by Risa Green
Quote me on this: videogames are the source of all family friction.
I am a hard ass when it comes to videogames. I never gave in to the DS, no matter how much my children begged and cried, nor how many times it showed up on Hanukkah and birthday lists. We have a Wii, but playing is only allowed on weekends and school holidays. Last year, when my husband and I updated our iPhones, we gave our kids our old iPhones (without the phone part) to use for the apps – a sort of makeshift iTouch – but with the stipulation that they could only use them when we went on vacation. The rest of the year, the iPhones are hidden in a secret place in my closet that they’ll never find, no matter how much they snoop around.
I made these rules for the usual reasons: I don’t want my kids sitting in front of screens all day, exercising only their fingers. I think that videogames at the dinner table is rude. I like to talk to my kids when we’re in the car, not be ignored by them while they sink into an Angry Birds coma. Occasionally, of course, I’ll break the rules. If there’s a no homework night I might let them use the Wii, or I might toss them my phone to play on if there’s an unreasonably long wait at a restaurant. But most of the time, I pretty much stick to the program.
The program, however, went all to hell during the last two weeks, while my children, Hellraiser 1 and Hellraiser 2, have been on spring break. Suddenly, the Wii became fair game. My son would disappear for hours to play Lego Star Wars or Lego Indiana Jones, surfacing only for meals and the occasional bath. My daughter would sometimes play with him, or she’d sit on the couch, mesmerized, watching him. Mostly, though, she’d be screaming at him that it was HER TURN, waving the Dance Dance Revolution mat in her hands like a matador in a bullfight. And then I would come in yelling at her to stop yelling at him, and yelling at him to go outside and DO SOMETHING REAL for a change, and then they would yell at me because it’s spring break and they’re allowed to play whenever they want on weekends and holidays, and then I’d threaten to throw the thing in the trash while they ran up to their rooms, crying about how unfair their lives are. And then I’d give them the standard, parental guilt trip about how there are some kids who have no toys, and who have to make toys out of sticks and twigs, and I could easily arrange for them to go live with those kids. Permanently.
After three days of Wii-induced family friction, we took our poor, video-game deprived children on vacation. They were so excited they could barely contain themselves. Not because we were going to play on a beach for six days, but because they couldn’t wait to bust out the iPhones. As we got into the car to go the airport, my son asked if the car ride to the airport counted as vacation. Feeling generous, I said it did. Twenty seconds later, the fighting began. A little background here: the last time we went on vacation, I discovered that my daughter’s phone wasn’t working properly. I took it to the Apple store and the genius guy said it needed to be reset. So I reset it, not realizing that in doing so, all of my daughter’s progress in Angry Birds, Fruit Ninjas and Trees of Doom would be lost. Well. When I was in college my computer crashed and I lost a thirty page final paper the day before it was due, and my tears were NOTHING compared to what my daughter was able to produce. You’d have thought she lost her first born or something. Anyway, the point is, she was significantly ahead of her little brother in all of these games at one point, and the fact that she was now lagging seriously behind him was more than her competitive little brain could handle. Especially when he felt the need to update us, every thirty seconds, as to how much farther ahead of her he was.
By the second day of our vacation, the fighting was becoming unbearable. He’s hurting my feelings every time he gets excited about beating a level that I haven’t beaten. She’s being mean and she won’t help me beat a level because she doesn’t want me to be ahead of her. Not to mention the fact that we were in paradise, and all my kids wanted to do all day was sit on lounge chairs and slice little pieces of digital fruit on a tiny screen. Finally, we took them away. No more phones until we got on the airplane to go home. There was sulking and pouting and crying, but eventually, they got over it, and we ended up having a lovely trip. Without any fighting.
My son, however, just had one question for me. When are we allowed to go in the hotel game room?