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Why I Hate My Son's Xbox
A year ago, my son (ten at the time) received the ultimate Christmas gift - an Xbox 360. In his eyes, this was the to-die-for console - all of his friends had one (an only slightly over-exaggarated statement) and if he did not join the throngs of Xbox gamers then life was not worth living.
Of course, he was just dramatising in the hope of getting a result - and on this occasion, the much desired gift came his way, wrapped up and hidden under the tree on Christmas Day 2010. I loved seeing his excited, exhuberant face as he ripped off the paper. It really was a surprise, because he had been told that he couldn't have it. But I was glad we had bought it for him, because sometimes it's nice to indulge the children (especially at Christmas) and it made him very happy. However, the longer the Xbox resides in our house, the more my dislike for it grows.
Better in the Family Room
The problem was not quite so bad in the early days. Before he acquired the Xbox, we already had a Wii, and it was not too much of an invasion into family life. The Wii was kept in the family living room, connected to our only television, and time spent playing games was limited to around an hour or two. When the time was up, I asked him to turn it off. If he didn't turn it off, I did it for him. Then he would go off and find something else to do. Games played in the living room are easily supervised. I didn't, however, face too much resistance - those were the rules and that was how it was.
So, when we first set up his much-desired Xbox, it was also connected to the downstairs television. After the initial indulgence of a new Christmas gift, play was limited to a specified amount of time, just as before. Life with the Xbox in the house continued in a fairly blissful manner - my son loved the current Fifa football game and it all seemed like harmless entertainment. His little brother, two at the time, used to sit and watch him and everyone was happy.
Grumpy and Obsessed
Only a year later, however, my son is no longer a boy who can play a computer game and then go off and do something else. Instead, he has become a child so obsessed with the Xbox that I would hardly be surprised if it sucked him away into a parallel online universe never to return. Asking him to abandon his game now results in a very grumpy attitude and an argument over the unfairness of it all. Sometimes I really think he would make an excellent politician - after all, he never backs down and he certainly knows how to hold his corner. Apparently, every other 11 year old in the entire world is allowed to play violent Xbox games 24 hours a day. We are 'weird' parents for trying to stand in his way. Apparently, we cannot relate to his excessive passion for the Xbox because we are from another era where life was cruel and no one had anything to do. It is now perfectly normal to want to spend every waking moment 'plugged in' to a device with a screen and only parents who go along with this are 'cool'.
Why Did it Change?
So, why did it all change? I am sure, without a shadow of doubt, that my hatred of the Xbox began when we bought him a television for his bedroom last May. So it is all our own fault, then? Maybe so - after all, we are the parents. We should have stuck to the old arrangement of games consoles in the family living area. It definitely is the best way.
But my son is growing up. He doesn't want to play Fifa all the time - typically, older boys do tend to enjoy games which require a certain level of shooting and death. You can buy quite realistic shooting games designed for age 12 upwards (some of the Bond games are advertised as 12+ and don't look much diffferent to the more mature titles). I didn't think it was necessarily fair to deny him, even if I am a woman who does not like violence. The main swaying point for us was the presence of his little brother. I knew without question that I did not want him to be a spectator of these older, unsuitable games.
That was why our older son was allowed to have his own television, together with the fact that he liked having friends round and they needed their own space (as did we). We have just moved, but our old house was very small and we were all on top of one another when anybody visited.
Televisions in Rooms and Headsets - Beginnings of a Slippery Slope...
The presence of a television in my son's bedroom made policing the Xbox much more difficult. Almost immediately, he seemed to think that every single spare moment in life was an opportunity to disppear into his virtual world. He would even pretend to be reading a book when in reality he most definitely was not. However the television - although obviously a key part of the problem - was not the only offender. It has a partner in crime that works alongside it to further corrupt my son - and it is called Xbox Live (together with a headset).
Over the past few months, experience has shown me that Xbox Live is, for 11 year old boys, the new Going Out. When my son wakes up on weekend mornings, he does not think about going to the park for a kick about. In fact, he does not consider the outside world at all (or even the downstairs world). He thinks instead about checking online to see how many of his friends are already plugged in. He does like to meet up with his friends a lot, but only to play Xbox. He invites a friend round to the house and they immediately rush upstairs to turn it on. When I suggest (sometimes insist), after a couple of hours, that they do something else, they look dumbfounded and are completely unable to think of an alternative. His friends are just as bad as he is - and sometimes even worse. Granted, in the summer, they might play football for a bit - but then they will return after a while, 'hot and tired' and ready to play Xbox. Even if I deny them, they sneak upstairs and do it anyway. The Xbox really is the bane of our lives.
