Tuesday, April 19, 2011

High Score, Hard Lessons

The other night, on our way out to dinner, I tired of looking at the top of my son's head. He was fixating on the trajectory of pieces of meat and vegetables falling from the sky on the screen of his handheld gaming device. I made what seemed like an extraordinary move: I took it away. I didn't snatch it from his hands. I asked for him to hand it over which, to his credit, he did abruptly. Suddenly our little family was at least a third more interactive. I understand the perils of obsessive behavior. My chosen vice has been one of Freecell solitaire and Civilization. I have been known to spend hours at a time immersed in moving bits and bytes around in clever combinations that ultimately add up to nothing. I remember spending a summer in my parents' basement alternately attempting to set a neighborhood record on Atari's Breakout and dealing hands of analog solitaire on the arm of the couch. It was a very solitary phase of my development. As I grew up, however, I began to understand just how important those human interactions were. I suppose if someone had given me an portable version of the Atari 2600, I might have wandered around the block in a daze, staring at those pretty colors and using even more of my precious youth on the manipulation of lights on a screen. The reason my son has his own handheld time sink is essentially the same one that caused my parents to buy me a video game way back when Pong was cool: Everyone else has one. Not my proudest parental moment, but it stands head and shoulders over Shannon Johnson of Fort Lupton, Colorado. Ms. Johnson left her thirteen month son in the bathtub while she played a game on Facebook. The boy drowned. She insisted that her son, Joseph, wanted to be left alone, that he was a very independent baby. Shannon will now have plenty of time to catch up on her online gaming. That is, if she will be allowed to keep her Facebook account while she serves ten years in prison. I want my son to be independent too. I want him to know when it's time to turn off the machine. I want him to remember the lesson we taught him when he was Joseph's age: People are more important than things. Now it's time to go talk with my son.

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