Monday, March 31, 2008

We Don't Need No Stinkin' (Electronic) Toys

A few weeks ago, the owner of a beautiful Norhaven powerboat in our marina ordered a minion over to dump every personal good onto the dock in the name of a remodel. The worth of this nautical trash was roughly that of the annual GDP of a mid-sized Caribbean island. Fortunately, the minion could not bear to see this haul simply dumped into the garbage and hauled off to a land fill. He asked and received permission to leave the entire lot next to the dumpster for a day to let the seagulls and liveaboards scavenge.

We carted off at least a thousand dollars worth of additional stuff to sink our boat. Among the prizes were a dozen really nice plastic containers, four fishing rods complete with reels, and two Canon Powershot cameras including one underwater case. For the girls, the biggest prize was two Nintendo Gameboys.

To put this treasure in perspective, it is important to note that the girls do not have any game boxes, cubes, computers, or hand helds. Our only computer games are of the Jump Start/Chessmaster variety. It's not that Dr C and I are morally, ethically or religiously opposed to video games. In fact, the girls and I played World of Warcraft for a year with the consistency and dedication of novitiates in a nunnery. While Aeron only managed a level 14 priest, Jaime was up in the 40s hunter and I had a mid-60 shaman before boredom set in.*

We simply do not have the money. We do not have the space. And, it turns out, we do not have the inclination. For two days, the girls did nothing but play with those Gameboys. Actually, they did one other thing – they argued over whose turn it was to play with the Gameboy since we only found two and mathematically it just wasn't working out.

And then the arguing stopped. In fact, the Gameboys stopped. They didn't stop functioning... I actually tested one to make sure. No, they simply stopped using them. One got kicked under a seat, the other was lost in Jaime's capacious purse. No one cared. Now, I'll occasionally see one of them pull out a pair of headphones and start messing around with a controller, but for the most part, the Gameboy phase is officially over.

Which totally justifies my refusal to buy these things. The girls have never grown out of the mode wherein the packaging has more entertainment value than the present.

The behavioral arc with television is roughly the same. The day they show up at their grandparents, it is impossible to extricate them from the TV. They are stuck to it like starfish to a dock piling, all eight arms wrapped around the device with super glue strength. You can pry off one long arm with a wrench and a champagne cork pop only to find all previously detached limbs whipping around the base with renewed force.

So I don't even try. Because after about 48 hours of this, the girls get bored. They drift out of the TV room with glazed eyes and drool on their chins, grab a handful of Oreo cookies, and disappear outside. For the rest of the visit, they may be found watching a Disney channel movie or Nic @ Nite for a few hours before bedtime, but largely the cable industry has lost its hold on my children.

Attack of the Thing
Attack of the Thing
Originally uploaded by toastfloats.
The power of electronic toys to take over the intellectual lives of our selves and our children can be broken – and broken permanently. Remove them from your life but do not make them forbidden. Simply don't buy them. Don't bring them into the house. When the kids get access, they will play for awhile with this otherwise inaccessible distraction. But video games, Disney reruns, and the Wii are simply not as fun as play. Nothing, in fact, is as fun as play.

And you can't really play with something that doesn't play back. We don' need no stinkin' electronic toys. Just give us the real thing, two hours of parental neglect, and a handful of like-minded kids. Welcome to the next level.

* Of course, all Horde. I'm surprised you'd have to ask.


Anonymous said...

I have not read all of your older posts. I am just starting to read some.
In our household, about the only video games that the kids paly are also Jumpstart and a couple of similar games to that.
I firmly in what you are saying about video games. They are toys made for one purpose and one purpose only. The imaginations of kids take a seemingly inanimate object and turn it into wonderful things from lands far away today and tomorrow it will be a completely different thing.

twenty four seven toys said...

Give a kid a new toy almost any toy and chances are, you've got a happy kid. Young children generally aren't fussy when it comes to baby toys and kids toys, but parents should be.