Loss of Passion and Creativity
I don't think there is anything really wrong in playing on a games console, as long as it can be done it moderation. However, it seems, in our house (and the houses of most of his friends) that 'moderation' is a concept to be fought and battled against from all angles. I would just like to state, at this point, that an Xbox belonging to one of his friends came to an abrupt end when a very exasperated parent threw it down the stairs and beat it with a pitchfork. This is obviously not the ideal solution, but I must admit that it has, at times, seemed wonderfully appealing, especially in the heat of the moment. For me, the most worrying part of this Xbox obsession is my son's increasing inability to use his imagination and creativity to pursue other interests. When I insist that he comes off a game, he starts talking about it instead - it is never erased entirely from his thought patterns.
I recall that, at a similar age to him, I used to enjoy sketching pictures and writing stories. I am quite creative and writing is my passion - my son is his own person and I do not expect him to be just like me. He doesn't like writing. But playing computer games does, in the end, bring little to life. It is not soul-enriching, it is not creative and it does not broaden the mind. A computer game, played on any platform, is nothing more than a product of someone elses' creativity. That is fine, up to a point (and for a bit of light entertainment), but when it begins to replace other aspects of your child's character then I believe it to be a problem.
Real self-fulfilment surely comes from following one's true passions and interests and achieving small goals in life. Sport, creative arts, exploring nature, musical pursuits - all of these can inspire a child and aid their development as they grow towards adult life into an interesting and hopefully well balanced individual. I have many memories of time spent pursuing hobbies that I really cared about; of making up games to play outside with friends and of creating my own projects when no one else was about. When I was young, children seemed to know how to come up with an idea and to bring about its reality - this is most definitely something missing from the life of my son and almost all of his friends. When the Xbox is turned off, instant boredom grips them like a painful disease. I suppose I should be thankful that he still likes reading.
Don't get me wrong - I am not the kind of parent who will allow my son to spend all day playing Xbox games. I can and do turn it off myself when my requests to stop playing are conveniently ignored. I frequently resort to turning off the Wi-Fi connection downstairs, to angry protests, which puts a stop to any socialising on Xbox Live. When I have really had enough, I hide all of the controls - in the tumble dryer amongst the washing (not when it is on!), in drawers, in the kitchen cupboards with the saucepans - I will put them anywhere. I confiscate them for a time I see fit, if I really feel tried and tested, though I have fallen short of getting rid of it altogether. He learns his lesson for a short while, promising exemplary behaviour upon its return. But then it starts again. And, of course, when there is no Xbox available in his own house, he goes off to someone else's to play there instead. It truly is a problem compounded by the society we now live in because, unless we move to somewhere in the middle of nowhere, there will always be an Xbox close by.
Peer Pressure and a Desire to 'Fit In'.
I know for a fact that my son's exasperating behaviour regarding the Xbox is not exactly unusual. In fact, the vast majority of his school friends behave in a similar fashion. There is little doubt that our society has changed considerably since the childhoods of many (if not most) of today's parents. Electronic entertainment has become the norm (girls might not be so taken with console games, but they definitely gravitate towards social mediums like Facebook). When you are not a parent it is very easy to draw conclusions - in reality, today's parents face an uphill battle against peer pressure, accessibility to technology, creating balances and to society in general. To own the 'in' game and to be able to play it online with friends initiates a child into a kind of 'online club'. For many children, a desire to 'fit in' and to be seen to be like 'everyone else' is the single most important aspect of school life, especially once they begin secondary education. Hasn't it always been like that? It certainly was in my day, even if the posts were different. Last year, my son enjoyed collecting and painting Warhammer, then learning how to play at the local Games Workshop. Now that he has begun secondary school, however, he tells me that everyone thinks only 'nerds play Warhammer'.
But, whilst most parents want their children to be happy and to be able to join in activities with their friends, there is no doubt that the world of Xbox has become far too prominent in the lives of many young people. When we allowed our son to spend his birthday money on Xbox Live and the accompanying headset, we did not realise the extent to which he would become totally obsessed. In fact, from the very beginning we set certain ground rules about how much time would be allocated for such activities. He is absolutely not allowed to do whatever he likes, but as he gets older he pushes the boundaries more and more. Sometimes I feel disappointed, because I know that his childhood is different from mine (not so much when he was younger, but as he has gained more independence) and that we enjoyed many activities that he and his friends just don't seem interested in today. We wanted to explore the world - he just seems interested in the 'virtual world'. Loss of imagination, creativity, inspiration and motivation, as well as the ability to concentrate for long periods of time on other pursuits - these are all problems that I could easily blame on the Xbox. If you met my son, you would think he was a perfectly ordinary, polite child capable of social interaction, humour and intellectual thought. Thankfully, he is still all of these things, but that doesn't mean that I wouldn't like to erase the Xbox 360 from the face of this earth. At least he still likes reading....and swimming....