"Lady, can I have a quarter to call my mom?" The 13- or 14-year-old boy who asked me that question as I came out of the Grand Union looked concerned, his straight brown hair falling into his eyes as he sat on his dirt bike. Unfortunately for the boy, his memory was too short.
"You blew it, young man. You asked me the same question on the way into the store, and I gave you 20 cents then to call your mother. If you want to beg for quarters for the video games, you should at least say what you really want."
As he rushed off down the sidewalk of the neighborhood shopping center, probably cursing all mothers who seem to have ESP, I thought about the almost addictive nature of the video games.
There's nothing strange about children having a fascination with video games. Children constantly sharpen their skills, love repetition, become excited by flashy visual and sound effects and have a fierce competitive streak. The problem with the combination of children and video games is that children also have little self-control and less understanding of the value of money. Many kids spend hours every day either playing or watching others play--missing soccer scrimmages, forgetting about fishing in the Potomac and ignoring bicycles that previously were closer companions than the kids' best friends. During the past school year, our neighborhood safety patrol members regularly abandoned their stations to play a few games at the drug store.
Besides the amount of time consumed by the games, I am concerned about other aspects. Now that there are video games in so many of our local stores, young children frequently end up spending hours horsing around the machines in the company of older teen-agers and young adults, picking up more than new vocabulary and techniques of playing the games. Some of the same stores that have games also sell cigarettes and beer, which are consumed by these older patrons while they are playing the games.
Also, the money fed into the voracious games must come from somewhere. In the case of my 11-year-old son and his friends, money for the games has been diverted from other purposes (from allowance saved for fishing tackle, for kites, for admission to the county swimming pool and ice-skating rink and even for the Sunday school offering), or it has been begged for from parents, friends and passers-by, and even taken from Mom's purse without permission.
What is the solution? I admit that I don't have a complete answer. The simple answer, and that given by the store managers who have installed video games, is that parents should teach their children the value of time and money, thereby controlling the use of the games. I agree that values must be taught by parents--but peer pressure and completely unrestricted access to the games render parental control alone insufficient.
Concerned parents and responsible business people should carefully consider all available alternatives. Perhaps age limits should be established, which would only allow children below the age limit to use the games if accompanied by adults. Or perhaps the age limits should apply during certain hours--including school hours and evening hours. Localities may need to limit the number of places where machines can be installed--and consider requiring that the machines be attended. Whatever steps are to be taken, we parents must realize that we must act--both by helping our kids directly and by working with other parents to develop some control--now, before our children develop more serious problems.