This letter was submitted by a parent (names have been changed for privacy purposes):
We have been to your weekend workshop and have attended a few of your other presentations.
My question is:
Our 9 year old son wants to play games on the iPad and iPod every waking moment of the day at every opportunity outside of being at school or his activities outside of school. We have tried the ticket system you have recommended and the “everything in moderation” approach but he does not know how to stop craving it all the time. Luckily he does participate in a lot of high level sports so he is not a couch potato outside of school.
I am also concerned as to what playing so many video games in his spare time is doing to the growth of his brain, attention span, or other issues that may come up from this type of activity. One thing we notice is that he gets frustrated easily whenever something does not go his way, either with homework, school, or an activity that he is trying to do and get gets angry quickly. I’m worried that the electronics are messing with his brain development and when he is not glued to the video game he finds it tougher to function and just craves more video game / screen time.
Joe and Lana
Thanks Joe and Lana,
Many parents share your concerns about screen time and gaming. There is a growing body of research on the topic but no over all conclusive evidence has been made on brain development per se. We seem to have agreed that excessive, unsupervised screen time is detrimental to children’s development but the focus is on the topics of obesity, eye and wrist strain, social impediment, exposure to inappropriate content and marketing.
Some research shows that games involving strategy and problem solving improve brain functioning. Reaction times, pattern recognition and other skills can be improved with repetition. Elder people use brain games to ward off the decline in cognitive functioning that comes from age.
However, like anything we have to watch how far down the continuum we go from having fun, to having a passion, to being obsessed and controlled by our addictions.
It may well be that he is in the fun / passionate range and you have the parenting job of setting his limits and boundaries so that he also has time for friends in real life, family interactions and activities, chores, sports, and hobbies that take place in the real world instead of online ( building a real model airplane instead of a virtual minecraft world).
It’s okay if he is upset with the limits. Just as kids would like to eat candy all the time – it’s a parent’s job to say no, only occasionally. The same goes for youngsters and their online games.
Also, I suspect your son’s frustration tolerance would be the same regardless of his computer habits. That is more a personality trait than learned.
If he is angry or irritable, remember that we choose the emotion that will best help us reach our goal. If you take away his computer and he sulks or stomps away – it is not indicative of a dependence on the computer, but rather a way to make you pay the price for ending his good time online! Don’t take it personally. His mood doesn’t need to be infectious to you. Stay calm and carry on, as the saying goes.
Good luck and happy parenting!