"We are not measured by the trials we meet -- only by those we overcome."
- - Spencer W. Kimball
May 7, 2014
To Wii or Not to Wii
by Emily S. Jorgensen

Many years ago when I was a university student I experienced life without daily screen worship for the first time.

I’m sure BYU students of today would find it hard to imagine, but when you were a poor college student then, there was no TV unless you bought yourself one, no computers except for the ones you could use in the library (yes, you had to pay per hour to type your papers), and cell phones hadn’t been invented yet.

I remember thinking, upon doing without my daily dose of cathode ray goodness, that I had wasted an awful lot of time in front of the television growing up. I began to wonder if I even wanted a TV in my own house some day. I certainly didn’t want more than one, and I would rather it not be at the center of the family room either.

After I was married, my husband had to lobby pretty hard for me to go along with his plan to buy a PC. It made word-processing much easier, so I no longer had to rent time at the library computers to get my homework done, but it also became the way my husband spent the majority of his time, playing video games. It caused a lot of strife in our marriage.

When console gaming systems first became popular, I was somewhat horrified. Here was a machine whose only purpose was to absorb monumental blocks of teenage time.

Then came Gameboys — the portable soul-sucking device every elementary kid had to have.

Seeing my students stop practicing piano because they were spending so much time on their Xbox, and watching siblings waiting for their lesson time fight over whose turn it was with the portable electronic device du jour convinced me that when I had kids, we would never own any of these things.

And so, it was with tremendous trepidation that we allowed a Wii to come to our home for Christmas this past year.

When the Wii came out, I told my husband it was the first gaming system I was actually tempted by. When you live in a climate that is under snow and frigid temperatures for 5-6 months a year, you have to find things to do inside that still encourage your children to be active.

The Wii represents the latest in the Screen Creep that has slowly but surely entered our home over the years.

My pre-motherhood resolve to have only one screen in the home has been eaten away by school requirements that homework must be done online, expectations that my clients have to communicate via email, and many websites that I now use regularly in my business, not to mention my children’s whole-hearted enthusiasm for entertainment.

Still, although I can see many valid and wholesome reasons for having the two desktop computers, two laptops, two tablets, a TV, a portable DVD player and a Wii that all live in our home — it scares me how entwined we are with our screens.

Seeing my son play a video game for the first time when he was 4 was frightening. It completely absorbed his entire attention to the exclusion of everything else in the world around him. I have never seen him so engaged with anything else. It made me think of those street drugs that are addictive with the first hit.

After that initial foray into the virtual world, I wouldn’t let him play any type of video game for some time.

As the Wii settled into our family culture, we created a lot of rules to regulate its use. For one thing, my children can only play it with someone else. A study published by BYU in the Journal of Adolescent Health (BYU Magazine, Spring 2011) found that when teenage girls played video games with a parent, they reported greater emotional and mental health. However, the same finding did not hold true for sons.

One explanation postulated by the researchers for this difference is that boys play video games alone so much.

In observing my son, I insist on the only-with-another-live-person rule because I see that then he is still practicing social skills, and he is forced to take breaks in the form of taking turns. One of the concerns child psychologists have with video game and TV usage in the very young is not that they do active harm, but that they replace the practice of healthy interpersonal skills and imaginative play that are vital for normal development.

We also set time limits with screen time, keeping it to 1-2 hours a day. With the Wii, we have only purchased games that are very active and require full-body participation like dancing and sports games. With TV, we subscribe to an internet streaming service that lets us lock out shows with ratings we are not comfortable with, and there are no commercials to expose our children to content we may not wish them to see.

I know I use the “electronic babysitter” more than I wish I did. It is so much easier to hand my toddler my tablet with a cartoon going on it while I attend a PTO meeting than it is to try to occupy her another way.

But I worry. I worry my children are being cheated of IQ points and imagination when I let them veg for too long. I worry when I see every single child at the supermarket holding a screen in their stubby little fingers so their mothers can shop in peace.

I worry when one of my students starts to cry because I tell him it is time to put the iPad down and start his piano lesson, but he just can’t lose his spot in this game!

I worry about my children finding spouses some day that will actually be able to communicate with them effectively, face-to face, because all their previous relationships have been conducted largely in the ether.

I worry whether they will even be able to find spouses when I hear BYU female students complain that none of the boys want to bother with dating when they can stay in their dorms and game all weekend.

I can’t imagine our family’s life without some of the screen-delivered entertainment we enjoy. However, I fear that as a society we have become so indulgent in screen time and so dependent on it to do a large part of the child-rearing that we will reap terrible consequences that we can’t yet realize.

Although screens are here to stay (my husband adds here: “at least until we can plug ourselves into the Matrix” ha ha), families can set limits on their use; families can set times of the day when no screens are going — the family dinner, family prayer and scripture study, perhaps on the Sabbath, or any other time when the family is all together.

When we are together, let’s stay connected — not via a LAN or WiFi, but with our whole attention, listening ears and thoughtful hearts.


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About Emily S. Jorgensen

Emily Jorgensen received her bachelor's degree in piano performance from Brigham Young University. She earned her master's degree in elementary music education, also at BYU. She holds a Kodaly certificate in choral education, as well as permanent certification in piano from Music Teacher’s National Association.

She has taught piano, solfege, and children’s music classes for 17 years in her own studio. She has also taught group piano classes at BYU.

She is an active adjudicator throughout the Wasatch Front and has served in local, regional, and state positions Utah Music Teachers' Association, as well as the Inspirations arts contest chair at Freedom Academy.

She gets a lot of her inspiration for her column by parenting her own rambunctious four children, aged from “in diapers” to “into Harry Potter.” She is still married to her high school sweetheart and serves in her ward’s Primary.

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