10 Life Lessons You Can’t Learn Playing Video Games
By Melanie Hempe, BSN, Founder of ScreenStrong
Why video games don’t prepare a young boy for real baseball or real life.
The season was as fresh as the new uniforms. The night air was crisp. His focus was locked in. And with the swing of the bat and a sweet crack, the ball went sailing. He took off for first base just as he has for six years, but by the time he rounded second, the cheers from the crowd changed, and he knew he had reached his goal: His first home run! His whole team ran to greet him with hugs, high fives, cheers and grins as he and his teammate crossed home plate together. When you are 12 years old, life just doesn’t get much better than that. He thinks he hit his first home run today but this mom knows that his first home run wasn’t today, it was about 6 years ago. So how did he hit a home run when he was 6 and not know it?
Like many families we struggled with video game overuse.
Do you struggle with gaming in your house? We did. We battled to balance it all, with three boys–all naturally born “gifted” video game players, like every other boy in the world. Finally, as a result of learning the hard way that a preoccupation with video games could derail a young man’s dreams lickety split (see Adam’s story here), I made drastic changes with my younger boys. I tried something different, and we went game free. Call me one brave mom, but I was a proven failure at managing their time on those darn games. I knew my limits. So when my youngest was 6, I decided to pull the plug and send them all outside to play.
Removing screen clutter.
When you are a boy and you don’t play video games you learn to spend a lot of time in the backyard! My oldest son had quit baseball after a few seasons to pursue his video gaming ‘dreams’ and, being the inexperienced mom that I was at the time, I let him quit (one of many big mistakes I made during those gaming years). When you are a kid one of your jobs is to become obsessed with things. The younger boys became obsessed with baseball, not because they were born with natural talent (whatever that is), but because their path was cleared of screen clutter and baseball was front and center. They started dreaming of hitting real home runs and this dream was fueled and grew stronger over many years of:
- Playing on baseball teams–instead of Minecraft
- Talking with Grandpa at dinner about baseball–instead of ignoring him while playing a video game
- Collecting and trading baseball cards with friends–instead of collecting likes on Instagram
- Reading baseball books–instead of watching YouTube
- Going to the batting cages–instead of playing a baseball video game
- Organizing sandlot baseball games with friends–instead of trying to connect with virtual friends
- Memorizing stats on all the best players–instead of memorizing video game cheats
- Studying baseball history–instead of sitting on the couch studying mom’s smartphone
- Watching MLB games on TV with Dad, breaking down the plays with Dad, and playing catch with Dad –instead of watching Dad play video games
I saw his first home runs when he did not!
How was he hitting home runs without knowing it? What he wanted was accompanied by action: countless days in the backyard with his bucket of balls, his bat, and the hitting net. For hours a day (even in the rain) he would throw the ball up and hit it in the net. Over and over. I have often wondered what was going through his head when he would trot down to his backyard “job” carrying that big heavy bucket of balls; was he dreaming that he was Babe Ruth? Yes probably (see photo above when he was 6!). Did he ever get discouraged? I’m sure. Did he ever get bored? No. Did he ever get distracted with video games? No, because that wasn’t an option. He didn’t talk about it too much but his actions proved that he was going after it. I would watch his determination from the kitchen window and wonder if he would ever reach his goal of hitting one over that far away fence one day in a real game. But it didn’t matter, I knew that he was hitting a home run every time he chose to get out in the yard instead of plugging into a screen.
Life lessons are learned in the backyard, not on a video game.
The human brain gets good at what it does. Neuronal pathways are actually “paved” with myelin making the connections stronger and quicker every time you repeat a task or skill. This means that the more you practice basketball the more baskets you will make. The more you practice face-to-face communication, the better communicator you will be. The more you practice hard work the better you will become at doing hard work. There are many lessons and skills learned when you are working on a goal; here are a few:
- Hard work & Practice is key to anything you want to get good at. (If you practice video games every day you will get better at them too, but you might not have time to practice other things.)
- Sacrifice means you trade an immediate pleasure for something long term. (Video games are immediate pleasure.)
- There are no shortcuts to working hard toward a goal. (There are shortcuts with video games, from YouTube game cheats to simply pressing the reset button.)
- Delayed gratification is hard but it builds patience and self-control. (Video games are built on instant gratification, one of the most popular “hooks” that sells games.)
- Success is not guaranteed. (Gaming success is guaranteed on some level of play.)
- Hitting a baseball is the hardest thing to do in real-life sports. (Hitting a virtual baseball is the easiest.)
- Determination fuels success.
- Being brave builds resilience when you are standing at the plate (There is nothing brave or “tough” or even real about playing a video game and every boy knows this.).
- It takes a lot of persistence to empty buckets of balls day after day (It is easy to keep playing a video game, in fact the neuroscientist who designed the game you are playing made sure it would be hard for you to quit playing it; no grit required on your end to stick to it.).
- Real success doesn’t happen overnight; sometimes it takes half of your life to reach a goal but it is worth it. (Success is pretty quick on a video game, but then again, it’s not real.)
Video games don’t prepare a young boy for real baseball or real life.
As much as you may want to think gaming is good for your boys, I promise they are not learning lessons like these if they spend 6 years on a video game. I am not saying that all games are bad or that your son won’t be a home run hitter if he plays video games. But gaming is very addictive and it will take hours away from other worthwhile activities (and just imagine how much better he would be if he converted his gaming hours to developing other skills in his sport!) This home run quest will prepare a young boy for life and a future job one day. More than his academic life, the prep for this real-life home run will get him one step closer to success in his marriage, his family, his job, and his future. He will use and remember these same skills he has practiced again and again: how to dream, how to plan, how to work hard, how to sacrifice and how to wait for it. He will also remember the sweet payoff of success and that feeling alone will fuel his motivation and his conviction that hard work is worth it. Now that’s a brain path worth paving!
Home runs are in your son’s future too!
I am so glad we made the decision 6 years ago to pull the plug on video games in our house. We will never go back. For our family, that one decision closed the door to arguments, conflicts, depression, laziness and miserable kids. It opened the door for rich boyhoods full of dirt, dreams, determination and the surprising and rare home runs. While I can’t promise baseball home runs in your future, I can promise many real-life home runs if you make the trade. But right now, I am enjoying this peaceful quiet late night knowing that there is a 12 year old boy asleep upstairs in his room who thinks he hit his first home run today. His name is on a well worn ball sitting on his desk next to his baseball cards. Do you think he misses his video games? Heck no! He is dreaming about his next game and hitting another full bucket of balls in the back yard tomorrow, he has home run #2 to work on!
Are you struggling with too much gaming in your home? We can show you how to get your son off the virtual game and back in the real ballgame of life.
Melanie Hempe, BSN, is the founder and executive director of ScreenStrong, a national nonprofit organization that offers a countercultural approach to eliminate childhood screen dependency, but one that just might save your kids. Melanie has developed cutting-edge programs that empower parents to pause video games and social media for kids and teens through late adolescence. Her three books can be found on Amazon: Will Your Gamer Survive College?, Can Your Teen Survive—and Thrive—Without a Smartphone? and The ScreenStrong Solution: How to free your child from addictive screen habits.
ScreenStrong is committed to rescuing this screen-driven generation, one family at a time.
Photo Credit: Canva