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Video games and life as a parent

My brother presents the contrarian view of video games as a counter point to a discussion on our mini-podcast, which you can listen to here.


Video games certainly are in your face if you are a parent. General comment about children playing games range from they are the worst pastime a child can have to how beneficial they are for cognitive development.

My researched and experienced opinion as a parent is that you have to consider a few facts that make video gaming questionable:

Firstly adults seem to have forgotten what the mind of a child is like and contrary to modern popular opinion there is a vast amount of psychological evidence about how the child’s mind works. Children do not think like adults and yet I hear adults telling me things that clearly evolve from the fact that they think their children process information in the same way. In the first seven years of life children are gradually learning how to interact with their world in a more dreamy state. They are learning basic physics and cause and effect and they are learning social skills that are essential to their entire lives as children and adults all they while in a world of imagination.

For example if a 5 year old asks what is the sun Daddy? Most modern parents want to explain about some fiery ball in the cold of space and even, if they can, try to explain the thermonuclear chemistry. This is not what the child needs, a better answer is, “The sun is in the sky to keep us warm and in the light, it goes to bed at night so we can sleep.” I can hear the crys: ‘oh but tell them the truth’ – what is the truth? The truth is what you need to hear at the time in order to process things for the child’s benefit. It is true that the sun keeps us warm and goes down at night. That’s all they need.

The younger a child is the less they are able to distinguish between the real world and artificial worlds. Learning essential cognitive and social skills in an artificial environment such as a video game is not ideal and the effects of this can be seen very easily if you look. As a parent I have seen my child become angry, irrational, disconnected for hours after a game and not in a way that he would normally. Try and take the game away and see what happens, nothing else does this to the degree I have seen. There are many papers and studies that point towards elevated heart rate, irritability, antisocial behaviour and loss of basic social skills from games. (1)

If you let your young child play any type of game you are ignoring the fact that during their development (which is going on all the time) you are mixing fake worlds with real worlds where they are trying to bounce off two different realities and it develops confusion. I am definitely saying that it is a lasting effect regardless of time spent in and out of the game world.

Eyes and the body: Anthroposophical and general educational understanding is that children use their body and eyes to learn. (2) Now what I mean is they use movement of their body and eyes to access their brain. At a young age the body and the eyes are part of the brain, this is also true of adults but not anything like children. Just sit back and in your mind with your eyes open count the number of windows in your car. You will likely have moved your eyes up and to the left or right; this is a basic neurolinguistics fact when picturing memory information with your eyes from your brain. When children have imaginative play they are moving with their whole brain and body as one. Learning to run over rocks and imagine you are a spaceman in the back yard is vastly different to freezing the body and eyes and sending fake messages directly into a child’s mind.

Imaginative creative play: Imaginative creative play is IMO the single most important thing in the child’s mind next to a comfortable home life. Children start with hugely unlimited imagination which is mostly lost as they become adults. Imaginative play behaviour has gradually become less and less in modern children as they are set up with structured play. Video games are prescribed and directed fake worlds that only allow for use of the rules of that world, they do not allow for free minds and they do not represent a good model for leaning and development. Many parents say oh I will only let them play educational games, but my experience is that this gets watered down in time and it becomes less and less educational exposure.

Children’s minds are selective, they pick what they want to take in and ignore what they don’t. Video games do not allow for this selection process as otherwise something happens in the game that immediately teaches them they ignored something and therefore failed. If you read a story to a child and they don’t like something they have the ability to ignore it or change its meaning. A psychologist friend of mind told me a story of her as a child when a character in the story they were read was eaten in a survival scenario; his name was Mr Chips (and I can’t remember the story title) she can remember just thinking that he must have been actually potato chips and that is the only reason they ate him, he was chips. This type of thinking in a child’s own mind of imagination is critical in development and the contrast of strictly prescribed fake worlds that teach failure as and end point take most of this away.

It has been shown that over recent decades children have lost a lot of their ability to do imaginative free play and although IQ test results have increased, creative ability and the ability to come up with genuine new ideas, historically the wheelhouse of the child’s mind, has been reducing. Researchers have found that increasing free play and imaginative time actually leads to an increase in children to be able to come up with unique storey ideas when playing with puppets. Something they were not able to achieve as well before the play exercises. (3,4,5)

These fake worlds teach that violence is the answer to most things, more and more power, bigger guns, strength are the answer. Research shows children, including girls, will opt for the violent games by choice, they are drawn to them. They will not play other games unless you direct them to.

What has this got to do with video games and television? Yes I threw that in as well as one argument I hear is that they are interacting with a game and it’s not the same, maybe it’s better than TV? Well that is not a sound argument; we are not discussing the pros and cons of TV as they are different. TV being worse or better is not a rational discussion on video games. If you want my opinion there is not much difference when presenting young children with fake worlds of fantastic proportions in TV or games when they are using only their imaginative minds, which is all they have to process it with.

