Virtual reality–why teenagers don’t need to daydream

My son says that he doesn’t daydream.  He’s a very poor liar (or a frighteningly good one, I suppose) so I believe him.

After hearing he was bored for the 1,000th time, I told him that he needed a hobby.  He told me he didn’t know any.  So I suggested some.  Stupid idea.  That is only an invitation to be shot down, because, of course, I know nothing.  That fact has been well established.  So I told him to try searching for one on Google.  That he understands.

I felt hopeful when I heard him typing away in the next room, but what he came to me with was a list of websites that listed playing Xbox as a hobby.  If the internet says it, it must be true.  I responded that somewhere the internet says that raising llamas is a great hobby, and a lucrative one to boot, but I wasn’t going to let him do that, either.

So I asked him what he daydreamed of, thinking that would lead to something he might like to learn, or try.  And that when he said that he doesn’t daydream.

I was sort of stunned by the revelation.  I spent half my time daydreaming at his age. Daydreaming got me through a lot of really boring classes, and menial jobs with low wages and lots of busy work.  It was a great way to try on other lives–a rock star, a figure skater, a treasure hunter.  I knew I’d never be any of those things, but they showed me what I was missing, what I needed to fit into my life.  He doesn’t have even one?

He likes playing Xbox, and in theory, I have no problem with that.  We limit the time he can play, and he’s a rule follower, so he sticks to the timeline.  It’s just that the worlds he plays in are so vivid.  If you want to shred like Eddie Van Halen, play Rockstar!  Win a gold medal skating!  Take over a small country!  No wonder he doesn’t daydream, he has an entire fantasy life at the end of the controller.

Is it the same?  Is it better?  Certainly it’s more concrete.  I fear, however, that it’s a false sense of accomplishment, that he never needs to yearn.  I was a big fat ball of yearning at his age.  I wanted to do so many things, the future seemed limitless.  I had to strive, work, sacrifice.  Why spend hours practicing in an empty room when you screaming amphitheaters are at available at a touch of a button.  Why learn through trial and error, when satisfaction is a click away.

I still yearn, and I still practice.  I spend hours, bow in hand, working to shape the friction of horsehair on string into a sigh, or a sob.  I still believe there is a chance for me as a writer, and who knows what else?

The video train has already left the station, and trying to hold it back is a futile gesture.  My only strategy at this point, is to keep it in balance, and let him see what following a dream looks like.  Wish me luck.

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9 comments on “Virtual reality–why teenagers don’t need to daydream

  1. hiyacynthia says:

    Perhaps you should suggest that he Google how to become a video game designer. If he enjoys that, it might be an avenue to get him to think about working in that field, or at least exploring the possibilities.

  2. Kirra says:

    Great post. That makes perfect sense!

  3. Now I’m wondering if your son is the norm for today’s teens. Do they even know who Walter Mitty is? How sad because a video world created by someone else’s dream can never be as good as your own customized musing.

    • Like most mothers, I think my son is above average. 🙂 I may need to write part II, which would discuss how NCLB has stripped education of creativity and expression. Kids aren’t encouraged to dream, they are taught to produce.

  4. There are so many things I want to say here … but they’re all locked up in emotions, fleeting feelings and observations, and I’m not sure i could even begin to pound them out on the keyboard.

    Your observations are so great, and so true. My kids are a bit older (around 30) and they got on the technology train when it was still coal-powered, but what a ride it’s been. At Christmas, two of them were playing a game on their iPads — taking a turn and then sending it to the other person sitting six feet away. These are grown adults, with children of their own. When they were finished, the 2 1/2 yr. old asked for “my iPad”, so she could play a game.

    One of my daughters, mother of four, six and under, recently gave away over half of her kids’ toys. They were only ever thrown around the playroom but never really used. Then she said “no TV, except on weekends” and her life has never been happier. She’s begun giving the kids boxes to play with, challenging them to see what they can make using their craft supplies and, of course, spring is coming to southern Ontario, so the great outdoors is calling.

    This may not last, but I give her credit for trying to foster imagination. You can’t keep technology from your kids, nor should you. I’m glad your son listens to your rules, but I’m also happy that you’re talking to him about imagination and daydreaming. Like you, I had wonderful daydreams when I was a teen. And, like you, I often wonder how today’s kids will ever cope with real life when gratification isn’t instant — or when it doesn’t happen at all.

    Okay, I’m going to stop now. Great post!

    • Thank Phyllis. I commend your daughter for taking the hard road. The video world has become the teen social den, particularly for boys. They meet up online like we used to hang out in each other’s basements listening to records. I do like hearing the boys talk and laugh with each other, even if it’s not face to face, and it reassures me that the appeal is not just shooting at stuff. Yet I still would rather he create something instead (which is how I define hobby) Sometimes I feel like a grouchy old man “In my day we didn’t have these gizmos…” Parenting has become a competitive sport, and I definitely feel like the crunchy new age outlier.

  5. Lara Britt says:

    I resemble those remarks! “Crunchy new age outlier” that is still “a big fat ball of yearning.” Here’s to all of us 50-somethings with dreams worth striving for! Show ’em how it’s done, Mama!

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