Tuesday, February 3, 2009

Video Game Troubles?

OK - so when I originally set up this blog - the very first topic I wanted to talk about was this - Video Game Addictions. As you can see . . . . I'm not only a busy mom of 5 . . . but a procrastinator who gets easily distracted by other interests! :) It's a battle I fight daily! So . . . no more procrastination today. After talking with a friend of mine this weekend about all this - I have to let you know too! It looks long . . . but it's worth reading!

I have 3 boys and 2 girls ranging in age from 4 up to 13. I love my kids and want to see them happy (as I'm sure you do with your own kids). I want to see them grow up healthy (physically, emotionally, mentally, spiritually, etc). I want to see them succeed in life - in relationships, in careers, in marriage and more.

I also want my kids to "like me". :) Who doesn't. However, "liking me" comes last on my list. I've been told many a time "You're such a mean mom! I have the meanest mom in the world!"

"Man - what a bummer. It stinks to be you! I'm sorry you got stuck with such a mean mom . . . but that's my job!" :) (all said with a smile of course)

Now - I'm not REALLY a mean mom . . . but from their perspective- it does seem that way. What I am is a loving mom - who is willing to make the hard choices for my kids - to teach them and train them up so that they can make the hard choices for themselves and their loved ones one day. That is my goal. To work my way out of a job! :)

For our family - one of those hard decisions was what to do about video games.

Oh if I could turn back time . . . . to the day my husband said "I think I'm going to sell our Playstation". Our oldest was only 2 1/2 years old, and my husband had grown bored of the Playstation I had bought him a year or so before.

I remembered the fun in junior high when my family got our first Atari! My dad had sworn we would never have one - but we did! I enjoyed playing with it . . . but I could easily turn it off and go play something else. Of course, the choices of games (and the types of games) to play back then was limited.

I pleaded with my husband to not sell the Playstation - that our sons might enjoy playing it one day. Our 2 1/2 year old had already learned how to turn on the computer and start up his favorite games, and liked watching his dad play on the Playstation. My husband agreed to keep it.

Oh, if I could turn back time.

Fast forward 5 years or so. Birthday time! Oh the excitement to be getting a Game Boy! Now my son could play games on the long trips to see grandparents, or stay entertained in the doctor's office, etc. What a great invention! Or so my son thought. I thought it "might" be good. Plus - everyone had one!

However, I was beginning to become more hesitant about video games as I found that we had to restrict my son's game playing time each week. He had no "off" button of his own. His younger brother was following suit - but not to the same degree. And then there was the fighting between them as to whose turn it was to play, who had more time to play, etc.

The solution?

GM & GD bought another Game Boy . . . so now they both could play! :)

For awhile, it was nice to have video games to use as a reward for various things (ie - good behavior, doing their chores, finishing homework in a timely manner, etc). But I still had my doubts and concerns. I didn't like the attitudes that were starting to emerge from the boys - the fighting between them (not even just about video games). It wasn't even that they were playing violent games - but if they did play even a mild "shooting" type game vs. a racing type game - I did notice the frustration and anger escalated.

Hmm . . . . we need to do away with these games.

But what will I use as a reward (or a punishment)? What will the kids do with their time? It's so nice to be able to get some things done for an hour or two while they are playing their games. Plus - they really do love playing them!

I knew we had an increasing problem when I told my 2 sons and their friend to go outside and play instead of playing video games in the house! It was a beautiful day. They agreed. A few minutes later I looked out front to check on the 3 of them. They were all sitting in a circle on the front walkway. . . . . playing? Yes. Playing what? . . . . . . VIDEO GAMES!! They had brought their Game Boys outside to play! "But you said - 'Go play outside' mom!" :) That's not quite what I meant! :)

Fast forward a couple years, and the adventures of RPG's (Role Playing Games) has become the desired source of fun. Runescape, Adventure Quest, Club Penguin, etc. At first glance, some of the RPG's seem harmless . . . cute . . . fun. Some don't. Some I had a problem with the evil nature - the casting of spells, killing people, ghosts, zombies, etc. We banned those. But what could be wrong with Club Penguin and other ones like it?

Addiction! That was it! It was becoming an addiction.

Can you really be addicted to video games? And is it really a bad thing? I mean - it's not like they are out there doing drugs, smoking or drinking. There are a lot of worse things to be addicted to - right?

I received a Focus on the Family magazine in the mail one day. The front cover said "Are your kids video-game junkies?" (Oct. 07 issue) I began to read the article, and I swear they were talking about our family!! . . . . Finding my son up at 2am playing his RPG online, lying about video game use, playing games he knows he's not supposed to, not turning the consoles off when told to - begging for more time or to "just finish my level so I can save my game", hearing my sons talk about nothing other than their video games, etc.

They literally thought and talked about them morning, noon and night! Their whole life revolved around when they could play video games again . . . which at this point was down to only on Fri, Sat and Sundays - 1 hour each day. Yet they obsessed about it all week long!

In the article I learned that I had committed all the mistakes that had actually led to my children's video game addiction.
1. Starting young
2. Creating easy access
3. Using video games as a reward
4. Allowing "just one more level"
5. Ignoring your gut.

I learned that the chemicals triggered in the body by 30 minutes of video game playing can be just like an amphetamine high - and that eventually the brain is rewired to create a physiological dependence ("habitutation") on it similar to that of a cocaine addiction! There is even a detox center in the Netherlands for video game addicts!!

