Electronic gaming has ended. At our house, at least. Our son, 11, decided that gaming on his Sony Play Station 3 was a waste of time that did not move him toward his goals, so he sold it. He sees those goals as follows: win a medal at the Shotokan Karate junior national championships this summer, go on to an excellent career in middle school, possibly pursue Junior ROTC in high school, and then have a career in some aspect of engineering and defending the country (assuming the culture is worth defending then). As we were just at the beach for spring break, he also told me that one day he envisions proposing to his future bride while walking on that very beach at sunset.
This entire cascade derives from a single event: one night he snuck an old smartphone I gave him into bed and was watching YouTube videos on how to perfect his “Clash of Clan” strategies. For this violation of a cardinal rule—no electronic devices in his bedroom—I took all of them away. It took him less than a week to realize he was different and our relationship with him was different. He was more attentive, more engaged, got in trouble less at school (he’s an excellent student, but was a bit too chatty…usually about gaming). He was also more interested in physical instead of electronic. Game time rapidly became time perfecting karate techniques, shooting baskets in the driveway, and returning to his skateboards.
Personal discipline and the capacity to endure rigors (externally or internally imposed) because they are good for you (and, thus, broadly beneficial) are learned skills. So, too, is the art of visualizing your future and devising a strategy to walk a particular path in life because you can discern the value of making hard, even unpopular choices, that may leave others aghast. Amongst our friends and neighbors, kids are appalled a peer would sell his game console instead of wheedling for an upgrade. The parents want to know our secret. Our secret is simple: we practice what we preach.
Less Gaming, More Conversation
The absence of cable or satellite TV means we spend a lot of time talking to one another. It’s also the surest way to clamp the in-flow of the detritus that is contemporary American culture. Our son asks questions about the things he and his friends talk about, and the conversations let us put things into contexts he relates to. Major news events, such as the upheaval in St. Louis’ Ferguson community, we introduce to him proactively, rather than letting him hear about them first or only from others, especially the mainstream media.
More than anything else, the absence of gaming is making him more self-reliant and confident is his ability to navigate circumstances on his own. He certainly realizes now that having a cast of virtual friends is not nearly as enriching or interesting as the strength of his friendships with his parents, actual kids, and their parents, as well.
Personal responsibility is a value that requires introspection and inculcation, not through grand lessons and lectures, but through the daily completion of one’s appointed rounds, so to speak. We exercise daily; he plays, practices, or exercises daily. We enjoy music; he’s learning the violin. We minimize the background noise in our lives and say no to commitments we deem intrusive or excessive; he’s making choices and saying no to things that don’t add value. We grocery shop together, and we eat together. Between us, my wife and I earned five academic degrees (arising from paycheck-to-paycheck households), and paid all our loans off early. He’s just been placed in challenge courses (the precursor to high school Advanced Placement) in the four major middle school categories of science, math, history, and language arts. For this unexpected surprise, he earned a substantial cash bonus.
Kids Follow Examples, Not Advice
The Play Station sold after about two weeks on the market (entrepreneurship being another of our family values), although for much less than he expected considering the package included several popular games and extra controllers. That’s the lesson you learn when you are competing on price with the local Walmart. Nonetheless, he divided his gains across saving, spending (a new skateboard and wrist guards), and a donation to his favorite local charity, The Humane Society.
I am dispirited by how so many conservatives talk a good game about values, but don’t live them. Talking about the values of marriage, family, education, honesty, integrity, personal (physical and emotional) strength, and compassion is far less persuasive and attractive than simply living them. But, living them is hard and, Lord knows, talk is easy, cheap, and abundant.
I refuse to raise and release into the world a blank sheet of paper on whom others will simply imprint their views and expect him to follow. To paraphrase Kierkegaard, truth and strength belong to the one who is willing to stand alone, because the gang’s opinions offer only the illusion of comfort. For the culture’s future, we should all remember it’s far more likely that, over the long term, our kids will follow our example more than they follow our advice. What kind of example are you providing?