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May 13, 2008

Nintendo DS: Problem System or Problem Children?

When I was a kid, my mom bought me a Nintendo for my birthday and though it was mine, my sister and I shared it. Sure, we could play two player games on it, but that wasn't always the case and we did have to share it, much like a lot of kids have to share toys. Heck, the fact my family had two TVs to even play the Nintendo on one, while the other could watch TV, was very uncommon, but it kept my parents happy.

Daily Mail, a UK news site posted a story by Rosie Millard under the "Femail" section, about how a single Nintendo DS turned her 4 sweet children into monsters. Now, I'm not trying to point the finger or anything, especially since I don't have kids, but I hardly see how Rosie can blame the Nintendo DS for her childrens' fighting. Sure, it was the object they fought over, but I'm sure she's leaving out some information in her story there, because I can't see how one object can make her kids turn into monsters, and yet they don't fight over anything else they own.

As my eight-year-old son Gabriel hit his five-year-old sister Honey on the head, ten-year-old Phoebe started yelling and the youngest, three-year- old Lucien, joined in the fun, a red mist descended over my vision.

It was eight in the morning. No one had eaten breakfast. The curtains had not been opened. The beds had not been made. The dog had not been walked. Our habitual regime of a ten-minute morning music practice had been abandoned.

The entire mood was one of anger, confrontation, pain and frustration.

Welcome to a family of Nintendo-users. Or should I say user, since we had only one of these infernal devices.

I finally buckled to buy a Nintendo DS Lite after considerable and sustained pressure from my children.

What finally did it was a suggestion from my oldest child that without a Nintendo in her school bag, she would be unable to fit in at school. (Yes, I know - oldest trick in the book. And I fell for it.)

It was that, plus reading a piece in one newspaper which suggested that if you regularly played Brain Trainer on your Nintendo, you’d bump up your mental acuity.

And another piece from child expert Dr Tanya Byron, of all people, which, as far as I recall, actually suggested that regular use of interactive toys such as the DS helped your children to be caring and creative.

I also had a sneaking and totally selfish wish to be Mother of the Year. Which I was, for about a day.

When the pale blue, £150 Nintendo finally arrived last November, fresh from Hong Kong (I had bought it on the net), crammed with a ‘bundle’ of 20 games including Brain Trainer, Fifa 08, and Nintendogs, my children hugged me tightly.

“Thank you, thank you, Mummy,” they chorused. “We LOVE you!”

Mission accomplished, I smiled indulgently at them.

Then we were off, down a slope which became comprehensively more slippery the longer my family and the Nintendo existed under the same roof.

At first, I decreed that the device would be a “family Nintendo”, passed around lovingly by everyone as we all played Brain Trainer together.

That idea lasted about a week. I found Brain Trainer utterly predictable and the children found it totally boring.

Gradually, each child found his or her own Nintendo ‘fix’.

Gabriel became obsessed with playing the football game Fifa 08: over meals, on the loo, in bed at midnight.

Phoebe just took virtual dogs for walks, while Honey zoned in on the My Little Pony game.

The ‘toy’ caused endless rows, sessions of screaming and increasingly regular parental punishments.

It was removed and placed in my desk. The children found it and hid it in their bedroom. I put it into my bag.

They discovered it again. I devised a daily Nintendo rota.

Then we lost the charger. What a great week that was. The musical instruments were resumed, the real dog was walked, the argument quotient in the house calmed down.

Then we found the charger again. The children wept with joy. “You’d better behave with it this time,” I warned. “Otherwise…”

“Yeah, yeah,” they shouted, skipping off happily. How long did that last? How long do you think - 20 minutes, tops.

I’ll admit, the Nintendo had its uses. I managed to achieve a longheld aim of getting a short haircut for Phoebe via the simple tactic of allowing her to take the Nintendo to the hairdresser’s.

She was so engrossed that she failed to notice the flashing blades and ended up with a wonderfully short crop.

Having a Nintendo to hand is also jolly useful when you are on a train with a child and want to read a book, write a letter or call the office.

