Sunday, June 27, 2010

Detective Sergeant Lite

Blue Nintendo DSAs a belated birthday treat for our eldest boy, Ben, we took him and 4 of his school mates to a well known pizza establishment yesterday lunchtime.

I must admit I’d been looking on it with a mixture of pre-event exhaustion and extreme trepidation ever since the plan was hatched and the invitations sent out. Ben on his own can be a hand[grenade]ful. But with 4 mates along as well? Plus our 2 and a half year old, Tom? Were we totally crazy?!

For the best part of a week I’ve been plagued with visions of food fights of National Lampoon’s Animal House proportions. Pizza’s flung like Frisbees. Lightsaber fights with the pepper mills. The disapproving looks from the other diners as the banter reaches atomic bomb sound levels.

But I had reckoned without modern technology. I had not taken into account the personality nullifier that is the Nintendo DS Lite.

When I was a kid a DS was a Detective Sergeant on The Sweeney. Nowadays it’s a portable electronic gagging device.

Our dining table consisted of the wife and I and Tom at one end, chatting quietly and enjoying the ambience. And the older boys at the other end; heads bowed to a man over their Nintendo DS’s. Ironically we had not allowed Ben to bring his, preferring him to make some attempt at playing the perfect host to his guests – you know the type of thing, making introductions, instigating polite conversation, ensuring all ran smoothly. Plainly the parents of his mates had decided we needed all the help we could get and so had issued their sons and heirs with various pacifiers that went by the names of My Sims, Sonic and Mario.

And it worked. They were as good as the proverbial gold. They even took turns sharing their DS’s with the birthday boy so he wouldn’t feel left out. Conversation seemed to revolve around stage levels and monsters and bosses.

Were they speaking in code? Were there bonds of loyalty being forged between the lines of game strategy and talk of power-ups? Their conversations seemed so unlike the ones I had with my mates as kid.

Or are they? What did I talk about but cartoons and Star Wars... realities as fake as those on those little electronic screens the boys held in their mitts for the duration of the meal.

But part of me can’t help thinking they were missing out.

It’s all very well having an electronic policeman in your pocket to keep your kids quiet in public places but isn’t it better for them to deal with the reality of their surroundings? To learn how to behave properly in the real world? Aside from the food I don’t think they were aware of their environment at all. We could have taken them absolutely anywhere – a landfill site – and it wouldn’t have made any difference to them.

Convenient in a way, I suppose.

But convenience sometimes short–circuits the learning of important lessons and life skills. Doesn’t it?

Don’t get me wrong; I was thankful it was all so easy.

It just didn’t feel right.


30 comments:

Being Me said...

I tend to agree with you on this one, Steve. Whilst I can thoroughly appreciate (from both the perspective of a parent with a boisterous youngster AND also as a diner in a confined space observing pandemonium at another table on occasion) the place of this new breed of "DS", I can't quite condone as acceptable the practice of these little flights from reality.

I remember the night we were out at the local pub for a family meal, our 2yo being the typical - chatting the paint off the walls, demanding aplenty but otherwise not intruding on other diners (never!) - and at an adjacent table, a family with a younger child in a high chair and a DVD player shoved in her face. I was absolutely dumbstruck at the sight: mother, father, brother of around 5yrs and grandfather all having the meal, but the little girl aged about 18mo shoved at the end of the table with this screen in her face, captive audience and no interaction at any time from the real people around her, except to shove more fries in her darling little pudgy fists. It made me want to cry. Is this what we've become, as a society?? I bloody hope not.

Being Me said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Steve said...

Being Me: sadly I think it is. I'm ashamed to say that I myself twitch when I hear noisy children in restaurants - but thinking about it; what's so wrong with children being children, provided they're not being rude or aggressive? Plugging them into a games console seems to dehumanize them. The boys yesterday could have all been office workers in their own little cubicles.

libby said...

Finding the balance is the key...you can't uninvent the wheel so technology will always be here but a social skills and manners are still necessary....glad you had a good lunch .

Suzanne said...

When we go out for a meal I will often take crayons and a pad for my little one, ( we generally end up playing hang-man), It generally results in conversation between the whole family, which is good. I also went to a party at a pizza place with eight six year old boys, I had agreed to help out the birthday boys mum. I too was really not looking forward to it, but they rose to the occasion, and were really well behaved, but still had a giggle.

