My 4-year-old boy was crawl-running up the stairs with a DVD-size box in his hand, which he triumphantly raised above his head like a wise baboon announcing a new lion prince. Except it wasn’t a DVD; it was a Spiderman video game.
I smiled, probably, but my eyes shot scolding hot daggers at my husband, who was slowly climbing the steps. Daggers encoded with a message: WHAT HAVE YOU DONE?
A video game? You allow him to waltz in here with a Spider-freaking-man video game? After we just discussed not wanting him to play them yet? What happened to our conversation about getting him away from a screen? You know how I feel about kids and video games! Bbhbjdfbjhdf!!!!
(It was only a look, but he got it. Clear.)
And yet here we are, a year later, and my son and husband are parked on the couch playing the Christmas gift to end all Christmas gifts: Disney Infinity. And it was my idea to buy it for him.
Not because I went soft or abandoned my principles — quite the opposite, in fact. It’s because I’ve watched him navigate new apps and video game levels with a quickness, a sharpness, and with developing skills that I never knew he could have at this age.
I’ve watched the incredible hand-eye coordination it takes for him to guide Sonic over and under and around the iPad, collecting rings and initiating secret short-cuts that he instinctively knew without any direction or even reading skills. And speaking of reading skills, I’ve also watched as he picks up on more sight words — sounding out and memorizing words because he has to learn them to get through the game. (You know how they say the best way to learn a language is to immerse yourself in a culture where you have to learn the language to eat and live? It’s kind of like that.) Of course he’s picking up on reading skills in a multitude of ways, but I’d be lying if I said video games isn’t a contributing component.
While he still whines for me to help him tie his shoes and make him food, he displays determination and self-sufficiency while playing a game. He doesn’t need us to tell him what to do, or which buttons to press, or anything you might expect. Put a controller in his hand and he’ll figure it out on his own. (And then teach us.) When I play with him, the controller feels clunky and the movements are spastic, yet he controls his virtual world with a fluidity and natural ease that is nothing if not instinctual. He’s only 4 years old, but he’s feeling passion, pride, and accomplishment. He’s learning that the more you do something, the better you get.
And more than that, he’s learning the language of the future. Technology isn’t slowing down, and so why shield him from skills he might need in school, work, and life? He’s interacting and influencing technology from a very young age — an age that naturally turns new languages into fluency. Looking to the future, it might not be so bad to be fluent in technology speak.
That’s not to say all video games are welcome here. You know that initial Spiderman video game? The game that launched an obsession? That was quickly tossed once a gang of thugs circled Spiderman with handguns. (NOPE! See ya, Spidey.) We’ve done the research to find kid-friendly introductions to the world of gaming. No first-person shooter games allowed here. No violence or gore or virtual prostitutes. Just a little exploration into the world of gaming with some daddy-son bonding.
Just a little exploration into something that interests him, as much as it bores me. And who are we to tell him he can’t explore his interests?
Maybe one day he’ll channel his competitive energy into sports, or his self-determination into creating art. And that’ll be great.
Or maybe he’ll continue to develop his interest in technology and gaming, and he can tell the world that it all started when his dad said “yes” and bought him a video game.