Give it up, prairie dog

Sing, dance, shout little prairie dog, but you cannot compete with the Game Boy

Sing, dance and shout little prairie dog, you cannot compete with electronic toys.

I’m not in the habit of snapping pictures of strangers in public and posting them online. But this one, when I found it with my downloaded shots, just begged to be shared with the Internets. The reason I have this picture at all is because I was balanced on a railing, finger poised over the shutter button on my camera, waiting for my little Girl from the East to pop up in one of the viewing tubes.

We were at the prairie dog exhibit at the Detroit Zoo, which is a popular stopping point for the children and a great photo opportunity for parents. The exhibit enables visitors to get close to the perky little rodents of the West and play peek-a-boo with them as they dart in and out of their tunnels. Children, if they are inclined to do so, can descend a set of steps to an underground vestibule with three viewing tubes that place them eye-to-snout with the prairie dogs.

While I waited and waited and started to worry about my girl, I noticed this boy — the one to the far right in the picture.  I saw him at two points earlier in the day. At each encounter, this child held himself in the same way: silent, intently focused on this electronic game device, seemingly unaware of his surroundings. He was with another child, maybe a sibling, and a caregiver who appeared resigned to his behavior.

Unlike the other children, this boy did not look at the prairie dogs. He did not wave to familiar faces in the crowd. He did not tap on the tube or stick out his tongue. He didn’t flatten his nose to the glass or smear it up like all the other kids took turns doing.

Mild panic over the disappearance of my Girl from the East made me forget about this boy. I found my child crouched on the steps, tears welling in her eyes, waiting for me to rescue her. I felt bad that I’d pushed her into this situation before she was ready.

But after finding this picture, I’m glad I nudged her out of her comfort zone just a little. I wondered about this boy. Did he have  a medical condition? Did this explain his withdrawal and seemingly anti-social behavior? If so, then any further commentary is beyond the realm of my knowledge.

If not, I wonder why he is allowed to behave this way in public? Are his parents/caregivers tired of arguing with him about his electronic device usage? Is he going for a Guinness World Record?

It makes my heart sick when I attend a choir concert or other live performance and see parents in the audience allowing their children to send text messages and play video games. This example, of a child so engrossed in a video game that he doesn’t care about the living world around him, scares me.

Are we giving in too much ? Giving up? Are they just following our example?

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