Tag Archives: instant gratification

Instant Rewards

A number of years ago, my sister–whom I adore–introduced into our house a seemingly (to her and so many others) innocuous and fun object: the Nintendo DSi.  In the middle of a family birthday party for my oldest son where I was preparing or serving or otherwise distracted by food, I realized a little secret party was happening and I had not been invited.  Move from kitchen to living room, down two steps to playroom and oh oh oh what do we have here?  The innocence.  My niece, whom I also adore, was conveniently teaching my son how to use his newly acquired and already unwrapped and unpackaged toy.  Joy of joys…but I’m being facetious.  My sister knows how I abhor video games, too much tv, movies, electronics, etc etc etc.  I was fairly unhappy, and that is an understatement.

I was furious on a number of levels.  First, the gift was opened in my absence.  Call me crazy, but I want to be part of the gift opening process. Second, my sister knew full well that I limit electronics and that I had no intention of buying electronic devices such as this one for my children.  Third, that they were very obviously enjoying this without my knowledge because everyone knew I would not be happy.  They opened it without me on purpose; they took it out of its packaging on purpose; no one asked if it was okay on purpose.

Okay.  Cool down.  No big deal.  I’m not going to fight in the middle of his birthday party.  Let it go.  What’s the harm?  My sister, who is older,  in her usual they’re kids, let them have fun attitude insisted it was okay for him to have and continued to give me the usual response… everyone else has it, he’ll be behind if he doesn’t have it (behind what?), he needs to be doing things other kids do etc etc etc.  But I didn’t care.  I don’t care who else has what and why.  I don’t keep up with anyone or compete with anyone.  I am not saying I’m better; I just don’t make choices based on other people.

I am a bookie.  I love books.  I don’t have time to read them these days.  But we have a lot.  I love for my kids to read.  I love activity books.  I love for my kids to do these types of things: brain work, art work, self-fulfilling work, slow things.  Board games.  I grew up with board games.  It was not perfect.  We siblings and cousins fought.  Every holiday involved Monopoly and my cousin stealing money from the banker who was conveniently her father and slipped her some 500s.  Every holiday me and the younger cousins weren’t allowed to play because we were “babies”.  Every holiday the game board ended up thrown in the air over accusations of cheating.  My younger brother and younger cousin played an ongoing and endless –continuous over days– card game of War when my brother was in a leg cast and unable to do too much moving.  We did other stuff.  We played together.

Now? People play alone.  People play “together” virtually.  What’s the harm?

I’m not trying to be crabby about technology.  It has its place.  But it should not be a “re”placement for other things, like live interactions, like good old-fashioned game playing that requires cooperation, patience, and eventual fulfillment, or even plain old arguing.

That day when the handheld system came into the house, I had a choice.  I could have said no.  I could have said I don’t care if you opened it, I don’t care if it’s cool.  I don’t like it and I don’t want it in the house.  I don’t think it’s a good use of your time.  It is all consuming.  It will take you away from activities you enjoy.  But I didn’t do that.  One shoulder angel said do it.  The shoulder devil said it’s okay, let it go, he’ll play it and do other things.

Years later the devil is winning hands down.

My son may or may not struggle with ADD.  He has some symptoms.  And they have become more obvious as he has gotten further along in school.  One of the signs is acute focus on things the child really enjoys and an inattention, more than usual, to the things he does not enjoy.  So paying attention in school to things that do not hold his interest is a struggle.  He plain old doesn’t pay attention.  However, he is very bright and easily “bored” because once he learns something, he doesn’t need it repeated.  It is possible his brightness has masked the ADD.  But I also have always felt that he has not been sufficiently challenged.  A child who learns well ahead of other children struggles in a class where learning needs to be on  a level playing field.

Guess what?  Video games hold a constant challenge.  There is always a reward and it’s instant.  A child with ADD needs this.  Certain personality types need this too.  I have three other children and I know that he is different.  I didn’t know this until I had the other children and witnessed their development.  But I never considered there was anything “wrong”.  He didn’t have issues that didn’t seem “normal”.

What’s the harm?  I have asked myself since the day that thing came into the house.  Here’s the harm: my son, who had an interest in so many things, who was able to have patience with tasks, who was able to do slow activities now has so little patience, is often frustrated, wants only his next chance to play computer games.  He seems like an addict.  Once when I banned the games for a period of time (one month at most?), he seemed –I kid you not– to get an immediate high at getting his device back.  He suddenly was less anxious, more happy, relieved and visibly satisfied.  It was as if he was getting his fix, and it was scary.

Since the idea of ADD has come up in recent years, as suggested by his teachers when they use code like “he has trouble attending” (he is now in 4th grade), I can’t help thinking what came first–the proverbial chicken or egg?  Sure, he can’t follow directions and is often wandering and a bit like the absent-minded professor, but his poor habits have definitely increased in recent years.  Is the ADD more apparent as suggested because he is unable to do more of what is required, or has the constant reward-based system wired him for more instant gratification such that he doesn’t really care to follow along?  Is it that he can’t or won’t?  Sometimes he has no problem following directions.  Sometimes he has no problem not being frustrated or “attending”.   But instant rewards are on his radar.  Today he played “drums” on pots and pans and was upset when I didn’t “tip” him in the bowl he had set out.  He was actually upset that I didn’t give him some monetary reward (not at all common in our home in general) and insisted it meant I didn’t think his playing was good.  Tonight he couldn’t fall asleep because he had on his mind the one star he didn’t get in a game he played on the computer… he wanted assurance he would be allowed to play again so that he could get that star!

I don’t watch much tv in general and I especially don’t watch shows like CSI because, although that and others are great shows, they stay with me for days.  I’ll keep seeing the murder scene in my head for three nights straight and have trouble falling asleep.  So when my son can’t fall asleep and he’s played games that day, I can’t help but think it’s the same problem.  Those games are highly visual and he is highly visual.  I know they stay with him because he can’t stop talking or thinking about them.  We hear about them all day!

Ok so I limit the games.  No gaming (usually) during the week; limited gaming on the weekend.  But even then, it’s like, can I play now? How about now?  But I played outside!  (oh, 1/2 hour?? gee!)  Does the weekend start on Friday? What about on vacation?

I am thinking of having a summer free of these trappings.  I have suggested it and received deer-eyed panic.  But seriously, what if there was no “how about now?” because I removed the possibility?  What’s the harm?


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