Steve said...

Libby: yes, you're right - can't argue with that!

Suzanne: well, everyone seemed to enjoy themselves and there were no broken limbs or deaths... so in that respect it was a resounding success!

Alienne said...

From what I have seen, the DS-while-in-restaurant thing seems to be largely confined to boys; girls, even young ones, seem to prefer to talk. By the way, have you seen the first episode of the IT Crowd on role playing/male bonding etc?.
I have taken my to restaurants from an early age and they learned how to behave - and I was often approached by complete strangers who told me how lovely it was to see such well behaved children (they saved the bad behavious for home, thank goodness). I have no problem with small children behaving as children in restaurants, or anywhere else, as long as it not because they are being completely ignored. Having been there, done that and cleaned up the sick I feel more relief that it is not mine than annoyance at the noise and can fade it out of my consciousness. I also get a lot of enjoyment out of watching small children chewing menus, wiping food in strange places, dropping it into their mother's handbags etc. It's like a free floorshow.

Steve said...

Alienne: ah yes, our Tom is a great one for flinging knives and forks under chairs and creating a mess on his face and neck that need at least 4 napkins to clean up. We haven't had unwanted food items in our bags (yet) but he did once shoplift a badge without us realizing from a newsagent once.

Madame DeFarge said...

Having been out with a bunch of chums for a meal (mature, 30, 40 somethings) we were all doing exactly the same, looking at iPhones, iTouch, mobiles, blackberries, just checking in. Barely a word spoken. Maybe those children are just rehearsing for sdulthood.

the fly in the web said...

Well,I suppose they did interact with each other in a way..discussing what level of monster they were dealing with.

Extra Ordinary Me said...

I see what you mean. There really has to be a balance. Those things are great for long car rides, though.

Steve said...

Madame DeFarge: discussing which boss they'd rather face... hmm, yes, you're right. Definite rehearsal for adulthood! ;-)

The fly in the web: yes, they did interact and were all singing from the same hymn sheet in a way; that's more than can be said for most adults!

Extra Ordinary Me: they are indeed, though they make steering a little difficult sometimes...

Selina Kingston said...

Hmm great it didn't turn into the nightmare you were dreading but there is something sad about it too. Children should be making a lot of noise and laughing a lot at birthday parties. Whey they are not it kind of takes the fun out of it for us - even though they are having a whale of a time. The times they are a-changing ...

Steve said...

Selina: it was kind of amusing to see them all bent over their consoles like a little group of boffins exchanging research on DNA...!

lunarossa said...

I can assure you that girls like their DS as well. Maybe they are not as addicted to it as boys, though. I like my DS too (Yes I've got one too inherited from my son who went over to the dark x-box side! Love Sight and Brain Training! But I don't play in restaurants ...actually only I'm with boring people! Ciao. A

Fran said...

Is it really any different from trying to keep them occupied with puzzle books or colouring, though? And if you take a group of similar-aged kids out, surely they'll still prefer to interact with each other than with the adults, especially if it's not a family occasion and the kids aren't familiar with all of the adults. I think it's the technology thing that gets us worried - it would me, too, despite what I'm trying to convince myself!

Steve said...

Lunarossa: so their game playing was just a comment on my sparkling wit and dynamic conversation...? ;-)

Fran: you may have a point there... but everywhere I look people are literally hooked up and into little electronic boxes. This is how the war in the Terminator films starts... trust me!

Gappy said...

The DS can indeed be a godsend at times - I'm thinking long journeys in the car, rainy weekend afternoons when you really have to catch up on the housework e.c.t. e.c.t. I don't think I'd personally allow my son to take his to a restaurant though. Just seems a bit anti-social. Glad the outing wasn't too much of a nightmare for you though, and it sounds as if a good time was had by all so that's the main thing.

English Rider said...

Go with your instincts, they are spot-on! Social interaction is important and must be learned. Do you remember when we were told that reading at the table was ill-mannered?
I have a friend, here in Silicon Valley, whom I have known since school in England. Despite her Grandmother being headmistress of a Swiss finishing school, she has always allowed her boys to nintendo, text and otherwise ignore the social graces. Hello! The teen years have set in, she whines that her sons hate her and she doesn't know what to do. "Start Parenting" is my reply. "Better late than never!"

