A few years ago, we were visiting my husband’s family and he was bonding with his younger brother by playing video games, which they played for hours on end. Afterwards, they came upstairs to have dinner. The children and I were both happy to finally have Greg back from the trance he had been in, and also that he had some special time with his brother.
After dinner, Greg said, “Hey we’re going to go back and finish the game. We are just about ready to conquer the world.” My cynicism kicked into full gear and I replied, as he was heading down the basement stairs, “Don’t forget that when you sit behind a TV screen all day, you do nothing to conquer the world. You get the feeling of conquering the world, while doing nothing for it.”
Living in a fake world
My husband laughed, knowing I was half joking, but also knowing just how true my statement was, in a larger sense. This video-game, social-media-addicted culture is settling for the counterfeit, without even knowing it. Boys sit in their homes, behind computer screens, feeling as though they are conquerors, protectors, champions, fighters, great sportsmen, and even musicians, without even a drop of sweat exiting their bodies or without ever touching an actual football or instrument.
Men are sitting behind screens, being sexually aroused by women they have never talked to, dated or married. Girls sit behind screens, where they write posts and Tweets, or upload pictures to so-called friends they have never met in person.
Is our culture becoming counterfeit?
Conquering the world, means getting off the couch, walking out the door and having the sun beat down on your face, while you literally do something to conquer the world. One cannot conquer a world without engaging the people within it.
Seeing a naked woman, should take work. It should require meeting her in person, getting to know her, asking her on a date, buying her ice-cream, meeting her family, sacrificing for her, becoming vulnerable, asking her to marry you and getting married. And, your nakedness with one another should be a time without shame, secrecy, or deception because you have committed yourself to this person and this person only, to love them fully, totally, and faithfully.
Having friends, likewise, should include an actual face-to-face meeting, or, at the simplest, a voice-to-voice conversation that lasts more than the effort it takes to write 140 characters or a short post. Friendship requires a time-testing element - where there is a demand for trustworthiness and honesty.
Friendship demands a commitment to being inconvenienced: like when a friend needs to talk to you in the middle of the night and you wake from a much needed and desired sleep, to take the call; or, when a friend is doing something wrong and you have to speak an uncomfortable truth to them, hoping they will receive it well and the friendship will be strengthened. Friendship isn’t about one-liners and telling people what they want to hear.Friendship involves intimacy.
Our hearts desire to be in communion and union with others - but the more “advanced” we become, the less we know and feel known by others.
Fake relationships, fake feelings
The youth who are being brought up this way, are being deceived. They aren’t experiencing real relationships and real emotion. I see the effects of this brokenness all the time, when I speak to them.
The best place to institute change is in our own homes. A six-year-old, who knows my son, tugged on my clothes the other day and I turned around. He said, “Mrs. Pritchard, does Michael have a DSL or Wii? And what games does he own? Brady doesn’t know what games you guys have at your house.”
This cute little boy was looking up at me puzzled, wondering how my son didn’t know the names of the games he owns. I said to him, “Oh, we have a Wii, but we only play video games together as a family, just like we play board games, and the only ones we have right now is a sport game and an adventure game.” Then this child looked at me even more puzzled and said, “I spent the whole weekend playing video games by myself, in my room.”
Children spend too much time alone
Am I concerned about that child, sitting by himself, at age six, in his room behind a screen and playing a game that isn’t real? Not necessarily. I mean, most childhood play isn’t real. But what concerns me is the teenager or adult he may become, if he is allowed to settle for the counterfeit, throughout his growing years. I’m concerned about him learning that it’s okay to sit isolated from your family, in your own room, behind a computer screen, where no one is watching. I worry that he will find so much satisfaction in the feelings he derives from playing these games, that he won’t exert the energy needed to form real encounters and relationships.
I’m concerned, given that the average age when children first view porn is about 8-9 years old, that he will one day transfer this behaviour of seeking excitement behind a screen, to viewing pornography behind that same screen - and deriving pleasure, in the secrecy and privacy of his bedroom, while his mom and dad assume he is just in there playing video games.
Spending time together
There are a few things we can do, to help our children become authentic-experience-seeking and relationship-building adults. We rarely play video games in our home, When we do, we play as a family. We play, talk, encourage, compete, learn good sportsmanship and grow in relationship, playing video games like we do playing board games. We have one TV which we all watch together.
We don’t have portable devices that the children can take to their rooms and isolate themselves with. Occasionally, as a special treat, I allow the children to play a game, or see something on the IPad, while I am in the room.
We have our children’s’ friends over often, to give them ample opportunity to play and engage others in real relationships, where they have to learn how to get along and where they see the benefit of imagination and creativity.
I firmly believe that a parent’s role is not to constantly try to entertain and fill their children’s time, in case they get bored. I want my children to get bored - because this is when they end up having to fill their own time. What they come up with, is better than any movie I have ever seen or video game I have ever played.
They end up becoming producers of creative and imaginative works of art, music, and play, instead of mere consumers of what someone else has come up with in a video game or movie.
Connect to the beauty of life
Simply put, we make an intentional effort to disconnect, in order to connect with real life, love, and people. The sacrifice is challenging, while living in this technologically enhanced time. Yet, it is worth it, knowing that what we are attempting to do, will help our children form real relationships with people, living life to the full, as they actually play sports and music - and personally encounter the beautiful places in this world.
Melanie Pritchard is an author and speaker and Executive Director of the Foundation for Life and Love www.melaniepritchard.org