Sunday, 11 March 2012

DS dilemma: If your child loves computer games does that make you a bad mother?

According to CBeebies and the Boden catalogue, children are always mucking about outside, picking vegetables and making recycled rain catchers with plastic bottles and wooden spoons.

But for my square-eyed four-year-old, life revolves around one thing, and one thing only - his friend's Super Mario game.

Here is an (edited) example of what I have to listen to every day.

"Mummy, when you get the coins and it goes really big and then there's Donkey Kong and Princess Peach...but Mummy, Mummy – let me show you – there's the FIREBALL game and you get the fireballs and then you winned (sic) but the balloons will make you DIE."

Now, don't get me wrong, occasionally he stops thinking about Mario long enough to read books and play with toys and draw pictures and dance around the kitchen. He's a smart boy (most of the time), and doing great at nursery.

But I suspect that if you gave him an MRI scan, his brain would have a moustache and be wearing a little red cap with 'M' written on it.
I blame his dad. Well, I blame his dad for everything anyway, so it seems fitting that I should also blame him for our son's burgeoning computer game obsession. My husband was born with a joystick in his hand, (if you'll pardon the expression), and secretly loves the fact that our boy can navigate an expert path around the Marioland racetrack.

He thinks it's a life skill. I think it's a waste of time and that my child should be making an organic pirate ship out of twigs while wearing a jaunty Boden hoodie with stars on it.

Still, like most mothers, I'm also a hypocrite. When my son is round at his friend's house next door, playing Super Mario Kart on the Wii or tinkering around on their DSS, I LOVE IT.

It frees me up to sit in the kitchen and drink G&Ts and talk about pelvic floors and Masterchef. There's nothing better than knowing that my child is happily occupied, with a limited chance of a tantrum or whining attack.

Then there's his unbridled joy. He loves Mario. And he loves his friend, who he plays Mario with. Once I came into the room and they were playing a game. When they finished they gazed at each other and said "I love playing Mario with you" and kissed each other.

OK, so maybe he'll be telling that to his therapist later in life, but he's happy, so why not? But still I can't stop worrying. What about his brain? Will he grow up thinking that when he walks along the street coins will fall out of the sky? Will real life seem like one big monochrome bore?

And sometimes, it's all he wants to do, and I have to be exhaustingly strict. Suggest painting or Lego and it's "I want to play a game". Sometimes, when he's in this mode, (ie, tired and grumpy) rallying him to do something different is hard.

So when my husband came home the other week with a DS for our son's birthday present, I went ballistic. You could say he was in danger of losing a life, or at the very least getting zapped by a fireball in his plumber's dungarees. "What did you do that for?" I screamed.

After a torturous hour, the truth came out. HE wanted to play Mario, too.
So I'm a real dilemma. Give into my middle class parenting fantasies or give my boy(s) what they really want? I asked around to see what other mothers think. Are they all out in the forest with their charming, grubby-kneed offspring, naming species of wildflowers and building forts? Er, no.
"At least the DS keeps them quiet, " one said. "I have to ration it, because after a while it makes them grumpy, but they all love it," said my friend, a mother of three.

"My boy is a screen addict, and from time to time I think, 'Oh God, he doesn't do anything else'," said another. "But mostly I think it seems to be a common phenomenon and I'm not going to sweat it. And 'no computer for you' works as a great punishment.

"Anyway," she added. "If anyone tried to stop my TV viewing to go for a lovely walk or make a collage, I'd have a major tantrum too."

True enough. Inevitably then, the DS will be unveiled on his fifth birthday, to a chorus of delighted oohs, ahhs and 'Mamma Mias'.
I figure as long as we take him to football and swimming and hug him and feed him as well, he won't turn into an unfeeling robot psychopath.
And when he's busy in Marioland, I will put my feet up and have a G&T. Game over.

Does this sound like you? Are you happy if your children are happy playing computer games (and giving you some time off)? Or do you feel guilty?

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