In the home that I grew up in, we were limited in the amount of time we could watch TV. My mom hated seeing her children sitting on the couch watching TV. It was common for her to come into the family room unannounced, walk over to the TV, and shut it off. This frequently happened while we were in the middle of a show. After turning off the TV, Mom would order us to go outside and play.
It was a well-known fact in the family neighborhood where I grew up that if we sat down to watch a TV show at my parents’ house, there was a good chance that we wouldn’t be able to finish the show. So instead of watching TV at home, we went to one of our cousin’s homes to watch our favorite TV shows. One of those homes was where my cousin Mark Miller lived.
Mark’s mom, Marlene Miller, was one of my dad’s younger sisters. She wasn’t as bad as my mom, but she was close. She ordinarily allowed us to watch one show, then she would kick us out of her house. She had her own name for the TV — the “boob tube.” I can hear her voice right now in my mind, “Turn off that boob tube and go outside and play!” If we didn’t do what she told us to do, she did the same thing my mom did — walked into the living room, turned off the TV, and ordered us to go outside.
At that time, we all knew what it meant to be a “boob.” If someone called you a boob, it meant that you were a stupid idiot. My aunt’s name for the TV implied that if we watched too much TV, we would turn into stupid idiots.
I was a year older than my cousin Mark. Unlike me, he loved to read. He was smart, strategic, and a model student who consistently got good grades at Saint Mark’s, the grade school that we both attended.
His parents always bought him and his younger brother Marty the latest toys and gadgets. Mark loved electronic devices. When he was 10 years old, he won a contest and was awarded a small reel-to-reel tape recorder. We spent hours experimenting with that tape recorder. He was a master at figuring out how to use and repair electronic devices.
When I bought my first iPhone, I thought of Mark. Since then, there have been several occasions when I’ve purchased a modern-day device and thought of him. On a couple of occasions, my imagination has been triggered, and I’ve imagined us being boys again, playing video games in his bedroom.
Each time I’ve imagined playing video games with Mark, I’ve seen us having a lot of fun, only to be interrupted by his mom when she barges into the room, shuts down the system, and orders us to go outside and play. There’s no doubt in my mind that if we were young boys today, his mom would be opposed to us spending a lot of time playing video games. And I’m certain that she would have a derogatory name for video gaming systems, just as she did for the TV.
In addition to our moms controlling the amount of time we spent in front of the TV, our dads exercised a certain level of control over us by putting us to work on Saturdays and assigning projects for us to do during the week. Their attitude was that we had an obligation to help out around the house by doing regular chores and by assisting them with projects that needed to be completed.
I thought about my cousin Mark and his parents last week when I read about a 2017 study from Princeton University and the University of Chicago. The study found that as of 2016, 15 out of every 100 men between the ages of 21 and 30, were either in full-time education or were not working — almost double what the rate was in 2000, when only 8 out of every 100 men in that age group were in full-time education or were not working.
The research team, which included faculty from Princeton and the University of Chicago, concluded that the increase of young men who were not working was because of “innovations in gaming/recreational computing.”
They concluded that young men who were obsessed with playing video games were much happier being in their imaginary world than when they were in the real world, which required them to work and take responsibility for their actions.
The study also found that there is a growing tendency among young men who spend an excessive amount of time playing video games to live with their parents or relatives, and to delay marriage and other activities that require that they make commitments.
Unfortunately, advances in gaming have made the imaginary worlds that boys can enter into much more enjoyable than the real world.
If you’re a parent of one or more young boys, it’s your responsibility to put strict guidelines into place concerning their use of electronic devices and the internet.
What I’m suggesting is completely opposite of what our government, schools, media, and popular culture promote and encourage. We’ve been conditioned to believe that we should not put undue pressure on our children. Our children are told that they will have to spend the rest of their lives working, so they should enjoy their teen years.
The harsh reality is that good-paying jobs are hard to come by and keep. How is a man who spent his youth playing games in a pleasurable, imaginary world going to be able to compete head-to-head with a man who has been trained, honed, and hardened by the realities of the real world?
Which option do you think is better: Option 1: allow your son to spend an inordinate amount of time playing video games and then cut him loose into a cruel and unforgiving world that is waiting to chew him up and spit him out, or Option 2: force him early and often to avoid the seductive world of gaming and the internet, and to live up to his full potential by acquiring the knowledge, skills, attitude, confidence, and work ethic that he will need to compete and succeed in the real world?
I’m very thankful that my cousin and I had parents who weren’t afraid of forcing us to avoid the things that would turn us into boobs who were incapable of reaching our full potential.