Simply an addiction

On The Other Hand

It was the most heart-warming picture I had witnessed in many years. At an A&W one morning there sat a young dad with his daughter, likely about grade 2, reading a book together. The Dad would read one page and talk about the pictures and the young girl would read the next. Both were engaged with the story, their heads were together, there were times of laughter, smiles, touching and eye contact. It was a precious moment and I lingered over my coffee just to enjoy the scene.

Too often the scene is family members and friends together, but apart, as each is lost to their individual device. The device is everywhere at musical concerts, church, work, restaurants, the beach, on sidewalks, at the dinner table.

Recent studies from many reputable organizations are lauding the advantages of video gaming and discounting the disadvantages. From the American Psychological Association to major universities, studies continue to pour out about the positives of playing video games. That such play actually may strengthen a range of cognitive skills such as spatial navigation, reasoning, memory and perception.

We’re being told that playing video games will improve our vision, driving skills, multi-tasking, decision-making, math skills and save us from memory loss.

Call me a skeptic, but with consumer spending on the games industry over $22 billion dollars in 2014, could it not just be an industry that needs to protect their profits at any cost.

With the privatization of most grants for research at our public institutions and the consistent under funding of government departments that once monitored big business, it should not come as a surprise that the latest results coming out of “reputable institutions” are swaying towards the industry perspective.

It’s so reminiscent of a time when society was talked into smoking their way to an early grave on the false promises of an assured successful life with the most beautiful and handsome body.

Not being able to leave your device is simply an addiction.

Addicted children and teens routinely skip doing homework and stay up late either playing video games or texting. Developing cognitive skills means little when poor grades take away any chance of achieving their dream job. An occupational therapist told me that an ever-increasing problem is children unable to even hold a pencil when they start school.

The industry also argues that video games are good for developing attention skills. Although true for high sensory-engaging activities, kids who do too much screen time have very little stamina for long-term concentration which again greatly impedes school and future success.

Then there are the most important losses of quiet time where imagination, daydreaming and observation occur. So many urban kids travel down the road with their devices, that even though they’ve driven miles in the country, are unable to identify a cow or horse, much less a field of grain or a bird.

Daydreaming gives you motivations for the future. Imagination gives ideas that could turn into inventions and entrepreneurship. The power of observation enables you to see things through your own lenses, to think for yourself. Many children in school cannot even write a simple story about anything other than a video game character because they know little else.

The frontal cortex of our brain takes 20 years to fully develop. It’s the key area for self-regulation, control, planning and organizing.

Addictions, of any kind, thwart normal brain development. It also impedes the development of empathy. Everything becomes about self.

Catherine Steiner-Adair, a Harvard-affiliated psychologist and author of the best-selling book “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationship in the Digital Age”, argues that if kids are allowed to play an educational video game on the way to school, the trip will be quiet, but it’s not what kids need. “They need time to daydream, deal with anxieties, process their thoughts and share them with parents, who can provide reassurance.”

The advantages attributable to video gaming and devices come through moderation. Moderation comes through constant and consistent parental intervention. It takes lots of reasoning (arguing) with children to ensure proper amounts of screen time, age-appropriate content and a balance with real life.

Unfortunately the parents themselves are often addicted or are keener to be their child’s “bud” than their parent.

I just finished re-reading George Orwell’s book ‘Nineteen Eighty-Four’ where all thoughts are controlled by a single Big Brother. It was likely seen as a fantasy when written in 1949, but in 2016 it’s getting much too close to reality.

If we don’t learn to think for ourselves and express our own thoughts, someone else certainly will!

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