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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The Open Door: Out of The Mouths of Babes.

Since the first time I experienced this phenomenon in graduate school while working my clinical internship, until right now in my current practice. Kids say things that get right to the point. Sometimes I must elaborate a little, so that parents can get the benefit of interpretation from the professional that they are paying to do this, but when a message is powerful it makes sense to listen to what these young people are telling us.
The first example from my training was when a young mom sat in my office venting about her children’s antics and misbehaviors. Fifteen minutes in I asked her to take a breath. I turn to the little boy and girl and asked “why do you drive your mother crazy?” The little girl perked up with a big smile that shined her missing two front teeth and professed “Cuz it’s so easy”!

The message was clear that mom needed to demonstrate a more even sense of control with these children so that they could honor her authority. After helping mom to put together a realistic set of rules and expectations. The children quickly became responsive and enjoyed getting along with their mother. It was no longer Easy to “Make mommy crazy”. The children saw that she was able to better control her emotions and communicate her expectations without yelling and escalating them.

I met with a young lady who spoke of her feelings freely around her parents and wanted to get the positives and negatives out. When she sat back and I asked if she felt this was helpful, she responded “It helps to say it out loud”! WOW!
When parents are caught up in their own nonsense they often stifle the comments of their children. “Not now” “Don’t say that” etc. Kids almost feel as if they might get in trouble if they sort their feelings out verbally and the parent does not approve. Developmentally the younger children struggle with this task. Put your stuff aside and let them feel better if they need to “SAY IT OUT LOUD”. This is an opportunity to help them sort through their feelings constructively. If you are a parent with feelings that are to bias then a counselor might be a good choice to help the child through a rough time.

These are two simple examples. In my 25 years working in human services I have heard many. I look forward to the next comment from a young person that just makes the point, hoping to bridge that for parents, so they can help their child. In the meantime listen to your children they may be telling you something profound. Help me to practice what I preach and offer some input to this discussion, because none of us is as smart as all of us.

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The Open Door: Diversity

Diversity is today’s topic. We see so many things in today’s media that allow for great discussions with our families. Our children are involved in so many activities with other children that it presents wonderful opportunities to process information around other cultural approaches to life. These words reference the ethnic part of difference and my hope is that at this time in history we are far enough along that people get this in a healthy way. However I am not blind or deaf and I often hear and see people who still perpetuate the ignorance of bigotry. What is equally troubling for a profession such as mine is that this ignorance can be so painful for young people who are struggling with their sexuality. You may be asking how I make this jump in the discussion but if you think about the teen girl or boy who is struggling with talking to their parents about their sexuality and hearing racial epitaphs spoken freely, it is a good bet that these young people know that their parents are not very accepting people. The logic would continue that they would fear their parents rejection if they were to discuss this issue with them.

Now I know parenting is tough enough on its own, so why would anyone want to make it harder? This makes it much harder to discuss lots of issues when your children see you as judgmental and prejudiced. I often tell adults who see me that, as children, they may have had no choice in what they were exposed to due to their parent’s issues and bias’. However, as adults you have a choice and those of you who are currently parents can choose not to perpetuate ignorance. This is just the kind of opportunity to be a part of the learning process with your kids that will allow them to always feel they can speak to you.

I chose to write on this topic because I have had many young people discuss these issues with me. They have concerns around why they are hearing peers use racial slurs or pick on them due to their ethnic background. It is obvious that these words and feelings are learned at home in and around their families or their friend’s families. This means that adults must be conscious of their commentary when their children’s friends are present. Also that the young people feel uncomfortable when it is their parents expressing these things and they feel differently.

These issues are very important in today’s society and right here, even in the quiet corner of Connecticut. We are a growing community of families with a variety of backgrounds and it is crucial that all the children can grow up here with out feeling belittled due to race, religion or if their parents are of the same sex. In this discussion ignorance is not bliss it is just ignorance!

As always, none of us is as smart as all of us and I welcome your input.

