Friday, March 18, 2011

Say It Ain’t So, Mario

Recently, I heard on a morning news program that second graders couldn’t tie their shoes, and teens couldn’t wash a load of laundry, or better yet, figure out the utterly complicated can opener. Toddlers weren’t left out either; apparently, we suck at potty training our kids and four and five-year-olds are wandering around in pull-ups. There were some other examples, but we don’t need our noses rubbed in our parental failures. At least, I don’t.
I’m sure with our technological advances and the invention of Velcro, kids are behind with the simple everyday tasks. We probably do too much for them or maybe worry they’ll get too many owies. I don’t know. I think there is some truth in it, but I just watched my four-year-old son play Super Mario Bros. and couldn’t believe how crazy good he is. He used one controller for Luigi, while the other was at his side, for Mario. He switched back and forth between the two, jumping, smashing, and sliding.
He knew how to dodge bullets, bum jump the mushroom dudes, and freeze turtle creatures. Holy crap, who taught him that? Not me. I’m still trying to figure out Farmtown.
My son is a genius at video games (work with me people, I’m proud) but he is lazy when it comes to everything else. His legs hurt a lot, which means he can’t walk up the stairs to get juice; his tummy doesn’t want to eat veggies; and his sister made him cut the cat’s hair. He actually still has accidents in his pants, which fits right into the four year old in pull-ups talk. But despite his laziness and pee-pee problems, my son navigates video games, the computer, and puzzles better than I did at his age.
I wasn't as lazy and I spent more time outside than I did in. I went on adventures of my own making and even when I had an Atari (insert the sounds of Space Invaders) I didn't get wrapped up in it like today's kids seem to do with Wii, Xbox, PS3, or all the other gadgets.
So how does this translate to fiction? What makes Percy Jackson or Harry Potter different from Charlie Bucket or Ramona? Is there a difference? Or are kids today fundamentally the same? Talk to me.


Christine Tyler said...

Frankly, I think we have a tendency to look at the culture around us and figure it's the norm. We look at the culture in our own home and say, "Oh, this is what american kids are like, because we happen to be American." Or we hear statistics and assume that's "the real world," or whatever. All I can say is, "the heck?"

There are plenty of Americans who don't eat McDonalds, play videogames or watch American Idol. So just because those things may be popular, doesn't mean your characters have to participate in *any* of them.

I think kids are fundamentally the same. There are a whole lot of dumb kids in the world, and they grow up to be dumb adults. At the same time, I think you're right; our indicators are changing. We might as well have a poll to see how many women can knit compared to 60 years ago and call all of today's women domestically retarded. Why should a kindergartener learn to tie his shoes when he's got stinkin' velcro?

Whoa. I am all over the place here. Is it okay if I admit that I just really hate statistics?

Not only are the most productive people throughout history almost ALWAYS the exception to what statistics indicate, but heroes ARE always exceptions. Frodo was a hobbit unlike any other. Harry was the boy who lived. Even if they're presented as a "normal" person, they live outside the box.

One of my favorite Harry Potter moments is when Harry describes Dudley's X-Box as "a bit stupid, really."

We write statistics. They don't write us.
And I don't think we should let statistics write our characters either.

Christine Tyler said...

...I have no idea if that made sense. It is 4:29. I'm going to bed.

E.J. Wesley said...

Great conversation piece, Diana! Interesting points you bring up...

As someone who works with middle schoolers, I think there's definitely something to the motivation (or lack there of) of modern young people. I do think we have somehow diminished intrinsic/internal motivation as a society, and subsequently inflated the importance of external motivation. (Does it apply to every single person? No. But if it applies to a majority, then that's a problem.)

Historically speaking, I'm sure there have been similar issues facing parents. Before TV and Playstation, I'm sure parents wished their child would spend more time reading than playing outside with the dogs, neighborhood kids, etc. And while I agree with the previous comment, kids might very well be fundamentally the same, we have to recognize that the world around them is not. Consequently, the way they develop and grow into adults is different.

Children today have so much more information at their disposal than what children of even 10 to 15 years ago had. Formal education learned a long time ago that the only real limits to a child's learning is what they are exposed to. If you want your kids doing algebra in the 3rd and 4th grade, teach it to them. If you want your kid to know 6 languages, teach it to them as they learn to speak. Of course there are nuances in learning style, etc. that might influence a child's ability to learn, but once that's unlocked the sky is the limit for most kids.

To be perfectly honest, I think children today do not enjoy many of the 'old' activities simply because they're too smart to enjoy them. Dora teaches them more than a parent with a high school (sometimes more) education could teach them about science. Think of it this way: Children want to learn. They do that by role playing, exploring, etc. They will seek out the most expedient and engaging way to learn, not necessarily the most challenging.

I think this is the crux of our challenge. Making things that are good and necessary interesting enough that kids will want to spend time doing them. Years ago, it was way more interesting to be outside than in. That's no longer the case. Exploring the real world outdoors is going to pale in comparison to exploring Mario Galaxy on the surface. We have to engage children earlier, show them all of the things that go on in nature that we can't see. Essentially, show them that there is an opportunity to learn something. That it one example, but I think it applies universally.

In the end, moderation is the key. Video games aren't a bad way to develop certain essential skills in a technology required world. Parents who dismiss them as useless (just like my parents dismissed cable television) are missing the boat. However, you don't want that to be their entire interest or knowledge base. Use it as a reward for other learning or accomplishments.

Sorry for the long comment, but I could go on about this all day!


M Pax said...

Definitely depends on the kid.

Carolyn Cummings said...

I believe kids do what they are motivated to do and pressured to do by life. I work with a lot of neglected kids who grew up too fast- 6 year olds who can change diapers, cook a meal, and take their little siblings across a cross walk and get themselves to school some mornings with minimal involvement from their families. If kids are dependent, its because they have someone to be dependent upon, and thats a great blessing. Maybe our kids won't grow up as quickly, but that's only because they know that if they fall, a mommy or daddy will be there to pick them up.

Jeigh said...

I relate to this a lot because I have a four-year-old son, too, and he's becoming quite the master at the Mario/Luigi bum jump double-team. But he always wants me to draw his pictures for him, wipe his bottom, etc. There has to be a balance, of course, but it's also just a different era. I mean, my kids are all about texting with their play phones. I certainly didn't do that at their age.

Elisabeth Hirsch said...

He is a video game genius; I've seen it first hand. He's super smart and you can't go wrong with that ;) Now if he can just teach me how to beat Cade at Mario Galaxy--then we'll be doing great LOL!

Donna Weaver said...

I think all generations of parents have their own unique challenges, and our children reflect the times. It doesn't mean we should try harder, but our attempts will reflect real life. There marketing challenges of targeted audiences, i.e. matures, boomers, GenXers, GenYs, and now millienials, get what we parents and grandparents don't always.

But even with our busy lives and the juggling, we still need to look at how well we're preparing our children to be functioning adults. No wonder kids 30 is the new 20, and boomer parents have to take some blame if they spent their time being helicopter parents. I've heard of situations where parents will call the HR department to complain because their grown children didn't get a promotion or a raise. O_o

Really? That's really teaching your kids to do it themselves, isn't it?


Donna Weaver said...

*doesn't mean we SHOULDN'T

doreen said...

We definitely do too much for our kids today. We tie their shoes because we are in a hurry. They do not have the imaginations we had either. I have also noticed many kids have no manners or social skills. I really think if kids are lazy it is because the parent is either overworked and too tired or an example of laziness. Wouldn't it be nice if our kids could go outside and play like we used too?