Figuring out when to let my kids figure things out for themselves


One night last week after just arriving home from work, Mindy quietly motioned for me to look at Edwin. He was walking around in the house with headphones on and eyes glued to his tiny Nintendo DS screen. Occasionally, he’d shuffle his feet in an attempt to mimic some of the dance moves from whatever music video he was watching.

Mindy said he’d been doing it all day. He figured out that his DS came pre-loaded with a music video (I have never heard the song before–it appears to be some boy band ripping off Blur). When she told me that, I immediately had flashbacks to when I was about his age. I would sit in my room for hours listening to the same songs over and over on a mini record player.

And seeing Edwin’s face that evening and remembering sitting in my room nearly thirty years ago, I felt something visceral: joy. But bigger than just the joy of listening to music. Now don’t me wrong, I love listening to music, and that’s definitely part of it. The other part is about control.

When you’re four years old, there is not a lot that you can control. But each day you gain more and more agency, and the one day someone hands you this magic box that fits in your hands that play can play music. You’ve always loved music because your dad was always playing it for you and singing and dancing to it with you. Now you can control the music yourself.

So seeing that joy, I couldn’t help but want to help him even more. Watching your kids have fun is almost as much fun as having fun yourself. I immediately knew I needed to figure out how to get some more songs on there for him.

But that’s sort of par for the course for me since he got the DS for Christmas few weeks ago. We got him some games that we knew he’d love, like Lego Batman.  However, besides playing a few easy games on our phones or Kindles, Edwin doesn’t have much experience with video games. So games like this are probably a little too difficult for him. When he struggles to figure out what to do, it’s a little sad to see him get frustrated. So you can’t help but try to swoop in and bail him out when he can’t get past that same giant mushroom on Mario (sadly, I’m useless on Lego Batman).

The weird thing is we really didn’t want to get him video game this early. Edwin’s next door neighbor buddy has a DS. And sometimes when playing over there, Edwin would just sit there and watch him play it. This made us think that maybe we should get him one of his own 1) to fit in with his friends and 2) a little tech skills will probably be helpful for kindergarten next year.

I did some reading and became thoroughly convinced that we were fine waiting a few years before introducing video games, even if that made us the weird parents. But then we found out that Grandpa had bought the kids child-friendly tablets for Christmas. Then we saw Edwin had made his own pretend DS by folding a piece of paper in half and drawing controls and a screen on it.

So we said screw it, take back the tablet and get him a DS.

And so in a matter of about a month, I went from strategizing on how to postpone the introduction of video games into our home to worrying my son was getting discouraged due to not being good enough at playing video games. Such is par

I then taught him how to find the music on the main menu screen, and reviewed the symbols of play, pause, forward and reverse with him. He was so proud of himself the first time he played music for the whole family without any help. (And after hearing those three songs on loop for the past week, I’m regretting not being more forceful in my suggestion of uploading more).

He gets a little embarrassed we catch him dancing. I could even notice a hint of embarrassment when he told me the songs he liked. He and I are the same that way–it’s a wiring thing or a self-esteem thing–either way he got it from me,

So another thing I want to teach him not to be embarrassed, and that it’s OK to ask for what he wants (I’m not sure I’ve even learned this for myself yet). But some things a person just needs to come to on their own. This will be tough for me because I’m always over-explaining things, then later I think “well, I figured it out for myself, so what was I worried about?”

This has to be one of the one of the tougher aspects of parenting in the big picture. Knowing when to teach and when to step back and figure things out for themselves. I’m going to do all I can to teach him to do what he likes and not embarrassed, but more than likely, he’s on his own for Lego Batman.