My brother commented on his love for a cartoon when he was young, then as an adult he could see just how weak the story line was and how much better the storylines are now in cartoons. However, the fact is he was viewing it with the mind of a child, making up the importance of the story to him in his own mind. That is the mind of the child when given freedom on a simple story line. Children don’t need things over directed or prescribed, the opposite is true. Let them make the story around things.

Today video games are set up with ultra-realistic graphics and use algorithms that align with gambling mind sets. You have to keep going, the games operate when you are not using them pushing you to get back to them or your fake world will turn on you and you will fail. Addiction is a real issue with video games, the technology is within them to keep the children stuck on the game.

Adults today forget how old they were when they started playing realistic and gambling mindset computer games, and also how basic they were; this is also true of television and movies. We could rationalise as teenagers that it was fake, something a very young child cannot do when they are presented with evidence of photo realistic fake worlds. I am not just talking about actual gambling in games which have been the close attention of regulators and governments recently. Clearly that is a world you do not want your child or teenager in especially if they end up with an actual financial debt. I am talking about indoctrinating children into clever gaming tech that feed off the basic human mindset of gambling, reward and punishment leading to strong addictive behaviour. In fact there seems to be very little difference between the type of mindset video games prey upon and that of a gambling mindset which has led to many governments starting to investigate this closely. (6)

Sedentary lifestyles, lack of fitness and laziness, and disconnection in social situations are traits that you can expect from video games if you do not get control of it. The ability to entertain oneself in the world of imagination, come up with new game ideas like making a cardboard Frisbee, marbles, collecting bottle tops, dancing and so on. If a child shows interest in the technical development of games then support that. But generally that is a harder route to follow; the lazy option is to be the user not the developer. Development requires work and discipline; obviously as they get older supporting this is important. I tell my son you have got 2 options with technology, you can be the person who makes money from it or the person who spends money on it, you decide. I played a lot of video games as a young adult and then lost interest, now I having been running my business by using technology, however the game time did not help that at all, the programing time and doing study with technology did.

No doubt this is my opinion, that is all it is and no more, and I can only tell you what I did for my children in order to give them the best start in life. If you think there are no rules to parenting you are entitled to your opinion, however I believe there are good sound rules:

- Supportive and nurturing environment

- Good diet, clean water and plenty of exercise mainly in for form of imaginative play when they are young. When older keep them busy in music, sport, (mainly free sport just play footie and cricket or surfing with them)

- Be a good example of someone who does creative and energetic things, whatever that might be painting, sport, travel, music, walking, talking, reading books and so on.

- Discipline and rules to be followed- you are their parent – a really close family friend of mine said that when she was a teenager she started to drink alcohol and to the point where she was waiting for someone to bring her into line, that did not happen and she was surprised, did anyone care? Children want to feel their parents love them from the parents giving them rules to follow. If you think you are doing your daughter a favour by not setting a time to be home, you are wrong. She wants you to set a rule of 11.30 pm to be home, as much as she detests it and gets angry with you. Deep down inside, she wants the curfew, it shows you care. Tell her this.

- Regarding video games:

- Young children to the age of 5 – no video games at all, there is no need and it does not help them in any way; evidence shows the opposite. 5-7 years very limited access to the most basic games – personally we did not allow any access until 9 years old and even then limited. My daughter did not show much interest which statistically is normal; boys usually present the most pressure on you. “I’m bored.” I don’t care how bored you are, the more bored you are after being take off games the more you show me you have lost your ability to think and imagine like a child. After a while they will start to use their imagination and find something to do. Bored means a start to creativity, play in the dirt, build a rock pile, and throw a ball and so on.

- Older than 9 to 13-14, the peer pressure starts. Tell them that these peers are trying to impress them with their fake achievements and apparent freedom to do whatever they want. Such achievements however are meaningless and what is important is who they are as people. If they want to show off skills then musical instruments, sporting, creative arts and all the things that seemed to matter so much to people in the past are better than wasting time on video games and TV. Let them have some access to these things but check what they are doing and restrict it to short periods. Older teenagers, I give my son short times on TV and video games and then it’s off and out and play, he loves building remote control equipment (kits from scratch) surfs, plays cricket and is a gentleman, when not being a crazy teen arguing with his father. When the real pressure for video games came up I said that I would support the remote control aeroplanes and cars but not the video games. Now he actually has real skills that will set him up for his desire to be a mechanical engineer. He is out playing in the back yard with his mate with a remote control car that he build from individual parts and modified with new equipment (he had to order and God forbid actually had to learn patience and wait for). My daughter is studying medical science at Uni and is doing stem cell research, she is still a competitive swimmer and surf life saver and I could not be more proud of them both. Has this got anything to do with restriction of video games and TV. I don’t know, but I will tell you this with absolute authority: these things are not nutrients and the lack of them does not have any ill effects. I don’t know what video games will do to children’s minds, but I know they don’t need them.

Darren Wise - Dad

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