Tuesday at the Park: A Lesson

Ellie and I met a very sweet little boy at the park today, who I’ll call “James.” He climbed on the merry-go-round with us and promptly informed us that he was 4, but “I be 5 on my next birf-day.” My daughter is 2 and 1/2, and he seemed very kind to her.

Later, I saw him playing with a group of mostly older boys, probably aged 5 – 8. (It’s Spring Break here.) They were dividing into teams for some game when I heard James explain to an older boy: “No! You only get 1 shot wif a sniper [rifle]. I had RPG [rocket-propelled grenade launcher] so I got you.”

James is 4, not quite able to take the stairs to the slide without still half-crawling up them, and must have so much experience with first-person shooter or battle royale games that he can educate other kids on the finer points of military weapons. To be honest, I was dumbfounded, though maybe in this day and age I shouldn’t be.

This is a commentary about parenting, not politics or guns or video games. James didn’t toddle into GameStop on his own and plunk down $50 in quarters from his piggy bank for Fortnite or Call of Duty: Black Ops 4. Somewhere there’s a parent – perhaps tired, or stressed, or overworked, but a parent nonetheless – who not only allows him to play such games but facilitates his doing so.

Here’s the thing – it’s not the parent who will pay the price. It’s the little boy. At best, young James will spend too much time in front of a screen while his motor skills and neurological development may suffer. At worst, he grows up with a really twisted sense about the value of human life, a numbness to graphic violence and hyper-aggressive tendencies. The reality will probably fall somewhere in between.

I’m not saying I don’t play violent video games – I do. (I’ve actually been working on a lengthy post about my positive experiences with video games, which feels like it ought to be shelved for the time being.) And 8-year-old me cheered on Christmas morning 1992 when I unwrapped my own first video game system: the SNES, in all its 16-bit glory. But it’s undeniable there’s a difference between Super Mario Brothers 3 and Call of Duty.

Super Mario Brothers 3 gameplay (1990)


Call of Duty: Black Ops 4 gameplay (2018)

I don’t have a point to this post. There’s no moral message other than heartbreak for this kid and the literally millions like him. And, I suppose, a request to all my friends who have become parents of their own young children: go give ’em a hug. Spend time with them. Go outside. Few people get the wonderful opportunity I have to be a full-time dad, I know that, but the best parent I’ve ever met is a working mom. Ellie loves nothing more than seeing her walk in the door every night.

As for us, Ellie and I will be back at the park tomorrow. We’ve got some make-believing to do.

1 Comment

  1. Congrats on Arthur – I enjoyed it.
    As for this post – yes there is a point – it’s to think about what your ‘convenience’ is teaching/telling your children about their worth and about life.

    My advice – Attach your daughter (and any other children you may have) to Your life – that includes taking out the garbage, doing the shopping, raking leaves, …and do it without making everything a treat for her. She’ll learn more that way about how to take All of life in her stride.
    Did that with my kids – I ran a market stall selling plants that we also took to fairs – steam fairs, country fairs. The boys always asked to go on this ride or play hook the duck or some game — and the litany was “We’re here to make money, not to spend it.”
    In addition to spending time with their father in his workshop or delivering the products made or repaired therein – and after a year or two of me dragging my boys with me as a matter of course and them learning how to occupy themselves (before the DS came out) while I was “working” – we’d finally succeeded in earning enough to have a vacation.
    So we get to some tiny, local “entry fee” attraction place (ball pool, slides, 10 pin bowling, air hockey, maze, zip line…) – but the go carts were separate – and the boys asked and their father said “We’re here to spend money, not to make it”.
    Took the older one three steps to realise the words were in a different order. … talk about joy! It made it so much more special – for all of us.
    The boys are STILL discovering what they learned from those years. Granted, not all of it sat well, but even those ‘downsides’ have taught them something they value now.
    Also, because we involved them in OUR lives and likes – they have a much broader taste in music…and tv…and books….and they have learned an interest in learning. MORE.

    WE know our children are the center of our lives. But THEY need to learn there is more to life than just them.


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