Dear Cody (or any young person 8 to 18 years old):
First of all let me tell you how much I enjoyed visiting with you last month. It is always special for me to visit with my first born grandson. Every time I visit you I’m impressed with how you are growing, both physically and intellectually. For a person born about 53 years before you, it is always very interesting to see what is important to you and your life. I wish I could visit with you, your sister and your cousins every week — but geography and finances make it hard to see you more than two to three times a year.
So now that your school year has started I expect you are spending a little less time on recreation and more time on study. Hey, don’t worry, everyone goes through this and makes it all the way to adulthood. That’s both good and bad news. The good news is you will be old enough to make decisions by yourself and for yourself. The bad news is, as almost every adult will tell you, they had much more fun and were less stressed when they were kids. So you are at a critical point in life where the decisions, habits, and ideas you develop now will shape the future you will live in about 15 years.
That’s what I want to talk to you about: What is important now and how it will affect your future. I can do that by telling you a little about my life as a child and teenager. When I was 7 years old I told my Mom and Dad that, “Little League sign-ups start tomorrow.” I was excited and played baseball every season from 7 until I was 17 years old. Baseball isn’t for everyone, but I always found sports exciting and loved throwing, catching and hitting a baseball. More than that I made great friends playing ball and we’d even get together for pick-up games before and after Little League season.
I think I was 8 or 9 when one summer morning my Dad told me to get in the car, we were going somewhere. My Dad was sometimes mysterious about things and liked to surprise us. When the car stopped and I asked, “What are we doing here?” Dad, replied, “Signing you up to play Pop Warner football.” I really didn’t know much about the whole thing and was puzzled when a couple weeks later the coach at my first practice called my name to line up with the halfbacks. Even after practice I had to ask my Dad what a halfback did in a football game. “You will carry the ball and the other guys will try to tackle you.” I wasn’t sure this was a good thing but I trusted my Dad.
All that to say I played football for the next 10 years of my life and actually loved it more than baseball. Again playing was exciting but the friends I made and kept playing baseball and football were more important than any success I had in taking part. We practiced together, met for birthday parties and later went on dates together. We did more than just play a sport, we lived a great life with people we probably would never have met otherwise. Competitive sports aren’t for everyone, and maybe not for you. I have watched you work out at a rock-wall gym. Good for you! We all need to exercise. However, doing things with and meeting real people face to face is important for all of us.
I know you and lots of other young people are really into an online and interactive game called Fortnight. From a little research I understand it is fun and competitive but nowhere near as bloody and realistic as Mortal Combat ... and that’s a good thing. Still, it worries me how much time young people spend basically alone in their rooms playing on an electronic device. What is also worrisome is the way it affects your mood. When you lose or your team loses a particular session, so-called online friends sometimes accuse one another of not playing well or making dumb mistakes. Really? The game is virtual, no one really dies, or gets blown up, or wounded. To me that is the big difference between online gaming and real life baseball, football, soccer, track and field, lacrosse, field hockey, swimming or any other team sport.
What do I mean? Let’s say your best buddy is up to bat in the last inning of a baseball game your team is losing by one run. If he gets a hit, two runners could score and your team would win. Unfortunately your teammate hits a pop fly and is out, the game ends and your team loses. On every team I’ve ever played, the entire team would be disappointed, but since each player understands that they could have been the one to fly out, they would support and console your best buddy who is very sad. That’s a real team, not a virtual team. There are no accusations, no fault directed at one player. The truth is when a game of any sport gets to the last minute or last play or last drive, whatever the situation happens to be (winning, losing or tie score) is a result of the entire team’s efforts ... not just a single player.
All I’m saying Cody is this: You can have fun and learn from playing online games. However, you will learn much more about life and other people from being involved in real-life activity. Look up every now and then from Fortnight and see what your family is doing. End a game early and call up a friend and talk to them (not about Fortnight). Go outside and give more than your fingers a good physical workout. Life is more than a game and should be lived, not played. I learned that on a real field of play.
Mike Tischio is a freelance columnist living in Union County. To comment, simply email email@example.com.