My boys like to play National Geographic’s Animal Jam on the computer. The game allows the kids to create animal characters and live in various parts of the world with other players. Recently and for the first time, Joe and Charlie played Animal Jam simultaneously on separate computers. It was funny watching them get excited about “seeing” each other and interacting online.
Today, while Charlie was playing, I watched him interacting with one of his “buddies”. The buddy has a female named and character, so I’m going to assume the player is a girl. (Frequently, I remind my boys that you never know about a person online, because it is easy to pretend/lie.) I forget the girl’s character name, so I’ll just refer to her as “Princess”.
Charlie was in one of his buddy’s den, along with several other buddies. Princess kept typing in a dialogue that made it clear she was upset about something. Charlie asked her what was wrong, and he tried to get her to talk. Alas, Princess would just walk away and sigh. While watching this take place online, I said aloud, “Princess is being a bit dramatic.”
Shortly after I made my comment, Princess moved up to the top of the house and typed, “Jumps off.” Then she went down, said “ouch”, and made her character sleep.
Charlie was oblivious, as was Joe, who was watching Charlie play, but I was left thinking and wondering. Because I tend to overthink things, my mind kicked into gear and flooded me with questions: Should I get online and say something? Was Princess really upset? Is she just kidding around, thinking it will get her attention? Why would someone think jumping off a building after being sad is funny? How old is Princess? Good lord, my kids are getting older, and I don’t want them to get screwed up! Is there ice cream in the freezer?
Okay, I’m kidding about the ice cream.
We care about and pay attention to what is relevant in our life. Right now, I have two boys that are interacting more and more with the outside world; and, because they are getting older, they are interacting with less and less supervision. And, because they are interacting with less supervision, I am paying more and more attention to the goings on in the outside world, especially as it pertains to kids.
Sadly, it’s not inconceivable that my boys will experience a tragedy at school in the form of a mass shooting or some other act of violence. I hope Rob and I are able to educate our boys to the point that they would recognize someone’s troubled mind or pain prior to it turning to a horrific tragedy.
Am I saying I expect my boys to be super heroes and save the day? Heck no. Still, I’d like to think they are able to pick up on social cues, even the subtle ones. Perhaps though, through social media and “virtual games”, social cues are lost because it is considered mindless play. I mean, how many of the kids playing games online are truly engaged with the other players? *SQUIRREL!*
And yet, there may be someone playing online that is desperately trying to find a connection – a lifeline – a ray of hope. Speaking from experience, I started this blog as a lifeline. I was struggling, and I thought writing about it would help me through it. And, I was right; I did find help – through the encouraging words of my readers.
But, are the kids able to get that kind of interaction through the virtual games? I mean, it’s a game first and foremost, right? How serious is one expected to take it? Plus, as I noted in my “Twitter” post, most of us use social media to say “Here I am!”, and we are constantly trying to get noticed, while countless others are trying to get noticed at the same time. It’s maddening trying to keep up with – “SQUIRREL!” –
Um. Hello? Helloooo! Yoo hoo.. I’m over here! Were you even listening to me? Are you even paying attention?
Pay attention. That’s what we – society – need to do. That’s what I will do, and that’s what I want my kids to do. Pay attention online, and pay attention offline. Keep calm and pay attention.
Okay, okay. I’ll give it a rest for now. But know this – today I created a character on Animal Jam, and when the boys are playing on the “family” computer, I will play (secretly) on my laptop at the same time. I will stalk my boys, and I will use what I see as a guide for future conversations with them, because I want to make sure my kids pay attention and remain engaged in life and in each other – online and offline.
And to Princess I say, I really hope you were playing. I’ll keep an eye out for you when I am playing.