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

Read More

Did you like this post? Get the latest posts in your email - .

Share your thoughts with us!

Thank You Internet For Introducing My Son to Dumb Blonde Jokes

May 03

Boys love to tell jokes. They’re naturally good at it, too. As a teenager, I laughed my way (batted my eye lashes) through many guys’ jokes from the truly funny to the slightly offensive, and the “I don’t get it but I’ll pretend I do and laugh anyways” jokes. Now, with three boys of my own jockeying to be crowned funniest kid on the block, the male instinct to toss out one-liners for a few chuckles is more obvious to me than ever. And thanks to the internet, there are a zillion resources for fine-tuning their fledgeling comedy acts. Unfortunately, not all resources are of stellar comedic value.

Leave it to my oldest son (who is 11) to find a website devoted to dumb blonde jokes, now a mainstay in his joke arsenal.  (Ah, remember when kids used to be at least fourteen before they started telling offensive blonde one-liners? Kids start so much younger these days…)

I learned about his new skill a couple days ago while I was cooking dinner. He scooted into the kitchen with a smile on his face, and clearly energized about something.

Son: “Mom, I gotta joke to tell you.”

Me: *Sigh* “Okay.” (cutting carrots)

Son: Okay! (Lifts iPod to his face and starts reading) There was a blonde who found herself sitting next to a Lawyer on an airplane.

Me: Wait a second. Is this a dumb blonde joke? Really? You’re telling me a dumb blonde joke? (Rolls eyes and keeps cutting carrots)

Son: (Chuckles) Well, ya. Okay… (goes back to reading his iPod) The lawyer kept bugging the blonde wanting her to play a game of intelligence. Finally, the lawyer offered her 10 to 1 odds, and said every time the blonde could not answer one of his questions, she owed him $5, but every time he could not answer hers, he’d give her $50.00. The lawyer figured he could not lose, and the blonde reluctantly accepted.

Me: Why do you think it’s okay to tell jokes about blondes? Why not tell jokes about brunettes?

Son: Well, I dunno. It’s not as funny.

Me: Why isn’t it funny?

Son: Because it just isn’t. Let me finish the joke.  The lawyer first asked, “What is the distance between the Earth and the nearest star?” Without saying a word the blonde handed him $5.

Me: You know that I’m blonde, right?

Son: No, you’re not blonde. Your hair is, like, darker. Not, like, really, really blonde.

Yeah, I'm blonde, even if it's chemically enhanced.

Me: I’m blonde. And, where are you getting this joke?

Son: Oh, there’s this awesome website CoolBlondeJokes.com. It’s got a bunch of really funny jokes.

Me: Of course there is. (Oh goody)

Son: Just let me finish the joke.  Then the blonde asked, “What goes up a hill with 3 legs and comes back down the hill with 4 legs?” The lawyer was puzzled and looking up everything he could on his laptop and making air-to-ground phone calls trying to find the answer. Finally, angry and frustrated, he gave up and paid the blonde $50.00.The blonde put the $50 into her purse without comment, but the lawyer insisted, “What is the answer to your question?”Without saying a word, the blonde handed him $5.

Me: (A small laugh) Okay, that’s not too bad. But I still don’t think you should tell blonde jokes. Don’t you think some of the girls in your class with blonde hair might be offended.

Son: (Shrugs) No. They’re funny!

I returned to my dinner-making as he rattled off another couple of jokes. Some battles, I decided, just aren’t worth fighting. I realized that of all the horrible influences offered on the internet, dumb blonde jokes are pretty low on the totem pole of concerns. And, anyways, it would probably replace their ‘Yo Mama’ one-liners that they’d taken a liking to (courtesy of, you guessed it… the internet) which were actually pretty damn funny. Even for an old school Mama, like me.

Read More

Did you like this post? Get the latest posts in your email - .

Share your thoughts with us!

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

Read More

Did you like this post? Get the latest posts in your email - .

Share your thoughts with us!

Tip #17 – Encourage Responsibility In Front of Camera and Behind Camera

Sep 09

A new word has popped up in the English language that truly defines the digital culture in which we are now all living.  Sousveillance.  Unlike surveillance, in which we are watched by those from above (government, police), sousveillance is the monitoring of events by those “below” – that is, regular folks like you and me: Aunt Martha, a passing stranger, and that annoying kid from down the street that you’ve never really liked.

When cameras first came onto the scene, worries abounded over the likelihood that Big Brother would invade our personal space, forcing citizens to consider their every move lest they upset the powers above.  As it turns out, it’s the people surrounding us in our every day lives that have the greater capability to sully our reputations or applaud our heroics.  Admit it – you’ve nervously glanced around to ensure no one videotaped you tearing a strip off your eight-year-old.  (He deserved it, of course, but YouTube videos don’t typically offer context around their one-minute snippets).

I cringe when I see teenagers behaving badly in front of the camera.  I thought I behaved well back then, too.  I didn’t.  It wasn’t until I hit my mid-30′s and started raising my own kids that I fully understood how self-absorbed, overly emotional, and embarrassingly I behaved on occasion.  Thank God there is not a shred of proof.  Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for today’s kids.  Filmed mistakes will live for all of cyber-eternity for way too many of them (cue the sad-faced emoticon).

