The Open Door: To video game or not, that is the question?

Every once in a while a clinician like myself has to discuss an issue that is some what of a pet peeve. One of mine involves the video game craze in our society. Parents will allow kids to play these games for hours on end. Kids will bring food to the area in which they are playing and never clean up. I have even had some younger children who become so engrossed that they won’t go to the bathroom and have accidents or become severely impacted. All of this is obviously unhealthy. What is not so obvious is when we have children, teens and young adults whose social and emotional growth is hindered because they live in the world of an XBOX or PS2.

The real social interactions of talking to people, seeing their facial gestures and learning to read the cues that are a part of “old fashion” people skills are being challenged. Much like junkies who will do some outrageous things to obtain their drug of choice, I have encountered young people who do some unbelievable stuff to get these games even when parents confiscate them. The next issue is the types of games which children have access to. This is of great concern. I had a parent bring a game in to my office and ask me if I thought it was appropriate for he 13 year old child. On the cover it was clearly printed NC17. I stated that the rating is clear that the game is not for kids under 17 years of age. Her next comment was that it must be ok because the clerk at Walmart had given it to her child. My response was “the 16 year old clerk who is already playing that game and thinks it is great is not going to be concerned about what your child is exposed to.”

This is really about parents setting limits, monitoring what is played and being aware of game content. Then good judgment has to be exercised as to what is appropriate for each child based on the individual. I find this is the most troubling part because parents will give in when “hocked” enough, knowing the child will disappear for hours after leaving them alone. Is a few moments peace worth letting your child get sucked into a mind altering video game that could potentially damage them long term? This applies to adults also. I have seen couples with strained marriages because a partner is not engaging in the relationship and is lost in the abyss of the video game.

There are potential health and psychological problems associated with the games as well. The most obvious is the violent games that trigger aggression and the way that the acts of violence are sterilized by being on the television. It desensitizes kids and the reality of the acts of violence they are seeing. Some research has linked the light patterns to potentially triggering seizure activity. I am most concerned about the disengagement of kids from their families when they disappear for hours into the game. I know some adults play along with their children but in many cases it is used to baby sit the kids.
Ultimately, video games like junk food, should only be taken in small doses and carefully monitored. If you do allow your children to play video games then moderation is the best policy! I would love to hear your thoughts because none of us is as smart as all of us.

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One Response to The Open Door: To video game or not, that is the question?

  1. Rob Levitt says:

    This was terrific Daryn. I really related to a lot of what you wrote here and passed it onto my wife as well. Having a fourteen year old son who loves his video games I have made sure that we are aware of every game that he plays and it is approved not only by the rating folks but most of all by my wife and I. I am not one to leave parenting up to the clerk at Walmart.

    As to the issue of violence in games, I am not a fan by any stretch of the imagination. I make sure before a purchase is approved, that I read the synopsis and reviews online. I have come to count on a few web sites out there to give me the real picture. Additionally, as a member of the IT community, I am fortunate to be surrounded by many other gamers that I find helpful.

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