I recently attended a two-day event for bloggers sponsored by Build-A-Bear Workshop. The purpose of the event was two-fold; they provided great content and ideas for the bloggers in attendance while we provided some feedback for them on their product line.
One of the sessions was on cyber-safety for kids, and the statistic thrown out was that kids spend an average of 10,000 hours on computer games and internet activity by the time they graduate high school, which is roughly the same amount of time they spend attending school.
When I heard this all I could think was, "Parents, where are you?"
Jess Dager and her husband, Ben, are collegiate Navigator staff in Illinois. She recently wrote a blog post on their experiences with college guys who are, in fact, addicted to gaming. She wrote:
"When we walk through dorms these days we are bombarded by young men in coma-like trances playing video and or computer games for literally DAYS on end - no eating, no sleeping, no speaking… just mind numbing gaming… Most students will say they've been gaming since they were very young. Of course, at first they played "harmless" games like football and Super Mario brothers - then slowly moved on to more mature games - but by then parents had usually stopped supervising the media intake… College students addicted to gaming, who can choose to play day in and day out, do just that. They skip class. They skip life."
When I read that, all I could think was, "Parents, where are you?"
As much as it sounds like common sense, the view of limiting our kids' computer/internet/x-box/whathaveyou time is one that is in the clear minority.
In the July 12 Time, Nancy Gibbs makes her case for keeping out of our kids cyber lives. She wrote:
"Most of us were probably less than immaculately honest as teenagers; it's practically encoded into adolescence that you savor your secrets, dress in disguise, carve out some space for experiments and accidents and all the combustible lab work of becoming who you are.
"So let us praise dirt. And sneakiness. And normal youthful messmaking. Let us even praise the very tools and technologies that make us crazy. Thanks to Facebook and its nutty quizzes, I know that my mysterious older daughter, if asked, What kind of candy are you?, is a Hershey bar; she is also the goddess Artemis, Elmo, a poppy ('childlike and carefree'), a double-neck guitar and a chocolate Lab; her eyes say she's happy even when she's not; she should be living in the Middle Ages and has a shy, melon-colored personality. These are not things I would ever have thought to ask, or that she would ever tell me. But she and the laptop have a very trusting relationship."
I fully get that many parents don't have much of a relationship with their adolescent kids.
I also understand that kids share more about themselves online than they do in person and that's the way many parents find out anything at all about their kids.
But I submit that if your only real knowledge of your kids is what kind of candy bar their personality most resembles, you don't really know your child.
My kids are still on the youngish side, but even with my oldest being 11, I've discovered that if I show interest and intention in her in any way at all, she responds. I can take her out for hot chocolate and ask her about her thoughts on life and she tells me. She asks me questions too and we have a conversation. Through the art of face-to-face communication and relating I am finding out who my daughter is and who she is on the verge of becoming.
I do not want to lose that to 10,000 hours of a plugged-in form of relating, or worse---zoned out gaming.
I know there could come a day when I have a conversation with my daughter via texting or some other form of electronic communication. We may even one day play electronic games together. But if the only relating we do together is that of a plugged-in/cyber kind, I believe I will have failed as a parent.