We Killed Nintendo and Survived

Two weeks ago, we got rid of the kid’s Nintendo DS devices.

We did it with no crying, no whining, no begging… actually, no drama to speak of.

But first, the backstory.

Years ago, when I first became a mom, I made a declaration in my home. 

What was it?

That I would never live in a home with a Nintendo video game system.

I really don’t like video games. For several reasons. I believe that video games are highly addictive, that they displace other, healthier activities, that they encourage a kind of vampirish sedentary dark lifestyle (I have several friends I grew up with who fit this description, they were so addicted to gaming that they couldn’t lead normal lives, hold jobs, get to school, etc), that they encourage the philosophy of “I must be entertained every second of the day“.

More on this: My interview with Kim McDaniel , author of Video Games and Your Kids

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Also, because they cause children to constantly test and push and disobey and sneak around boundaries. (Because they’re addictive, so the user acts like an addict – needing bigger fixes to make them happy, sneaky behavior that causes problems with family relationships, ignoring authority, etc).

That was my stand, despite the fact that my oldest son began to notice video games, gaming systems, and handhelds several years ago. I held my ground and stayed firm. No video games. I didn’t mind if he played occasionally at a friend’s house, or at Grandma’s house, I didn’t mind computer games, and I would even take him to an arcade periodically and give him quarters. But just not at MY house.

A few years passed. Then my youngest nephew, who is one year older than my oldest son, gave him his old, beat up, retired Nintendo DS.

I wish so much that I had politely explained to him that, while I appreciated his kindness, we had made the decision not to have video games in our home.

But, I didn’t.

Looking back, I’m not sure why.  I was a single mom at the time, and maybe I felt inappropriate guilt. Maybe I was so broke that I thought it would be good free entertainment. Maybe I didn’t have the inner strength at the time to risk offending my nephew and sister and brother-in-law, all of whom I adore.

I’m not sure.

But my son was the proud owner of a Nintendo DS. Of course, his younger brother noticed, and the thing soon became a source of conflict in their otherwise very peaceful relationship. I had to constantly mitigate sharing and fights about the thing. Guess what? Oldest told me he was willing to give his brother the DS, and he would earn the money to buy a new to him/used one on eBay. What mom could say no to that proposition? It made my heart soar to hear that he was willing to give his little brother his old system. So I allowed it.

I started hating how much time they spent playing, however. I missed their conversation. I tried to set limits, but they were constantly disobeying me (which wasn’t typical of either of them). At the same time, when they played DS side by side, there were no arguments. They got along perfectly, silenced and couched by the gizmos. It was creepy, but the peacefulness was …. kinda nice. I tolerated it. I set limits. (No DS on Thursday or Sunday, and only 45 minutes a day.) I made them play outside. I reminded them that chores came before DS time.

I married a wonderful man who is a Luddite like myself, but whose daughter also had a Nintendo DS that was purchased for her by another adult, and which he also hated. Now we had 3 kids playing.

The DSs were eventually upgraded to DSis, courtesy of a relative. They were supposed to be “for traveling”, to keep the kids happy in the car. But they ended up being given to them for everyday use.

Then, my ex-husband bought my (then) 7 year old daughter a DSi. She was really too young for it, because a couple of weeks later she lost it and it stayed lost for months. She finally found it and took up playing. While not as addicted as my sons, I was still frequently having to tear her away from it at mealtimes, in the car, at bedtime. I would find her sneaking to watch it.

Then somehow, I still can’t remember how it happened, my 5 year old ended up with a GameBoy!

Every day my husband and I would lament these devices that came into our homes and our lives and in the way of our relationships with our children, via other people. How did we let this happen? We both hated them with a passion.

We hated the way the kids wouldn’t respond when we called them. We had to say their names several times before we got a response, their faces hypnotized to the screen.

We hated the way the kids would play in the car. We actually preferred them fighting than the eery silence and beeping and annoying techno music of games.

We got tired of asking them to turn it down/turn it off/go outside and play/do your chore/ do your schoolwork/ it’s time for dinner.

We had to discipline them all the time because they would sneak and play for hours at night or early in the morning. The limits we tried to set to avoid having them take up every spare second of the day and night playing were constantly ignored, stretched or disobeyed.

The final straw?

