I Play Video Games...
Updated: May 22, 2019
(or watch TV or go online) …so I don't have to think about things
A computer can seem to be a child’s best friend. For parents, it can be a great baby sitter, even better than TV. Both could be seen as distractions which let the child feel like they have control. Control over the TV remote, control over the gaming device hand-piece and by extension control over the characters on the screen. But who really has control over what?
This need to be master of their own world, even if it is only on-screen, can be a powerful tool for their personal growth. Harnessed correctly, with appropriate levels of parental supervision, your child will develop technological skills which will translate well in their real-world life. They are also interacting with peers, albeit behind the anonymity of a screen-name, so they can test their social boundaries and learn where acceptable limits are for their social group.
It’s perfectly acceptable for young people to spend a lot of time in front of a screen, this is how their generation communicates with the rest of the world and this is how they will continue to do so for many years to come. The part that causes the problems is the balance between ‘virtual’ online life and what you and I would term ‘real’ life. For the record, they’re both real! Both involve interacting with the world around them, but in very different ways.
A healthy balance would see the child focussing on ‘family-centric’ tasks like getting their homework done, having dinner with their family, occasionally going on social outings with the rest of the family and actually contributing to conversations with people of all ages about a wide range of topics. This is how they learn real world social skills. In an ideal world, your child will test things out on their family because it’s a safe environment in which they will not be ridiculed or punished for getting it wrong.
The healthy balance could also involve spending their free time playing their game of choice or performing an activity to get their body moving. These are peer-centric, which help them develop relationships within their peer group and determine their social boundaries with their friends and classmates first, before they try the riskier proposition of trying them out on the public at large. Activities like football, basketball, swimming, gymnastics, dance, music or theatre all work to fulfil this aspect of their growth and development. So do video games, which involve movements of a different kind. Have you ever actually sat and watched a child play “Minecraft” or some similar game? They’re moving all the time. As long as both aspects are covered and there is balance, there really is no problem. It’s when one aspect takes over to the detriment of all else that you realise you and your child have a problem.
How much is too much?
One child can be perfectly well adjusted, even though they are playing four to five hours of video gaming per night. Another child doing the same thing can be a disaster waiting to happen, if it hasn’t happened already.
The tell-tale signs of problematic behaviour are when your child’s normal (for them) behaviour patterns change abruptly. You notice that they’re cutting themselves off from you and the rest of the family and they’re also cutting themselves off from long term friends. They’re spending hours in solitude, playing on their computer. They become secretive and withdrawn. They become quiet when previously they were noisy, or they become argumentative when previously they were obedient and compliant or vice versa. What you need to be on the lookout for is a major shift in their behaviour. This is the alarm bell parents should not ignore. It indicates that something is wrong in their world and they are having difficulty coping with it.
During my most difficult years at school, my parents had a hard time forcing me off the computer. A combination of low self-esteem, poor fitness, low marks and few friends caused me to retreat into my own fantasy world laid out in front of me every night on my computer screen.
It was my escape and my challenge! No matter what game I was playing, I had to clock it. I had to win and then I had to win again, developing different strategies the next time around. What new story could I make out of an old one? What could quench my desire for instant gratification and entertainment?
Computers and TV provided me a constant source of instant gratification. Just like junk food consumed in excess, they can create an unhealthy pattern of behaviour that can have far-reaching implications on the developing life of a child or young adult.
I was stuck to my computer and held onto it like a security blanket. I used it to dull the pain of my school life which had become a daily nightmare. Other behaviours I exhibited included procrastinating with homework, failing grades, withdrawal and low self-esteem.
In short, my mind was overloaded by all of the events I couldn’t control and I wanted and needed control of something in my out-of-control life.
My dad recognised that I was having problems and he came up with a solution which did eventually trigger me to snap out of constantly burying myself in a computer game. He was the one who started my journey into appreciating the world around me, to dream about discovering the world and meeting people. He introduced me to Clay Target shooting and later in my adult life, ballroom dancing.
Because of this intervention, I was able to develop better social skills and be willing to learn and take on new skills. In recognising that something was not right with his child, my father had interrupted the downward spiral that my life was becoming.
By introducing new skills Dad precipitated a change in my actions, which then led to positive results which then led to a better attitude, which opened up my potential to gain success. This naturally led to learning even more new skills, actions and positive results, further improving my attitude and unleashing more of my potential.
Dad put me on the Cycle of Success and every day, I thank him for it by paying it forward.
I’m often heard asking people, “What would we be without our supportive parents, coaches and mentors?” Thanks Dad.
If your child’s reclusive habits are becoming concerning, and you have run out of ideas, reach out to me here...
Contact: David Gillman - The Mindset Mechanic