The article was written by Olivia and Kurt Bruner - authors of "PlayStation Nation". I immediately ordered the book! It answered so many questions and was the push that I needed to follow my "gut" (or most likely - the Holy Spirit) in getting rid of video games. I read portions of the book to my older kids and husband . . . stories from college age kids who had wished that their parents had taken away their video games because now they are so addicted and can't seem to stop playing and thinking about video games. It has taken over their lives.

As a family we all decided to sell the games and consoles and use the money to buy something that the kids could do together with their father . . . airsoft guns! :) Games for Guns! Sounded strange . . . but it was great! The kids love playing airsoft with their dad, uncle and friends. They are outside making memories (of shooting each other! Ahhh . . . good memories! :) hee,hee.).

They are being creative, analytical, tactical, relational, etc. They are out of the fantasy world that held them enslaved.

We still have more hurdles to overcome though - and after talking with a friend this weekend - we need to do it.

We got rid of the Playstation console and games just before my son's 10th b-day - after we had already planned a sleep-over b-day party where he could play video games with his friends. So - we decided to keep the Game Cube and just take it out for b-day sleep overs. Yah right. The b-days seem to last for a week afterwards too! We tried it for a year . . . but when we bring it out, it's all the kids can think and ask about for weeks and weeks afterwards. It's like giving a drink to an alcoholic who has been trying to stay sober. It's not healthy. I wish it would have worked, but it doesn't . . . not for my boys (esp. my oldest and youngest).

I had given my friend (who I had talked with this weekend) the book to read last year sometime. She read it at first and thought - "oh - I'm not as strong as Lori to be able to take away my kids games. They will hate me for it. Plus, I kind of like playing them some myself - especially the Wii." But after some time went on, and she saw some of the same addictive behaviors in her son - she decided she had had enough. They decided to sell their Wii and all their games. Her worst fears were soon addressed . . . . with a pleasant consequence! Her 10 year old son came up to her and said "Thank you mom for loving me so much and getting rid of the video games. I feel like a weight has been lifted off of me. I am so much happier now." And he really meant it! The stress and anxiety of the addiction had been affecting him - without him knowing really what it was or how to deal with it. Isn't that true with most all addictions?

I am so proud of my friend! The battle isn't over though.

We live in an entertainment saturated society where the "only" game kids want to play is a video game. They don't know how to play anything else - to be creative - to be inventive - to be relational (in the real world - not the online/fantasy one). It will take time for her son to figure out how to play - what to do with his other toys that have been gathering dust in the closet - to figure out how to live in this digital world in a healthy way. We have to be patient and stand firm. We also have to teach and encourage them in what to do now.

We as parents will still have to deal with the questions about "why" they can't play video games (as the enemy will still try to work a number on their minds . . . or ours), why other parents let their kids play games - especially the violent ones - rated T or M and above, etc.

I actually had one mom whose husband was not only severely addicted to computer games, but she didn't have a clue that video games even had ratings or what the ratings were for (or that there can be a huge discrepancy in the labeling/rating of games)! For her son's 10th b-day he was having a LAN party (where they connect up several computers to play an online game together) - and they were going to be playing games that were well above my tolerance level for my kids. I had to tell her my son couldn't come because of it (and she was shocked to find out what her son was really playing). Her son valued my son's friendship so much that he decided to change what they were going to do at the party so he could come! :) It doesn't always work out like that (and I didn't expect them to change for our son's sake), but I do have to do my part to protect my children - even at b-day parties (unfortunately).

Parenting is tough. But it's ok to be a "mean" mom or dad if it means your kids will grow up to be healthy and happy - and that they will be able to make those same hard decisions in their lives later on - when it's really important (ie - with drugs, drinking, pre-marital sex, etc).

I encourage you to go visit the Bruner's website - www.videogametrouble.org and find out more about video game addiction and if it's something you should be concerned about with your own children. Not all children will become addicted. And not all video games are made to be as addictive (RPG's are the MOST addictive though!).

So do your research. Educate yourself. That way you will be informed and will be able to stand firm in whatever your decision is and be able to teach your children to stand firm as well. (I wish they would have classes about this for our youth and parents like they have the D.A.R.E. programs in school!)

Be a "Mean" Mom today!! Love your kids!!

Lori :)

Here are some things to think about if you suspect there is a video game addiction going on in your house - with the kids, hubby, or yourself! (taken from the Bruner's website)

RISK ASSESSMENT QUESTIONS: A 2002 survey sampling 223 adolscents conducted by the Society for the Study of Addiction to Alcohol and Other Drugs posed the following situations to help determine patterns of video game addiction.

  • PREOCCUPATION: When I am not playing with the video games, I keep thinking about them (i.e. remembering games, planning the next game, etc.)
  • TOLERANCE: I spend an increasing amount of time playing video games.
  • LOSS OF CONTROL: I have tried to control, cut back or stop playing, or I usually play with the video games over a longer period than I intended.
  • LOSS OF CONTROL: When I lose in a game or I have not obtained the desired results, I need to play again to achieve my target.
  • WITHDRAWAL: When I can't use the video games I get restless or irritable.
  • ESCAPE: When I feel bad, etc. nervous, sad, or angry, or when I have problems, I use the video games more often.
  • LIES AND DECEPTION: Sometimes I conceal my video game playing to my parents, friends, teachers, etc.
  • DISREGARD FOR CONSEQUENCES: In order to play video games I have skipped classes or work, or lied, or stolen, or had an argument or a fight with someone.
  • LIFE DISRUPTION: Because of the video game playing I have reduced my homework, or schoolwork, or I have not eaten, or I have gone to bed late, or I spent less time with my friends and family.

1 comment:

Valerie said...

Facinating. Thank you for this information. I can see how other modern tech items can also be addicting, such as iphones, facebook etc. . .