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1.03.2012

Does saying no to video games make me a bad role model?

As we start the new year and the next learning cycle for the boys I'm going to mention a couple of things that I'll be talking about in upcoming posts. There are several issues brewing for each boy - both near and long term. The issues themselves aren't always the trouble but how to responsibly approach them so they understand can be tough. How do you talk sex ed with a possibly homosexual boy? When talking drugs, should we be honest about our own participation in past drug use? Should an athiest support or even encourage religious beliefs? How much does bowing to name brand fashions encourage an ego driven adolescence? And so forth.

Today's straight talk...how strongly should I oppose something that is very popular but I fundamentally believe is harmful to children? In this case - electronic devices, specifically, video games. Doc came home with a tablet computer for Christmas from his uncle. It's a nifty machine with lots of games and wifi capability and so forth.

I have a serious problem with it because I believe the fast moving interactive imagery, progressively questionable content as the age levels rise - all alluring as they are - can stunt mental growth and contribute to hyperactivity and aggressive behavior - both short and long term. There are a many studies to support this and plenty that will refute it. However, since 2006 prescriptions for ADHD drugs have risen 86% mostly for children. Hell, I still believe that violent TV and movies contribute to the high violence in our society, and that handguns are responsible for hangun crimes, but what do I know, right?

I'm fighting off a mountain of advertizing, product pushing, peer pressure, dismissive (and submissive) parents, and - in this case - a well intentioned uncle who just wanted to give his nephew a nifty gift. But it's historically problematic that everyone jumps on a new bandwagon and accepts whatever comes along, complains when someone tries to place limits, and then act shocked when something bad happens as a result - something that could have been forseen. Society does this with every fad, every new trend, every new superdrug. We don't know where to draw the line and collectively we go to extremes until something bad happens.

But this one seems to me like a no brainer. The human mind has been evolving for millions of years, adapting and growing with its environment. Electronic stimulation is barely sixty years old with the advent of TV, and barely a couple of decades with computers. The speed of video stimulation to the mind is staggering while the human brain is still the same as it was when the printing press was invented, the Roman Empire fell, and Noah built the Ark. I hardly believe we can cope with it as adults but a child's mind really isn't designed for that kind of stimulation.
So in this house, we don't have a Wii, no PS3, no handhelds with a gaming technology, no children texting, and very limited daily time on games they do have. I won't deny gaming can be fun. But that argument can be made for cocaine, reckless driving, and any other dangerous activity if you take it to extremes.

I guess my bottom line argument is this: If I'm wrong, then the boys lose a few years of mindless video games (which I'm sure they can catch up on if they work hard at it later). If I'm right, I may be protecting them from brain damage that could irreparably impair their ability to concentrate, focus and otherwise achieve long term goals in life.

What parent wouldn't want to protect against that?