at portraying the evil of the situation. And, furthermore, each novel in the series (there are three) grows more violent, to the point of being hard to read by the final instalment.

If you are a parent grappling with whether the books are appropriate for your child, I’d recommend reading the series yourself (particularly for readers younger than 12 years old). This will allow you to determine if your child is able to handle such a disturbingly violent work. You know your child best. Furthermore, if the answer end up being yes, the books provide ample fodder to talk about how your child reacts to the themes of killing for survival, corrupt governments, and the atrocities of war.

The next question on every parents mind (or perhaps the only question for some) is: Should I take my child to The Hunger Games movie? I am of the persuasion that younger viewers should read the book first. As violent as the book remains, at least the young reader is limited by the boundaries of his or her imagination. A movie, on the other hand, can portray scenes that seem far more disturbing and realistic than what may be hazy, at best, in, say, an 11-year-old’s mind.

Most parents, from what I’ve seen, base their movie-going decisions on the MPAA ratings. Now, this is where things get interesting. Across the United States, the movie has a PG-13 rating. This means that a child under the age of 13 must be accompanied by an adult. In other words – parents beware of mature themes and dialogue. Strangely, here in Ontario, the Ontario Film Review Board has given the Hunger Games movie the lesser PG rating. This would put The Hunger Games in the same category as The Adventures of TinTin. Does anyone else find this baffling? My son doesn’t even need my permission to go. He can go on his own with a gang of 11-year-olds. Kinda’ sucks, doesn’t it?

The MPAA describes the highly anticipated movie as: “Intense Violent Thematic Material and Disturbing Images.” Unfortunately, because of Ontario’s odd choice in parental ratings, many moms and dads will not give any thought to the possibility that The Hunger Games may be upsetting to fresh-faced young viewers because of the harmless PG rating. For clarity around the different MPAA ratings, check out my earlier blog piece while explains the difference in detail.

The final verdict in my household is this:

I, personally, can’t wait to see the movie. I loved the books (the first one is best), and the critics’ reviews are stellar. My oldest son has asked to see the film, as well. I have agreed to take him, although I plan to go with him so that we can talk about it when it is over. (I can also get a sense of how he reacts to certain unpleasant scenes.)  I will not let my 10-year-old watch the movie, and have yet to decide on whether he can read the series.  I fear that these stories will stain his sweet mind with questions for which I don’t feel he is prepared.

Like this post? How about the blog? Porridge Report has been nominated one of top 25 tech mom blogs for 2012! If you like what you read, vote for Porridge Report HERE!

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