The bad parent

Last night, our Filipino neighbors had a birthday party for their son, who was turning 12. They also have a little girl who is 5 or 6, and my boys are over at their house to play several days a week. The party ran from about 5PM to past midnight. There was a huge crowd of people and a bunch of kids running around like crazy. And there was food. Piles and piles of authentic Filipino food. It was delicioso. B asked me later if I realized that we were the only white people there. I didn’t. I was too busy inhaling lumpia.

Anyway, their kids are mega spoiled. The boy plays video games 24/7 and must own every game ever made, by the way that Einstein talks about it. Just the same, the little girl has just about everything any female child could ever dream of. Their house is also filled with junk food. Pop tarts and microwave popcorn and chips and soda and juice drinks. Obviously, my kids think they are the coolest parents around.

Last night at the party, we were speaking with the mother. We asked her if they always have a huge party for their son’s birthday. She said that no, this was the first time. And then she said, “Usually we just buy him whatever he wants. But this year there was nothing left that he wanted. He just sits in front of the TV all day anyway.” Then she shrugged. There wasn’t even a hint of guilt in her voice. It’s as if she was proud of herself, of her boy that is losing valuable brain cells every second that he wastes away with a controller in his hand. I was shocked. Neither B nor I had any idea what to say in response, so we just smiled politely and the subject was quickly changed.

This morning, all Einstein has talked about is video games and about how many things our neighbors have that we don’t. It’s really getting to me. My child is becoming materialistic and being brainwashed by commercialism and I feel like there’s nothing I can do to stop it. The history of video games in our house has been nothing but struggle. A few years back, B’s cousin donated his Playstation 2 and all of his games to my boys. We had so much fun with it at first. The time was always limited to one hour per day. But I started to realize that two things were happening. 1. All my kids could talk about were those damn video games. They were obsessed. 2. After playing for their allotted hour, they became cranky and irritable. It just kept getting worse. At first, I took away the games that were rated Teen. There was a huge argument over the Smackdown wrestling game, but we talked our way through it, and replaced it with a rated E game. And still, the problems continued. Finally, I could take no more. I loaded up the PS2, along with every game we owned, and passed it on to my brother.

Well, as you all know, we’re now living with my parents. And my brother. Which means that the video games are back. The situation is made even worse by the fact that our belongings are in storage. And so, the boys play video games. They fight over the games. They whine and complain and freak out when their time is up. They get bored easily. They talk about nothing except game strategies. They ask how they can earn money to buy the next game. As soon as they have $6 and some change, they buy a used game and play it to death. They write down nothing but games on their Christmas wish lists. When friends come over to play, they immediately want to go downstairs to turn on the Playstation. Same thing when they visit their friends. What is the point of a playdate if it’s with a playSTATION?

The whole situation is giving me grief. I feel like I’m the only parent who gives a shit that we’re encouraging our children to rot their brains right out of their heads. I feel like the bad parent. I always feel like the bad parent! I feel like I will never be able to teach my kids to enjoy life, to cherish the simple, when everyone else is pushing them to consume.

5 Responses to “The bad parent”

  1. 1 Nikolai November 26, 2006 at 1:25 pm

    Well, if it makes you feel any better, I was big into video games when I was a kid. It certainly wasn’t the only thing I did mind you – especially not in the summer when we’d take advantage of the weather and play on homemade tree ropeswings, go swimming and jump when the wave machine came on etc.

    But I did it a lot. My friend Matt and I – yeah, the same Matt who came on the big gay roadtrip – formed our friendship through video games. He was massive into beat-em-ups like Street Fighter and stuff, and we used to play for hours. I remember the first console he got – the NES – duck hunt and Mario. What a Christmas that was. In many ways, the events of our friendship are punctuated with video games. A little like remembering a time in your life when you hear a tune, I remember when I see a video game.

    I don’t think it adversely affected us too much, because they were mostly a social activity – and done inbetween doing other things. My mum never made a big deal of them, because I got my homework done and she knew I was getting out of the house too.

    I guess then the trick is balance. Your neighbours have spoiled their kids, and in doing so made them materialistic and greedy – and also addicted to “getting” stuff. In my childhood, I was bought about 10 video games in all – and I swapped the rest with people all over the country, making new friends along the way, and learning new skills (like negotiation, advert placing, posting stuff – no kidding!)

    I think also in terms of balance – other activities – social ones. In my family, on dreary days in, we used to play a lot of board games. Scrabble, Monopoly, Chess, Draughts, Backgammon, Risk etc – they’re all clever games, and mean you have to communicate and negotiate with each other, form alliances and break them. Then again, I shudder to think how many families must have been broken up over Monopoly!

    We also always made a point of eating communally without the TV, and talking over dinner about various subjects. School, current affairs, politics, religion, the family itself – all sorts of things came up. That was a good time for us, and afterwards we went into the TV room to watch the news together, and various comedy current affair programs. Looking back, it’s these times that I gained skills like debating and arguing my case, and also a knowledge of world affairs (that, and the long drawn out philosophical arguments me and my sister would have, which I am leading 2-1, and intend to lead 3-1 whenever she concedes our actual infinities in finite time argument).

    Talking about that, I should send her an email. I have a new way of explaining why I am right.

    Oh, btw, the arguments I won were over free will, and the star trek transporter problem. The argument she won was over independent statistical probability. This reply has gone off track rather. Good post.

  2. 2 Magdalena November 26, 2006 at 6:29 pm

    Moderating them is not the parenting part; it’s having to listen to them bitch and whine that takes true parenting skills, I find. If my kid gets all the shit done that I ask, such as a requisite amount of reading and social play, then he is allowed to play for an hour or so.
    Get them used to the fact that you will not budge, and they will eventually stop trying.
    And no, you aren’t the only parent who cares about that, at all.
    Also, if you are concerned about them becoming materialistic and greedy, do something tangible with them to prove what is important in life. Have them gather old clothing, canned goods, gently used toys, etc, and take them with you to donate to a charity. Let them see what life could be like given a different circumstance. They’ve seen what the spoiled rich neighbors live like, they need to see the other side of the coin, too.
    The reason I am vomiting so much advice is because I have been through this with my 11 year old and it is still something that we deal with occasionally. He needs to be brought back down to Earth every now and then. Don’t we all though, right?

  3. 3 sunShine November 27, 2006 at 11:54 am

    Whatever happened to kids using their imaginations and playing outside? We had video games when I was growing up, but we only played them when we couldn’t go outside. Most of the time we spent inside was spent playing house or school or Barbies. Kids today are so different.

  4. 4 Areto November 28, 2006 at 2:08 pm

    oh man, i just have to know about the star trek transporter problem! too much to pass up there, nikolai:)

  5. 5 Nikolai November 28, 2006 at 2:38 pm

    “oh man, i just have to know about the star trek transporter problem! too much to pass up there, nikolai”

    The star trek transporter problem is about the nature of what is a human being, what constitute consciousness?

    The question is – if the transporter basically disintegrates you and transports you to the surface, do “you” survive or is it just a copy? Do you die and the copy takes over, thinking they are you, but not.

    One episode is particularly instructive, it’s Riker beams down to a planet, and 2 of him are made. WHich is the real him? The answer, I argued to my sister, is neither. His consciousness was disrupted and destroyed by the transporter, and two copies were made.

    I won the argument. It’s a long one, I won’t bore you with it here. But a fascinating subject.

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