“I just need to finish this level, mom. Give me a few more minutes!”
These words became my son’s response to every request. When we’d ask him to pick up his clothes, do his homework or get ready to leave … this was his standard reply.
Sam’s always been a smart kid and quick to figure out Lego robots, computers, hotel remotes (these always confuse me!) and anything else that required batteries or plugged into an outlet. So in our innocence as first-time parents, we figured games were great exercise for his mind.
And just like any “good” Christian parents, we carefully monitored which games he could play. But… we didn’t monitor the amount of time he played these “morally-approved” games.
We believed we were allowing him to exercise his brain… safely.
There are some redeeming qualities to games. As a matter of fact, research has shown that video games help develop problem-solving skills, coordination, real-life applications, etc. Multi-player options are also great ways to connect with our tweeners and teens.
But there are also warning signs that may signal these games are working against our kids. Does your child …
- Play almost every day?
- Play for extended periods (more than three or four hours at a time)?
- Play for excitement?
- Get restless and irritable if he or she can’t play?
- Sacrifice social and sporting activities to play?
- Play instead of doing homework?
- Seem to be losing interest in real-life activities?
With our son, we began to notice a decrease in outdoor activity. Board games that he once enjoyed sat on the shelves. And when we suggested limiting game time and instead filling it with more constructive play… he got angry.
What we were doing – without knowing it – was setting our son up for a gaming addiction.
Video games actually have a profound effect on the brain because it floods the player’s brain with dopamine – a mood-regulating hormone that causes feelings of pleasure. Scientists say this “hit” of dopamine has the same effect as certain drugs prescribed for kids with ADHD.
In fact, when allowed to play video games before surgery… kids need less anesthesia during the procedure and less pain meds afterwards.
That’s a powerful response to gaming.
And programmers know it. From Mario to Sonic, their job is to create “hooks” to make their games addictive.
There are FIVE HOOKS commonly used to make that happen. While not all of these may be present in every game, the more components a game has… the better one is set-up for an addiction.
1. Beating the game. Unlike a recess game where the whistle blows or a board game where you’ve made it to the finish line… video games offer multiple levels to complete, keeping kids coming back for more. And with each victory comes the desire to beat the high score, even if it’s their own.
2. Mastering the game. Programmers create games that offer visual and physical responses to what’s happening in the game. For example… when a character jumps, the hand controller vibrates. It makes kids more eager to master different components of the game, looking for the full experience.
3. Exploring the game. Most video games offer new, imaginary worlds that beg one to learn more by spending countless hours looking for hidden keys or levels. They open every door, turn over every stone and dig for something new or useful. By design, it takes hours to completely unpack each new level.
4. Becoming the game. Games offer the opportunity to role-play by allowing one to become a character in the story line. And this personal touch makes it harder to quit the game, because you’re invested in the outcome. It also allows kids to create personas much different from who they really are. The skinny, unpopular boy can become a wildly handsome and popular character, making acceptance and adoration a reality. A danger being kids can like their game identity better than their real-life identity.
5. Competing in the game. Today’s games offer multi-player options to connect with others across the street or around the world. Once the competition begins, the desire to win kicks in. Often schedules are rearranged to accommodate a community of online partners or opponents, keeping kids unavailable for family time, sports or homework.
As caring parents, we have to know the pit-falls of video games.
It’s our responsibility to set healthy and realistic boundaries now so our kids learn to keep gaming in perspective as they grow up. It requires intentionality in setting limits and sticking to them.
Here are some ways to do that.
- Pray about it, asking God what boundaries He wants in place.
- Set firm time limits for daily gaming (even when at a friend’s house).
- Allow games only after chores and homework are done with their… best effort.
- Designate “game-free” days.
- Sets expectations for video games and vacation.
- Decide where video game playing is NOT allowed (i.e. restaurants, Aunt Sandy’s, etc.)
- Don’t keep game consoles in their rooms.
- Discourage kids from turning to games when they are upset and stressed.
- View gaming as a privilege rather than a right.
But most importantly, let’s remember that we are the parents.
We get to decide what role video games play in the family.
And it is our responsibility to raise kids who worship God… not games.
©2013 Carey Scott
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