There is a teachable lesson here.  Teach kids responsible use of the camera.  I encourage my kids to make videos to their heart’s content.  After all, video is now one of the most celebrated forms of art whether it’s worthy of that accolade or not.  At the same time, I remind them to do so responsibly.  Does the video portray anyone in a negative light?  Is personal information exposed in the video that may put anyone in peril? Will the video destroy someone’s reputation?  Although my kids are still too young to truly understand some of these concepts, I believe the more I talk about responsible use of a camera, the more likely they’ll ask themselves these questions as they grow older.

On the flip side, my kids are reminded to monitor their actions when the camera lens is on them.  What may seem hilarious to a kid and his three buddies, can explode into an angry backlash by another (often much larger) audience.  Kids should ask themselves: Do they trust the person behind the camera?  Does he or she post every video onto YouTube the second it’s filmed?  Would he or she want thousands of strangers to see them behave this way? The great thing about acting like an ding-dong the odd time is that your few witnesses either forget about it over time or simply stop talking to you.  That’s not the case if it’s on video and reaches 331,457 views on YouTube.  Ouch.

I know I can’t prevent my kids from building a cyber-album of their journey through childhood to teenage-hood, but hopefully I can help them create one that is more flattering than embarrassing.  One in which they can look back at and laugh, rather than sob.

Related Posts:

Encourage Responsibility In Front of, and Behind, Camera

Read More

Did you like this post? Get the latest posts in your email - .

Share your thoughts with us!

Tip #7 – Take the Kids to the Library

Jun 13

Remember the days before mom & pop shops were replaced by big box stores like Wal-mart and Costco?  While we all visit the behemoth stores for their convenience and endless variety of storage containers it’s easy to lament the days when the customer greeter and salesperson and cashier were rolled together into one helpful human being.  Our communities have transformed to accommodate these new bastions of merchandise, yet thankfully, one gathering place has remained intact: the library.

The library is one of the few places where excess is a wondrous thing. When my kids beg to go to Toys R Us, I groan. Taking three boys to a massive display of toys and video games without a good portion of cash in my wallet always ends badly. A trip to the library, however, is a most welcome suggestion.  In fact, I’m delighted when they ask me to take them (and yes, they ask frequently).  They are free to roam the shelves and select those books most intriguing.  Other than suffering from a sore back, I’m more than happy to lug forty books home (our record for the largest amount of books we’ve borrowed in a single visit).

A librarian is always available to help us find a specific book or offer guidance on a good read.  I’ll run my fingers along the spines with one of my kids as we seek out a particular author and pull out the odd book to see its cover (yes, we do judge a book by its cover).  Another of my sons will peruse the pages of a picture book before deciding whether it’s worth borrowing.  When you think about it… libraries have to be one of the best inventions ever created for parents. They offer kids the opportunity to take whatever books they want, in any abundance – for free!

So, what has library visits got to do with tips on raising kids in the digital age?  The bricks and mortar libraries are under threat, thanks to the availability of electronic information.  Consider this: in the late 1990’s, 80% of Ontario elementary schools had a teacher-librarian. Today, only 56% do.  And, most recently, the Windsor-Essex Catholic District School Board announced it will shut all its school libraries.

Certainly online research is valuable for school projects, but despite it’s hype, Wikipedia ain’t all it’s cracked up to be.  A screen of black type listing every boring fact about Egyptian history cannot compete with a full-colour book written in kid-friendly language and organized with headings, photos, diagrams, and, well, real pages that can be referred to any time of day or night.  When my sons research for their school projects, they use kids’ books.  No matter how much time we spend looking for information online, it just does not compare to the valuable resources provided in books (from the library, might I add).

, the celebrated social media guru and bestselling business author recently published a stating “Wikipedia and the huge databanks of information have basically eliminated the library.” He continues, “Kids…need a library not at all.”  I looked into whether Seth has any kids.  He doesn’t.  If he did, he’d likely realize that Wikipedia is one of the worst resources for a ten-year-old trying to understand a subject.  He would probably understand that kids don’t need to be “coerced” to go to the library – they want to go.  Sadly, if this kind of thinking is behind the belief that libraries have lost their usefulness, parents and their kids are in big trouble.

Today, libraries are as essential as ever.  They offer our kids a quiet and reflective place to read, write, explore.  Surfing through a list of images on an e-reader, while convenient, does not compare to the hands-on experience of selecting a book and noting how many pages it is, what kind of pictures there are, reading the back cover.  Certainly, digital research and ebooks will replace some need for ‘real’ books, but not all.  Let’s not move forward so fast that we are suddenly back-pedalling to make up for hasty decisions.  Remember what happened to another important resource – known as trees and forests… I know of a few million people working to save what little is left.

My advice?  Take the kids to the library.  The more they connect with real books, the more likely they’ll want to use their digital tools for reading rather than YouTube and video gaming.  Yes, we all want our kids to know how to effectively use digital technology, but one of the best stepping stones to building that knowledge is through visiting a library.

Read More

Did you like this post? Get the latest posts in your email - .

Share your thoughts with us!