My son and daughter are addicted to Minecraft. Not only do they play the strange “game” where they build things and blow up pigs, they also log onto YouTube and watch experts play the game and narrate as they make their moves. I am not kidding when I say that my 9 year-old could sit for three hours straight and be completely engrossed in this (in)activity.
I really should not be so shocked. Before Will was two years old, he was playing Angry Birds and some water game with an alligator. My opinion of video games is a bit skewed because I don’t like them. Never did. The only game that caught my attention was Pong, and that’s because I liked to play tennis on a court. Of course, I had boyfriend in high school that loved them, and we would hang out at the arcade while he threw away his quarters on Space Invaders, Pac Man and Mario Bros. Ah, the 80s!
As a parent I worry about all the new technology. I worry about what images my children may see before they are ready. I worry about how constantly hitting the pleasure center of the brain, which these games do, will affect their cognition and brain development. I even worry about their exposure to too much blue light emitted by the video screens; it can have a negative effect on the eye as well as a child’s ability to fall asleep.
I don’t mean to vilify technology in general and Minecraft in particular. In some ways, I think it is just my generation’s rite of passage to be worried about something new, and how this will affect children and family life. In the 1960s and 1970s, researchers were all concerned about the effect of television on children. Even more recently we hear the hue and cry regarding the downside of TV. One of the damning commentaries on TV is a book by Neil Postman (1987) called Amusing Ourselves to Death. Postman stated that television is nothing more than a hostile attack on the literate in society. Marie Winn (2002) who did a study on how kids get hooked on technology called television the “Plug in Drug.” In 2007, Aric Sigman explained how TV damages our lives. And, Victor Stasburger (2011) wrote a research-based book on how the media has an impact of the social, cognitive, and emotional development of children.
This type of reaction has been seen throughout history. For example, in the 1920s, parents worried about how the car and the telephone were giving teenagers too much freedom (Dill 2014). I am sure almost every generation had the naysayers regarding anything new or different. I think it is interesting to note that when the novel was in its infancy, people had their concerns about the influence of this new genre on the youth. Samuel Richardson wrote his novel Pamela in 1740., and it painted a picture of the Lothario seducing a young girl, who holds onto her virtue and earns his hand in marriage. This was one of the first bestsellers, but it met with much controversy. Parents did not want their young ladies reading it. They were unsure what these new-fangled books called novels would do to the moral development of children.
The latest research does show that overuse of technology can be bad for children, just as too much time spent in front of the Boob Tube wasn’t necessarily great, and I am sure the literate parents in the 1700s had a legitimate point about the evils of the novel. However, if history teaches us anything it is that all of these past generations survived __________ (fill in the blank), and with some caution and moderation, our children will learn to use technology productively.
P.S. The researcher in me may assert this last opinion with authority, but the Mom in me still continues to worry and research the downside of screen time and technology.
By Cara Turner