The kids were able to get online on their phones, view things we didn’t approve of, and watch movies via our Netflix account. A friend whom we had formerly been so impressed with stayed the night, and watched an extremely inappropriate movie on my son’s Nintendo. His brother and my sons told him not to (and didn’t join him in viewing it), but still. This put me in the very uncomfortable position of having to call my friend, his mother, and tell her what he had done.

He has since apologized and all is forgiven, but still. I don’t like that my kids were able to have the world wide web in the palm of their hands. They’re too young to see and hear all that’s out there. And it’s my job to protect them until they’re old enough to make these choices on their own.

Enough was enough.

I wanted my kids back.

I decided to kill Nintendo.

I told my husband a few weeks ago that I was going to sell the Nintendos and use the money to buy the kids an air hockey table (something they had wanted for a long time).

I don’t think he believed me at first. And he was expecting there to be tantrums, tears and begging. He probably thought I was upset, and would back down later.

Nope. I had never been more rational in my life.

The next day I texted him to say that the conversation went better than I expected. That the kids didn’t even disagree with me when I told them that the Nintendos were something I told myself I would never have in my home, and that I had done wrong by them by allowing the Nintendos to take over our lives. That I had not been true to my values. I apologized for my weakness, for not having the backbone and guts to say “No” to things that I thought weren’t good for them.

I told them that the DSs were going to be sold on eBay. That they could keep the money and buy an air hockey table, or whatever they wanted.

You know what? I think they were relieved. Not one of them even tried to fight me on the issue.

After some discussion, they did ask if they could keep just one of the Nintendos, leave it at Grandma’s, and only use it when we are traveling a long distance in the car. I said yes. And they can still play Wii at their Grandma’s, and other video games at their Dad’s.

Since the two week period since this all took place, I can’t see that they have even missed their Nintendos. They simply haven’t brought it up.

Interestingly, the day after we killed Nintendo, my oldest son built a teepee outside. By hand.He’s playing the piano more. There’s more reading. More board games. More conversation.

We instituted Screen Free Sundays, where all day we enjoy a screen sabbatical – even the adults. No computers, no laptops, no cell phones even! We wanted to make sure the kids knew we were serious about limiting screentime, and weren’t addicted ourselves.

The last two Sundays have been some of the most enjoyable we’ve had as a family. One Sunday we had a “Staycation”. Another one, we sat around and read, talked, walked outside, and just enjoyed each other. No screens to distract us from one another. It’s so peaceful.

I think that many parents are uncomfortable with video games, and aren’t sure why. It’s just a gut dislike. There isn’t anything else in my children’s lives that I feel so uncomfortable with. But it’s so easy to become complacent when everyone else is doing it. When it keeps them quiet, and does our jobs for us. Parenting is hard work sometimes, and it’s tempting to let them do whatever just to keep them quiet.

So I’m not judgmental of parents who are ok with their kids having video game devices or systems, or for parents who enjoy playing them with their kids. That’s cool. It just wasn’t good for my family.

I killed Nintendo, and survived.

Creative Commons License photo credit: nezumichuu

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2 Responses to We Killed Nintendo and Survived

  1. Great post Carrie. I’m gonna have Kevin read this one :)

  2. Claude White says:

    I would like to say that, even as a future video game developer, I was most intrigued by your article. With your children having a house full of other children to play with, it seemed to be more of a good thing to take away the Nintendo systems. I would like to also note that, on the other side of the coin, video games are only as dangerous as those who wield them (or allowed to be wielded.) I was an only child, and my dad was a workaholic, so while it may pain you to hear this but Nintendo kept me off of the streets and out of dangerous crowds. The game systems actually brought me closer to friends of similar interests, and in that day and age (late 90′s/early 00′s) most gamers were very polite, did their homework and schoolwork, and obeyed our parents. Some children just cannot handle such electronic devices, and restraints must be placed, even to the point of removal. This woman, as much as it may hurt me to say (cause games will be my life blood soon) has it right. Stand your ground. If it hurts your children, protect them from it. If you don’t, they will be left to themselves to defend against real-world problems in the future. I can say this with confidence because I want adult gamers who have good careers/jobs and good holds on life…if you have no job, you probably lack a sense of responsibility and therefore make the game industry look bad because we “stopped” you from learning life lessons. If you are a gamer reading this, and are raging, then get a job, get a life, and step away from the controller. It will only help you and everyone around you.

    Encourage creativity over technology. It may be the only way we stay a colorful world versus a mindless machine.

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