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The Open Door : Divorce

I would like to jump right into a topic that is so much a part of contemporary family issues: Divorce. This is such a complex issue that I would like to simplify it for both parents and children. It is just plain ICKY! That’s right icky. If parents would take the time to remember that they are parents and being such are suppose to be able to work together on the job at hand, raising the children! You see, they are here because of your selfish needs and now you owe them a fair shot at growing up with adult input that is not jaded with hatred and foul intent because the adult relationship failed. I cannot scream from the roof top loud enough when it comes to this point, keep adult issues separate from the children and work to maintain consistency between homes. Nothing hurts a child more then when parents chastise each other or say “you are just like your mother or father” with that negative connotation. This applies to parents who “pull nonsense” hoping to irritate the ex but hurt the children as a ripple effect. This sets the stage for children to develop hatred towards the game playing parent.

Moving forward I must comment that it is a frequent occurrence that I get a referral to my office that is presented as a child’s issue and when we get into it, it is a parent issue and the acting out behavior is the inarticulate way in which kids let us know something is up. So now I have a few of you defensive about the parent vs. child behavior issue, good! Now you can be reflective and begin to be sensitive to examination of these dynamics. You can not go wrong with taking time for your kids to talk and find out what it is that is making them feel “ICKY” when it comes to parenting style and behavior. I am not suggesting that parents should foolishly allow manipulation or give up on structure and rules. This is just an open door for kids to let parents know when they are hearing or seeing behavior in their environment that challenges the values and ethics that are ideally what we would like them to be adopting as they grow. It is also a barometer of what you are saying vs. doing. Kids don’t process contradiction well. This sets the stage for them to challenge parents and to play them especially if parents are in separate homes.
I often hear children express confusion around the “do as I say not as I do” things that parents perpetuate. Once again a great open door for discussion often missed.

I hope that this commentary will get some folks thinking. This includes parents in the same home who are not parenting together. Do not be thrown off by the opening line regarding divorce, as these things happen when the same discord exists in a home that appears intact. So please parent together and all will do better!

As always, I welcome input into this discussion because none of us is as smart as all of us.

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The Open Door: Safety

I would like to thank the people who took the time to contact me with their input. I have put together some of these idea’s for this blog hoping that parents will be motivated to open discussion with their children.

First we need to talk with children about safety issues.
This means asking them what they know and assessing what they do not. This should not only be simple things like not getting on a bicycle without a helmet, but the more complex safety issues like fire escape planning for your home or who to call, in addition to 911, if a parent has a medical emergency.

In today’s family landscape it is not uncommon for children to be in a home with one adult primary care giver. What happens if a medical emergency takes place and time or circumstances do not allow for discussion? The obvious is to have a plan in place so that children are not surprised about what to do should an emergency arise. You can look at this in the same way that schools have fire drills; families should also do this in their homes for safety.

Making children aware of the new acronym ICE, (in case of emergency) is a good idea. Storing emergency numbers in your cell phone under the acronym ICE, allows children and emergency providers, to access these important contact numbers while away from home.

I also recommend keeping an information sheet right on the refrigerator or another centrally located place in your home that will allow kids to access this information easily or give it to responding emergency personnel in a crisis. The list should include parent work and cell numbers and the numbers of family or friends who you have asked to be emergency contacts. This should also include any allergy information and doctors contact info that applies to your circumstances.

The idea of discussing what to do in an emergency may very well “Open the Door” to talking with your children about their fears or issues. They may be hearing things from their peers in the school setting that they would other wise not bring to your attention. It supports my previous tenant about open lines of communication. This kind of family communication would facilitate working through many issues that are a part of family life. This can also keep parents in touch with how their children are maturing and developing a sense of responsibility, so that as they grow and ask for increases in privileges you have a current sense of their level responsibility for a given activity request. Ultimately both parents and children will feel safer and be more secure in knowing how we handle the unexpected things that life can bring us.

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“The Open Door,” coming soon

Soon you will be able to read commentary on current issues.

This is also my personal invitation to join in the discussion.  So please feel free to share thoughts that would help the dialogue to grow.  Remembering that none of us is as smart as all of us!

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