Friday, July 24, 2009

Get Rid of the Xbox?

President Obama addressed the NAACP convention in New York on it's 100th

anniversary. He spoke about the direct connection between the civil rights movement and

his election to be President of the United States. He also talked about parents and children.

He urged parents to throw out the Xbox and encourage their children to read and study.

Parents should instill high expectations in their children, telling them that they can accomplish

anything they set their minds to achieving. Education, the President proclaimed, is the key

to success and the future of this nation.

As I listened to the President, I found myself nodding in agreement to most of

his points; but it was the Xbox comment that set me off. The comment almost seems

to cast the President as a 21st Century Luddite. As I listened to him, other voices started

to resonate in my mind's ear. There were those who didn't want children to watch television

at all. It was going to rot their brains and wreck civilization as we know it. (OK, I admit

"Dancing My Ass Off", "Jon and Kate", "Survivor", and Fox News do give some credence to

that argument, but...) Others didn't want children to watch Elvis or "Sesame Street" or

cartoons, rock videos, MTV, or Nickelodeon. Still other parents didn't want children

listening to any Rock or the Beatles or Rap music, because any one of these could lead

children down the road to perdition. Some parents and parent's groups still try to ban

books they don't want their children to read including "The Catcher In the Rye",

"Huckleberry Finn", "Slaughterhouse Five", and "Fahrenheit 451". If we shut off the TV,

take away their iPods, throw out all the video games, and control what they read; our

children will turn out like we want them to, and grow up to be productive citizens. As I

listened to all of this, all I can think about is a song about houses made out of "ticky-tacky"

and little boxes which all look the same.

I have watched more television and listened to more radio than almost anyone

I know. On Saturday mornings I turned on cartoons at 7am, and watched everything from

"Bugs Bunny" to "Yogi Bear" to "Spaceghost" until at least noon. Show's like "Mayor Art",

"Captain Satellite", "Jack's Place", "Captain Fortune", and "Marshall J" were must-see

shows in my day.

My children watched "Sesame Street", "The Electric Company", "Zoom", and numerous

Nickelodeon programs as they were growing up. (OK, I let them watch "Barney"; and that

might have been a mistake.) We bought music videos about "Ole King Cole" and all kinds of

other songs which they loved. At the same time, they would watch the news and opinion

shows with me, and I would ask them what they think. They knew what CNN was when

their contemporaries were still finding their way to "Sesame Street". When video games

appeared on the scene, they played everything fro Mario Brothers to GAME BOY to

PlayStation to Xbox. None of this ever gave me a reason to be concerned about their

intellectual development.

At the same time that they watched TV and played games, their mother would

read to them every night while they sat and ate dinner. She picked books she hoped would

interest them; and one of their favorites was "Cheaper By the Dozen". They also watched

as their mother devoured a book almost every week, and I would pour through newspapers

and magazines. We talked about politics and issues in front of them, and we took them

with us each year to the polling place when we voted. My children scoffed at the notion of

a scary movie until my wife rented "Jaws" and we watched it together. They discovered

"Narnia" and all nine volumes; and eventually were captivated by "The Lord of the Rings"

and "Harry Potter". We did not like it when our children started listening to Rap and

Hip-Hop music. I didn't like the language; while my wife didn't like the misogyny that

she heard. We could have banned it, I guess; but it would not have stopped them from

listening to it, and maybe even making it more attractive. I would listen to a song in the

car with them; and then turn off the radio to ask them if they agreed with the language or

how women were referenced to, or if they thought getting high or drunk was a good thing

for people to do.

This was not a household of few rules with parents who were trying to be "friends"

with their children. There were clear limits about behavior and actions. They were to

respect their elders and be well-behaved in public and in theaters or restaurants.

At the end of the day, despite TV and videos and Xboxes and computers, my

children and millions of others are wonderful, goal-oriented, informed, compassionate

human beings. They didn't need to be sheltered from the world; but rather have grown up

inundated by their world, and given the tools to make their way through that which is

valuable and that which is a waste of their time. (Yes, I know I come off as a proud parent

because I am; and I love them very much.)

The President's message to parents should be one which encourages all forms of

interaction with their children. Parents need to read to their children, talk to them, play

with them, go to back-to-school nights, study with them, and build their self-esteem. The

problem is not the Xbox. The problem is a society where both parents have to work to make

ends meet. Parents have to stay in jobs that they may hate, or which consume way too much

time because they need the health insurance their employer supplies. Parents have to work

on weekends, and take less and less vacation because they are afraid of losing their jobs if

they are gone too long.

As a society we have lost a quality of life that would enable parents to spend more

time with their children. We have abandoned our commitment to quality public education,

at the same time that we cut money for libraries and the arts. Arts and music programs

have been reduced along with most other extra-curricular activities that we took for granted.

The President wants the Xbox turned off and thrown out. I understand what he

meant to say, but his message needs to be clearer. A nation that produces good jobs, great

education, effective healthcare, and a public square which has music, art, books, and

assorted community activities that bring us together; is a nation in which our children will

thrive and grow up with high expectations for their lives. A nation that really cares about

children will have clean air and water. My children can watch TV, listen to the music they

wish, go to movies, and play computer and video games; but they also know they are loved

and we expect them to lead good and productive lives. If we really care about our children,

the greatest gift we can give them is hope. They need to be able to believe that their lives

will be better than the past. Without hope, our children will opt for short-term fixes and

pleasures that won't benefit them in the long run. President Obama needs to press for

an agenda of hope. A child with loving parents and hope can play an Xbox or anything else,

and will still grow up well. Isn't that what we all want for our children? What do you think?

I welcome your comments and rebuttals. Please send them to


  1. Well said friend. My son Jake was raised with that same paradigm you spoke of. It is not the song or the video, it is th childs ability to put it proper context. when he wanted to look at a movie or had that rap period I would ask him, this is fatasy and you live where, his reply would be reality. with that he could explore the "arts". My rules were , dignity honor duty, no matter what problem he might have encoutered if he could tell me how it meet the rules then he would be off. He had a huge pasture to roam but the fense was electic

  2. ComiCon is here in San Diego right now - ends today, Sunday. It is walking talking imagination taken to its limits from what I have seen. I myself watch too much TV but do something while I watch TV. I watched the Dish G4 channel presentation on ComiCon. It was amazing how it brought out shy nerds who could hide behind a costume and be some strong hero and loud showey people could let their freak flag fly too - all in the same venue. They showed not yet released SYFY movies and movie trailers of stuff still in the making. The best part was the attendees could meet the creators of such a variety of imaginative creations. Part of ComiCon is the games played on XBox. Next year I may wear a head to toe outfit to hid my old baggy self and go too. I have sewn theatre costumes for years and know seamstresses who make good money creating those ComiCon type costumes and would love to see the costumes up close and personal and check seams and resins and such. ComiCon made me want to try a video game or two too if I ever had any free time. So, I give a thumbs up to XBox and the like.