I just spent ten days with three boys, aged 8, 7 and 3. Like all children they were cute, surprising, hilarious and exhausting. Their dad, Brad, is an Army Captain deployed overseas; their mother Caitlyn is a deep reservoir of calm patience. (All the names are changed in keeping with Army privacy protocols for deployed soldiers). I went to ease Caitlyn’s load and give the boys a break from after school programs. If the definition of vacation is to immerse in a different pattern of life, it was the most complete vacation I’ve had in years.
The older boys, Nathan and Sam, got their own Kindle’s days before I arrived; little Kyle inherited an older model. Caitlyn programmed the devices to approved games for a maximum two hours a day. During our first few days, most adult / child conversations revolved around negotiating allowable games and time limits. Without restraints, the boys would rove their thumbs over tablets from dawn until dark.
On Tuesday, Caitlyn announced that tomorrow would be our Kindle-free day. The boys groaned but didn’t revolt. Wednesday was an early release day. During snack they talked about school, mostly the drama of recess. They did homework without complaint, taught me Uno, and we all played Life. Following a round of after-dinner wrestling, they went to bed with less fuss than usual.
But first thing Thursday they clamored for their Kindles once more.
On Saturday morning three-year-old Kyle managed to circumvent his mother’s diligence and downloaded a shooting-based video game. By the time Caitlyn discovered the breach, all three were deliriously shooting up bad guys. The rest of their morning romp was gunplay.
There are no studies that link toy guns to real life violence, contradictory evidence of the benefits and pitfalls of violent video games, and real evidence that computer games enhance anxiety. I was not privy to any controlled study. I just observed three ordinary boys for a week. I witnessed how they mirror adult responses to the wired word, in a very direct way. When they were fully unplugged, they were most fully alive and connected to each other. Yet whenever available, they craved wired connections. Then they mimicked what their virtual worlds revealed to them.