Q: I’m concerned about my son. He spends so much time playing video games. When I was young, we’d all play outside, but when I look at our neighborhood, there aren’t any kids out there. What’s normal these days? Am I just out of touch?
A: As a school counselor, I am increasingly concerned about this new reality. Faced with the prospect of being with others or getting stimulation from a computer or video game screen, students are choosing the screen. There are many problems with this choice.
Students sitting in front of a screen are not gaining social skills, or becoming aware of social cues previously learned from interactive play with peers. Kids often end up feeling isolated and alone.
Once your child is in the mix of school, the skills of negotiating, compromising, empathizing and building relationships are harder to learn without their reinforcement in recreation outside of school. In addition, students are gaining weight with the sedentary activity of staring at a screen using only fingers to manipulate a hand-held controller.
Moreover, the screen is constantly stimulating. Rewards are gained with every “coin” or “kill” or “new level.” As a result, once kids enter school, they find that stimulation in school isn’t constant. Working with others, listening to a teacher, and writing require patience that doesn’t always give instant reward. This delay in reward (good grades, privileges, honor roll, year-end recognition) may cause students to become quickly disinterested in academics because school is not a video game.
You’re right. There are a lot of kids staying inside playing video games. It is harder today for parents to tell their kids to “go outside and play in the fresh air,” especially when habits have been formed. But, if you don’t do it, who will?
Start by establishing a time limit (perhaps, 20-30 minutes after school homework has been completed) on playing video games. Next, cultivate opportunities for interaction with peers not centered on a screen: programs at the local library and church, Girl and Boy Scouts, community sports; music, art, tennis, skating lessons; put up a basketball net in your driveway and invite neighborhood kids to come over for a game. Participate in some of these activities yourself to model this form of entertainment, service to the community, and exercise. Celebrate involvement in these activities by going out as a family for a snack or ice cream.
I commend you for asking the question about video games. You are showing that you are in touch with a reality which must be seriously considered in raising your child. Middle school is a time to explore and develop interests, cultivate imagination, and build friendships. It is a time to participate in many activities such as reading, sports, clubs, music lessons, and family activities. There will be resistance, but as adults we must together establish the rules by being fair but firm, consistent instead of giving up, and committed to the benefits our children will develop for their future.
Q: I received a letter in the beginning of the school year that said that my daughter will now be receiving AIS services. What does that mean?
A: AIS stands for Academic Intervention Services and comes from Part 100 of the Commissioner’s Regulations in New York State. These services are “additional instruction which supplements the instruction provided in the general curriculum and assists students in meeting the state learning standards” (NYSED.gov). Students become eligible for AIS based on state testing results along with school determination. AIS can be delivered in the general classroom setting, or through a separate class. More information on AIS can be found here: http://www.p12.nysed.gov/part100/pages/topics.html.
Anne-Marie Hughes is a local middle school guidance counselor. Her column will return in the fall when school is back in session.