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Are Video Games Good For Kids?

  As a child who grew up in a one-tv household, without cable, banned from watching MTV at friends' houses, and now a parent running a family without cable and with minimal screen-time, the introduction of a gaming device into our home felt as though decades of negative-perception-baggage were plunked down into our family room, and onto the laps of our salivating children.

I have a hate/feigning-curiosity-but-really-hating relationship with video games. From a young age, I was taught they were a time-sink, mind-numbing, waste-of-life-endeavor. (I’m sugar coating.)  When the desire to play arose, I was sent outside to get fresh air and play with the dog. Though I resented this parenting mandate at the time, I later grew to appreciate the inspiration it gave me to explore life beyond the screen, and indoctrinated it into my own parenting approach. I didn’t question it until I was forced to when facing my husband’s and children’s strong desire for media interaction. And though I yearned to ignore and quell them, the tightening inside of me signaled I might benefit from loosening.

“You know you can use it for dance?!” My husband asked, selling the benefits of his recent gaming-system purchase, throwing out the one hook he knew would pacify me. “They make all kinds of hip-hop videos for it, look.” He had pulled a selection of dance trailers on-screen, ready for the moment I came storming into the room demanding the system be returned.  He got me.  And without warning, I melted.  Perhaps I can give it a chance, I told myself.

But opening to its presence didn’t continue with ease. Hearing my son make smashing, crashing, war sounds when playing race-car games sent my nervous system into a tangle. Listening to him refer to the other drivers in a derisive way upset me.  Watching my husband get excited about sharing something with my children that I couldn’t/didn’t want to, made me jealous and resentful. Witnessing the language that arose when more experienced players visited the house and played with my children, made me shudder. I wanted to stuff the system down the throat of the buyer and ban future playing forever.  Instead, I turned to the words of my friend and fellow meditator, Dr. Douglas.

An award-winning research scientist on the effects of mass media on children, adolescents, and adults, I looked to my friend’s work for the answers.  He’ll make me feel better, I decided.  He’ll tell me to let them play, let them exclaim, let go of all of my perceptions, and just be.  But, to my surprise, he didn’t.  His research, paired with that of Michael Merzenich, falls in-line with what meditation refers to as the middle way.  It provides evidence that playing video games can increase brain function by stimulating cognitive response in making judgments and attending to social demands, in addition to providing increased attention when suppressing progressively stronger distracting lures, and increasing memory spans.    Hmm…interesting.   Might explain the looks of joy, engagement and even pride bedecking – I first went with ‘swathed’ then changed it, succumbing to self-doubt regarding its usage – the faces of the young playas pictured above and below.  His (Gentile’s) research also suggests that, in terms of monitoring game playing, parents are in a more powerful position than they realize. And doing so can effect healthier outcomes in everything ranging from average weekly sleep, to school and social performance, to aggressive behavior.  Sweet, get that thing outta here!

Reading his words and giving space to my feelings, reminded me of my post about my search for the solution to the great dessert debate, or, how frequently kids should get dessert.  It’s less about expunging it or embracing it – neither of which seem realistic for me.  The answer lies not within the external influences we bring to the table, so to speak, but in taking into careful consideration the potential ways our actions and the implications of our actions will positively and negatively impact all beings, everywhere.  To loosely quote Muth quoting Tolstoy, and paying homage to the story of “The Three Questions”, a heartfelt gift given at just the most-needed time by dear friends, (the family that includes the dashing boy pictured on this page with my son), “This (a look at our actions in this moment) is the most important question.” For anything more specific, refer to the instruction manual.  ~Karma Mamma

This is an accompaniment to a video on my blog. You can view it here

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