She wishes to remain anonymous but wanted to share what she learnt in the past 8 years with other parents who might be able to learn from her mistakes.
Gwen* believes that as parents we need to know what we are up against in the struggle to redirect our children away from their games.
Although not every child who plays online games will become addicted, we must consider that in 2021 The World Health Organisation added Gaming Disorder to its International Classification of Diseases.
Meanwhile the gaming industry is booming.
With the global market for online games projected to reach $321 billion by 2026. And whilst the industry counts it’s gains, many families are counting their losses.
Gwen* shared 5 things she wished she knew when her son started gaming, at age 9, with me.
1: I WISH I KNEW WHAT GAMING WOULD DO TO HIS BRAIN
Gwen* says that when her son started playing online games the effect of online gaming on the reward circuit of the brain was not widely researched or communicated.
“We had no idea, we ignorantly allowed him to play because we thought it was like any game we used to play-like Circus or PacMac. We didn’t know the effect that today’s online games have on the dopamine levels in a young teenager’s brain.”
Gwen* is referring to the dopamine spike online gaming causes in the reward centre of the brain. In gaming disorder, the addiction is caused by the brains inability to produce dopamine naturally without the game. Therefore, instead of feeling pleasure or motivation in everyday life they will feel boredom, which will cause a craving to return to the game.
“If only someone explained to us that teenagers are more sensitive to dopamine than adults,” Gwen* adds.
To understand the effect of dopamine on the brain watch the following video by Dr. Andrew Huberman a neuroscientist from Stanford Medical School.
2. I WISH I KNEW IT WOULD CAUSE A LACK OF EMPATHY
“As a parent it is your job to teach your child to feel empathy. Yet when they play Fortnite they are rewarded for causing pain and suffering and this happens day in and day out,” says Gwen*, “my son became a different person-aggressive towards his siblings and scary at times.”
In his book Assassination Generation: Video games, aggression & the psychology of killing, psychology professor & army ranger Lt. Col. David Grossman, explains in detail the link between first person shooter games and school murders in the USA. Grossman presents the case that games such as Grand Theft Auto classically conditions (via: stimulus – reward) adolescents to act with aggression at an age where reality and fantasy is blurred and consequences are not at the forefront of their decision making.
Gwen* says that when you look at the cover of most games you know what the child will encounter in the game: murder, torture, and mutilation. Yet as parents we brush it off as “only a game” without understanding that what they see and do in the game spills over to their real life.
3. I WISH I KNEW HOW LONELY ONLINE GAMING WOULD MAKE HIM
“My son’s friends were gamers too. When they got together, they gamed. But this isn’t true friendship. They barely spoke to one another. They weren’t building memories or sharing experiences. They just gamed. I think he was actually very lonely,” says Gwen*.
Gwen* echoes the sentiments of many teenagers, we work with, who report feeling isolated and depressed when gaming but unable to stop.
4. I WISH I KNEW HOW STRONG HIS CRAVINGS WERE
The problem with most modern games is that they are built to keep young people engaged for longer than what is healthy. Most online games implement strategies to hook the player back into the game to ensure that they remain engaged.
So even when they try to engage in their real-world hobbies, they are thinking about the losses they are potentially suffering in the game as a result of not playing. Tactics include rewarding you if you log in daily or an ever-changing gamingverse.
Some games such as Candy Crush will even penalise you for not returning to the game regularly.
According to gamequitters.org: “You’re fighting a well-oiled machine that’s using 5 billion dollars per year and thousands of employees to design a virtual or digital paradise that generates instant satisfaction wherever you are at the touch of a button.”
Gwen* says that her son had many relapses: “It was just like a substance abuse addiction, if it was there, if it was accessible, he would back slide into the game.
“If I could go back now, I would remove the console from our house entirely. Oy of sight.”
#5 I WISH I KNEW GAMING WOULD STEAL HIS POTENTIAL
Neuroscientist, Dr. Andrew Huberman explains that because online gaming delivers unnaturally high doses of dopamine to the reward centre of the brain, everything else in life becomes mundane by comparison.
Hobbies and sports cannot possibly give the gamer the fix that online gaming can. This is why adolescents that game excessively lose interest in other activities they used to enjoy and find it hard to motivate themselves to preform simple tasks.
“My son was an excellent tennis player, but he quit, because he no longer enjoyed it. Academically he battled because subjects (like languages) he enjoyed previously, no longer held his interest. Books was the first thing to go. In Primary school he loved to read, Dairy of a Wimpy kid and those treehouse books, but he lost interest,” admits Gwen*.
MY ADVICE TO OTHER PARENTS
I asked Gwen* what advice she would give parents of Primary School children who are just starting out their gaming journey:
“I’d tell them that an online game can turn a happy home into a home filled with tension and stress. Equip yourself with as much knowledge as you can, understand the risks and step in quickly.”
Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul by Dr. Stuart Brown
The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age by Catherine Steiner
Hooked on Games: The Lure and Cost of Video Game and Internet Addiction by Dr. Andrew Doan
ASSISTANCE IN OVERCOMING GAMING DISORDER:
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