by Sharon Duke Estroff
During my time on Club Penguin, I became a regular at the local pizzeria. I liked it because of the clichť Italian piano music, the cozy candle-lit tables, and the fiery brick oven; but mostly because of the friendly waiters and waitresses who never, ever delivered my pizza.
Sure, I was initially stumped over how I could have given my order to 16 separate penguins and not have as much as a slice to show for it, but then I realized that these avatars/kids were only pretending to be waiters and waitresses. And they thought I was pretending to be a customer. We were playing the old "let's pretend" game in a new sort of setting.
Mom Break: Charming? Yes. Strictly worry-free? No. After all, it may walk like a penguin and talk like a penguin, but that doesnít mean it's a penguin. Unlike traditional imaginative play, kids didnít dream up this bustling restaurant scene on Club Penguin; graphic designers did it for them. The storylines were fueled not by childrenís imaginations but by the robotic clicks of a computer mouse.
Iíve learned during my years of studying child psychology that childhood is a learning process by design, and old-fashioned pretend play is an essential, integral part of the curriculum. Dress-up games and tea parties arenít just remnants of the retro-childhood, they're the building blocks of imagination and the means by which children weave together all the elements of life as they experience it. As traditional low-tech playtime progressively gives way to high-tech virtual playtime, the concern over its impact on millennial children is real and far-reaching. It's up to us millennial parents to maintain a consistent balance for our kids between real and virtual fun.
That said, I want to end this one on a positive note: Unlike the cyberbullying and romancing I describe in earlier Undercover Mom installments, I ultimately found the pretend play in the pizzeria to be more refreshing than concerning. You see, while those cyber-waiters and -waitresses might not have delivered my pizza, they served up something far more delicious to me: precious glimmers of hope that in every age and every generation, in this world and the virtual one, childhood will prevail.