Gina said...

One of my sons spends a lot of time on the DS too (the 11 year old rather than the 8 year old).

I ban mobiles, DS and anything like that from dining tables or anywhere social interaction is the order of play. I have to obey by the rules too which is why I don't say much on Twitter at weekends.

but yes, it would be tricky I suppose for me to do that if I invited other children to an event. Would I really tell them to put their DS away? I am not sure. The situation has never arisen. What odd parents though to send their children to a party armed with a DS? I would never do that. Urgh!

I suspect I would have done as you did ie banned my own child from taking one, but allowed the others to if they had brought them.

Owen said...

I'm more that a little worried about what this generation of console kids is going to become. Guess time will tell... but these games don't require much real reflection...

The Sagittarian said...

I agree. I would not let my kids attend an event like that, in that environment, take anything other than a pressie for the host! Now a sleep-over or such party, yes by all means.
Sad that we seem to be loosing the art of conversation at such a young age!

femminismo said...

Oh, yeah! Something is wrong with all of our heads bent over our devices. Talking into our hands. Please look me in the eye and say something and I'll try not to think about what's going on on Facebook! Happy Birthday to your son. (and what are "boffins"?)

Steve said...

Gappy: I think that's the point exactly - there are times and places. I'm not sure a restaurant is one of either. Though it was better than the family we saw there last time - mother and father reading books while the son was ignored. At least the boys did interact with each other.

English Rider: if social interaction was actually taught I think I would have been far happier in my teens.

Gina: yeah, it was tricky and at first I felt a bit sorry for Ben for not being allowed to bring his! But I think you're right - although it made it easier, the DS's should have all been left at home.

Owen: kids with square eyes and the concentration of a goldfish...

Amanda: I'm just grateful they weren't having belching competitions and seeing who could conjure the smelliest fart. I guess that it all still to come!

Femminismo: a boffin is a scientist. Usually a very nerdy one!

Heather said...

Whilst i can see the good sides of it for all concerned, like you, I'd feel they were missing out on something.

It's not something you see here very much to be honest, probably in the bigger cities but not so much our small town. kids have a play area to amuse themselves in, but that's really just the younger ones, the older ones who don't want to play with cars and dolls are expected to sit and chat, or at least stare off into the distance moodily ignoring their parents.

Like one of your commenters said before, we can't un-invent them, but we can find a way to fit them into our lives rather than taking over.

Suburbia said...

I really agree with you and yet we are still torn!

My two kids play together on some sort of electronic device and I worry that they are always fixed to a screen (lets face it, I am here now and choose to spend my time fixed to one also) Yet, when I think about it, when I played Monopoly with a friend when I was little, was it that different; heads bent over the game board for hours, anything could have been going on around us? Only the game was real.

I have to say though,with my two, I do ban the electronic gizmos at meal times in the hope we can have 'civilised' conversation... Perhaps I should rethink?!!!

missbehaving said...

I'm with The Sag, I wouldn't have let my sons take theirs to a rastaurant birthday bash, but as they all had their's with them what else could you have done??

I hate that my elder son LOVES his DS ( and Wii) soooo much. The younger one will find something else to do when DS is a no-go but the older one will just whinge and moan till I toss him out the house with a football.

Steve said...

Heather: what we tend to do with our eldest is limit him to only 3 hours playstation / DS time a day - and he gets chunks of that removed for bad behaviour. It's difficult though when all of his mates don't seem to be held by the same constraints.

Suburbia: my worry over electronic games is the effect is has on the eyes, brain and concentration... too much of them are really not conducive to well rounded individuals!

Your boys sound like ours. The youngest is happiest outside in the garden playing with water and his tent... the eldest has a cow whenever he can't get enough "game" station time to satisfy the playstation addict in his soul...!

Löst Jimmy said...

Blimey, have you seen how much those wee PSP consoles cost?!
Crivens, I'm getting behind the times methinks

Steve said...

Löst Jimmy: ...and then there's the price of the games on top! Not exactly a bag of marbles and a Curly-Wurly, is it?