Now or Then…

“Computer games don’t affect kids. I mean, if Pac Man affected us as kids, we’d all be running around in darkened rooms, munching pills and listening to repetitive music.” ~Gareth Owen

Ladies and gentlemen, I miss Bob Barker

Remember when you got sick as a kid? You got to stay at home and watch all kinds of stuff you’d never in a million years get to see on a school day. For me, that was The Price Is Right. The thrill is gone now (as is Bob Barker), but back then, that show was the shizzle, if you know what I mean.

What wasn’t to like? Goofy contestants, a larger-than-life host and announcer, pretty women holding everything from toothpaste to a new John Deere Gator (snerk), and oh, those games. I was a big fan of Hole In One (even though it HAD to be fixed), Cliff Hangers (I always secretly wanted the contestant to lose, so the little hiker guy would go tumbling to a horrific cardboard death), and Three Strikes (that one always seemed to be for a Lincoln or another snazzy ride.) And then there were the less glamorous games, like the Checkout Game. Not to mention Now..or Then.

Guys...I'm gonna go with...then. Final answer

The premise of the game was, and is, simple. Bob would have a disc featuring six priced products, anything from Taster’s Choice to the ever-popular denture cream, and the contestant would have to guess three in a row as to whether it was now, or from October 1993 or some date in the past. If they won, usually it was a hot tub or a kitchen suite. Nothing major.

I was thinking about the premise of this today. Someone in my family whom I rarely talk to was yakking on and on about her precious little kids. Because she’s family, I didn’t say a word. I just nodded and pretended to be interested, whereas mundane personal life stories are about as interesting to an Aspie as watching the Kentucky Snail Derby. Something she said, however, piqued my interest. Dangerous thing to do, that.

“Oh, yeah,” she said. “Little Kayla* has her own IPod now.” (* Thank God, not her real name.)

“An IPod?” I don’t have an IPod. It took me a solid five years to save up for the laptop I now own. “And how old is Hayla again?”

“Kayla,” she snapped back, “is six.”

Coming Soon: James Cameron's IPeed

Honest to God, this stopped me in my tracks. I tried to go into the dusty archive rooms of  my recollections to think what I was doing “then,” when I was a mere six years old. Here’s what I came up with.

First of all, our family lived, as Luke Skywalker described Tatooine, on the planet that the bright center of the universe was farthest from. Back in a galaxy far, far away, a long time ago. Some of you may remember it as the 1980s. We received a grand total of 3 TV stations (4 if you counted UHF, and I didn’t), a handful of radio stations. Nothing else. On weekends, Mom and Dad expected me to gasp! The horror! actually ENTERTAIN MYSELF.

Family member X, while I was contemplating this dichotomy, went on to describe how little Kayla had her own TV, computer, TV in the car…everything except her own lunar rover, it would seem. She gave me an anecdote about how there had once been a power outage in her home, and Little Kayla had been without her precious toys for a whole hour.

“I thought that would never end,” she laughed.

Before you start to think I’m one of those Moloch-worshipping, SUV-burning, anti-technology neo-Luddites who want to take every Ostara off for good behavior and live among the trees, I’m not. I do think technology has its benefits and advantages. However, like a finely crafted sword, it has a sharp edge and must be handled by one with skill. I do not believe for one minute that little Kayla, or any first grader, needs an IPad or an IPhone or a laptop. It may be great that she has them, but I’m willing to bet Family Member X hasn’t read her daughter a story for a very long time. Why would she need to with the TV right in the bedroom?

So, is it now, or then? Some observations from me (and I’m weird to begin with, so you can take or leave these as you wish.)

NOT the right babysitter

Then…a kid could go outside and play for hours, either with himself or with a group of neighborhood friends.

Now…it’s too dangerous in many neighborhoods, and if kids get together at all, it’s probably to play the latest Wii game instead of a friendly game of baseball.

Then…parents actually made the kids stay out of the house until dinnertime so that they could get a strange thing called exercise.

Now…too many kids are lazy, overfed, and their parents think TV and video games are an acceptable substitute for spending quality time with them.

Then…Parents set appropriate limits on TV and movies kids could watch.

Now…as long as the kids are kept busy, what’s the harm? All their friends watch that stuff anyway.

Then…Kids were taught the difference between “I need” and “I want,” and given allowance so that they might save up to buy the things they wanted but couldn’t afford right away.

Now…TV ads tout “must-have” items for toddlers, and overworked parents will do, or buy, anything to get a moment’s peace.

Before I go any further, I’ll clarify that I am not a parent and likely never will be. Nor am I either a right-wing nutball or someone who maintains a pipe dream of living in some screenwriter’s version of a Leave it to Beaver utopia. It’s simply not possible. I’m an Aspie, but also a realist. So how am I qualified to give parenting advice, or to criticize others on their parenting style?

Just because I don’t have testicles, am I not allowed to constructively criticize men?

The advice I’d like to give many parents today is very similar to the advice I gave Little Kayla’s mother.

“Have you considered saying ‘no’ to her once in a while?” I asked in my typically straightforward way.

“Well, um, no…”

“Maybe you should. You know, not every six-year-old needs an IPod and movies on demand in the car.”

“I should be going now…”

Sometimes it takes an outsider’s perspective, I guess.

The one piece of advice I CAN offer, both from personal experience and from osmosis, is that no money or technology or shiny new toy can possibly replace a parent’s (note the use of the singular, as I know there are many devoted single parents) love, attention and devotion to their children. If you can’t give them this most basic of needs, maybe you should look hard in the mirror at what sort of parent you are.

And I’m now stepping off my soapbox, as it seems to be time for my tube-tying appointment.

Got comments? I’d love to hear them. Drop me a line at!

~ by Howlin' Mad Heather on September 30, 2010.

One Response to “Now or Then…”

  1. As the mother of three kids, I can honestly say, ‘well said’. Of course, I am the mom who assigns chores and does not pay an allowance because I feel that cleaning up after oneself should simply be a given, and helping out with other chores is just being part of a family. Expensive things, like iPods, are usually given as gifts (birthday or Christmas), and only after the recipient has proven she can be responsible enough to own it. My 12-year-old STILL does not have an actual iPod. She has a basic $30 mp3 player and if that is not lost or broken by this Christmas, we’ll see about an iPod… Of course, they can always save up birthday money, babysitting money, etc. to buy it themselves. At any rate, what I am trying to say is, I agree with you. And someday, many years from now, reality will smack little Kayla* in the face.

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