Kerry Haggard is a writer, editor, wife and mother to the two most gorgeous boys that ever there were. One day when she grows up she hopes to be a real geek, but for now, she’s happy to sit and watch her husband excel at that…
Our home is blessed with more technology than most, thanks to my husband’s job as publisher of a consumer magazine (www.connect.co.za), and this has opened a Pandora’s box of sorts in our home. We are probably more exposed than most to different gaming consoles (yes, we have a PS3, a Wii and an Xbox 360), not to mention more computers per capita than most multinational corporations. And we have two boys (Daniel aged 4 and a half and Matthew, 20 months) whose eyes have lit up at the sight of anything with a whirring noise and a flashing light since they were old enough to sit up and take notice.
There are many who would say that there is time enough for technology when my boys are older – but then there’s that age-old thing of little boys wanting to do what their daddies do. Some people play sport, others read – my husband ‘does’ computers, whether that’s building them, rebuilding them, or playing various games on them. Daniel’s playschool offers computer classes, which are mostly around co-ordination and mouse-skills, and his reports from these have always come back with a string of ‘excellents’.
So, is there a difference between learning computer skills (which we all need – were you also one of those that mocked the boys that took typing lessons in the 80s?) and playing console games, which some may see as technology baby-sitters for the lazy parent?
I would say it depends on the console and the game. Matthew is too little to play still, but watches his brother’s every move when he plays on the Wii or on his PC – and Daniel is a sensitive soul who takes everything to heart. This is why we have no ‘first-person shooter’ games, or any game that has violence of any sort in it – apart from the fencing game in Wii Sports Island.
On the Wii, Daniel plays table tennis (and wins nearly every time, using strategic placement of the ball when he ‘hits’ it), 100 pin bowling (where he lines up the ball with the pins, and scores a strike nearly every time), and archery (which requires careful co-ordination, using both hands). He cannot read, but he can navigate his way around a set of Wii games better than I can – he has responded to its intuitiveness and has figured things out for himself.
On his PC, he plays a variety of games that teach him cognitive and recognition skills, and that throw in a bit of history and geography as well.
Yes, my child does have a lot of ‘screen’ time, but he also does (old fashioned ) puzzles quickly and accurately. His hand-eye co-ordination is such that he seldom misses a ball with his cricket bat, and he has a general knowledge that is well beyond his age.
Are computers and consoles a substitute for good parenting? No, they’re definitely not. But they’re a part of our (admittedly privileged) life, and will continue to be so, more and more, as our children grow up. Making them comfortable with technology, and giving them the confidence to navigate their way around it, is equipping them with skills our parents hadn’t even thought of when we were kids.
It is about striking a balance though – Daniel can only play one session of Wii in a day, and he can only play every second day. I think we’re getting the balance right. At bed time the other night, my heart melted when I was told, “Mom, I love you more than everything. I even love you more than Wii.”