Disclaimer: The words said here are those of my own convictions.
A few months ago, on a normal weekday afternoon, the littles were sleeping and I was trying to "get stuff done" around the house. Sunlight was beaming through the windows, peace ringing in the halls with the sound of sleeping children. Warmth filled rooms and my clean floors glimmered as I dug through the junk mail that had piled up on my desk in our bedroom. As I sorted the mail: junk, junk bill, junk, bill, bill, bill, my (then) 4 year old son was crouched on the floor, a cords length from the wall playing a game on "his iPhone", with a cracked face and scratched metal back. Suddenly, his words pierced my ears, "I am going to KILL you" he whispered intensely under his breath, eyes zoned and locked on the three inch screen. Time froze as I lifted my eyes from the messy piles of mail and looked over at him, then I began to process what he had said. My tender heart was ripped in half as the heaviness of his words set in. "I am going to kill you"?? Did he really say this?!? Did those words leak out of my innocent son's mouth.... before my very own eyes? In the walls of my protected home?"
Inside I came to a screeching halt, stopping at a crossroads in parenting, and it was one that demanded a choice of me. A decision that would require effort, surveillance, and a little (eh-hem, cough, cough...) parenting. I wanted to pretend I didn't hear those words. I wanted to tell myself he was just kidding. Thoughts flooded my mind like, "he is just a boy playing a game", "he didn't really mean he wanted to "kill" something", "this is all harmless play". But, alas, my conscience is not easily fooled. I knew I had to put my big-momma-foot-down and make a stand in our family and say, "It is NOT okay to desire the death of anyone, not even those we deem as enemies. In real life and in a video-game-fantasy-world." Something is innately wrong with words such as these coming out of a young boys mouth, a 4 year old people!
I walked over to him, sitting on the floor. I knelt down, reached my hand out and asked him to hand me his phone. After he reluctantly relinquished the thin heavy phone into my hand, I sat down and asked him what he meant when he said, "I want to kill you". He said that he had to kill the character, (who happened to be Sandman) to get to the next level of the game. He explained how he was stuck on this same level, and unless he killed this character, he would not advance.
Then, we got into a discussion about how "we" can never desire to kill someone, and this passion is not pleasing to God, not in the least bit.
What was my four year old son's reply to this philosophical thought you ask?? .... He looked at me with the most serious face he could muster up and said, "Well Mom. They don't actually die. They fall down, turn invisible, and the invisible police come and take him to a jail..."
Well played, four year old son. Well played. (We are never too young to justify sin.)
That night Denver and I talked about it, about the intensity that games like this brings out in our son, and how emotionally connected he feels with the unfolding plot. We agreed on different aspects, and disagreed on others, but, we had to come head to head about what our nuclear family was going to allow and not allow in our home when it comes to media, games, and technology.
When we had our first born, iPhones were not on the market, the iPad was a distant thought and video games were played either on the computer or on a gaming system that sat in the living room of most homes, not in the pockets of 4 year olds. Travel gaming systems existed, and educational systems were just "breaking ground" in middle income American households. This was not a conversation we had planned for... "Should our son play games on iPhones and iPads... what if it's innocent killing like superheroes and LEGO games? ... What are the lasting effects of this type of exposure at such a young age...??" <--- ALL things we never had thought through.
Growing up, my family was always on the cusp of technology. Our first Nintendo system came home when I was in first grade, I remember walking back to the sacred technology department of Wal-mart and picking it up. We played every level of the original Mario Bros., we fell in love with Yoshi and drove a mean Mario Kart. The Game Genie answered all our life's problems and we loved the paintball setting when playing Golden Eye on the N64 with friends. I got my first AIM account in 8th grade, and was a senior in college when my University was prestigious enough to have "Facebook". I downloaded thousands of songs on Napster (okay maybe hundreds) and remember the first viral video I watched of David Hasselhoff singing "Hooked on a Feeling" in my sorority house long before the days of YouTube.
When I was four, I played with roly-pollies and made mud pies all summer. I played Mommy and Doctor, saving lives in my spare time, not dreaming of them to end.
My generation has grown up trusting in technology to fill our spare time, to schedule our events and build our friend list, but listen 30 somethings.... we CANNOT ALLOW IT TO PARENT OUR CHILDREN.
Over time our love affair with technology has set deep roots. As we have grown and matured, so has technology. The Mortal Combat Game that your Mom was scared of at Crystals Pizza has nothing on the games that kids play today in our homes and around our dining room tables. I am not ignorant, I know that this has been a problem for many years. I understand that children have played games like this, but how young is too young?
Mothers, Fathers, Aunts, Uncles, Friends, Neighbors, Grocery-Store-Checker-Outers (Pretty much I am including everyone here!)... we have to take a stand and not let the complacency of a child occupied by a game overshadow our responsibility to guard the hearts of our children. Our children are inclined to like things that are not good for them, they have a natural pull towards darkness because we live in a broken world. To not recognize this is just what the enemy wants from us....
So after that conversation Denver and I set up a few guidelines that we have when it comes to games on media devices. We decided that saying NO to every game and gaming system would be extreme in the world we live in. If we expect our child to function well in their generation they will have to have some experience with media, but it is our responsibility to guide that endeavor. This is what we decided on. 2 simple rules.
1: No games that KILL- Period. Nope. None. Zilch. Zip.
2: Small increments of exposure- Right now we set our timer for 20 minutes of "game time". We feel in this time frame no obsessive tendencies can become habitual. This is something that must be weighed for each child. My son is more inclined to spend 4 hours on the iPad if left unattended, where as my daughter wouldn't spend more than 20 minutes on it if I begged her.
It took me months to gain the courage and come up with the words to post this. For one I was embarrassed to admit that this had even happened in my home on my watch and secondly it is such a touchy topic. Your convictions might not be the same as mine, and I AM OKAY WITH THAT. We must each live in the light of our individual convictions and this happens to be something that God is working out in our family right now.
We highly value the truth that Psalm 19:14 holds for us as adults and for our children. "Let the words of my mouth and the meditation of my heart Be acceptable in Your sight, O LORD, my rock and my Redeemer." As a parent in this situation I have the responsibility to expose the ugly places that sin creates in the hearts of my children. If I recognize them and turn my head or choose to not confront it, I am only allowing it to fester and become a larger problem for them in the future.
Thank you for reading and PLEASE feel free to comment and share what works best in your family because we are always looking for new ideas on how to approach technology's intrusive invasion of our home.