Hand over the Nintendo and without any effort, you have a window of about two hours of peace, with your child doing something quietly constructive.

Except, it’s not. What is constructive about playing football on a tiny screen, or washing a virtual dog, or watching a hideous pink pony trot around a pink palace decorated with shells?

Fighting to get onto the machine was bad enough, but it was worse when they were forcibly dragged from it.

Our Nintendo had taken the guise of a small but toxic drug which, little by little, was poisoning my children.

When they had had their fix, they were even more frustrated and discontented than before.

Interestingly, Dr Susan Greenfield, writing last weekend in the press, seems to suggest the same thing.

A specialist in brain degeneration, Dr Greenfield has a new book out which predicts that young people are headed for a mass loss of personal identity, thanks to the amount of time they spend in the interactive realms of things like Nintendo.

“The time is well nigh,” she said, “to explore the impact of these technologies.”

Well, I don’t want to explore the impact any more. I know what the impact is on my children.

I have first-hand evidence that using a Nintendo turns my delightful, curious and funny children into argumentative demons full of aggression, wholly uninterested in anything apart from playing, and then playing some more.

At the same time that all the children started crying and yelling before breakfast, I spotted Phoebe’s cello and I realised that she had not got it out of its case all week.

Yet she had notched up probably around eight hours on the Nintendo. There and then, I made my mind up. The Nintendo had to go, and to hell with my children ‘fitting in’.

But how to get rid of it? I mused on the idea of giving it to my sister, a mother-of-five, but rejected that on the grounds of child cruelty.

I considered selling it on eBay, but rejected that on the grounds that I didn’t want to waste any more of my energy on the hideous thing.

In the end, last week, I walked into my local branch of Cancer Research UK and gave it away.

“Would you like this Nintendo?” I said. “In perfect condition, with a bundle of 20 games. Plus charger.”

The lady behind the counter smiled broadly. “What a fantastic gift,” she said.

I returned to stunned disbelief from the children - “You did what?” - and floods of real tears.

Since then, however, our domestic life has been transformed.

The children have swung back into their old habits of reading, playing the violin, walking the dog, occasionally fighting, cooking and making things.

Do they mourn for the lost screen-based world of the Nintendo? Actually, I think they’ve forgotten all about it.

The very fact that she's writing an article to even blame her childrens' behavior on the device makes her look bad. As a parent, she can't teach her children to share and so she writes an article to the whole world to read, on how it's the Nintendo DS' fault. How irresponsible is that?

She makes me think of those Moms who blame video games when their son goes into a school and kills 14 people, instead of blaming their son. Nice parenting, Rosie. Your kids learned a valuable lesson today: next time they do something wrong in life, they should blame anyone or anything but themselves.

[Daily Mail Via Pocket Gamer]


Johnny Wadd said...

If you have 4 kids and you buy one bicycle there are bound to be problems. Poor decision by a parent right from the start.

Anonymous said...

Tonight we have no more ds lite in our home.

We bought my 10 yr old son one for christmas.
this A student who tests top of his class.
He is a joy to be around and a great son.

After getting this unit and games he could not play the game and be the same person after playing. It seemed his brain could not calm back down for hours. He would become very argumentative and just a real struggle to be around.

We took the game away after getting called by the teacher.

his grades went right back up after taking it away.
His behavoir within a week changed back to our wonderful son.

Today for his birthday he was given 6 new games by out of state granparents. We decided to let him play the new educational games for a try. three days later we are back to the same old thing.
Tonight after a big situatin we talked to him and let him know that the Ds is gone for good.
He agrees that it makes him feel anxious after playing.

Also.. my son's friend (who's mom still lets him play all the time ) is failing this school year.

I think some kids brains dont come off the play mode well and stay in that hyper mode after the game is over.

Faith said...

So what did you do to help he learn to handle playing videogames other than just taking the system away?

Don't you think it's better to help your child deal with things that cause him to get hyper by teaching him to play normal with them, instead of just removing the cause all the time.

How is your child going to cope when you're not around to remove the cause of his acting out?