Responding to my recent columns on video games and smartphones, a reader asks what the problem is, thus proving that these devices can and do cause serious harm to one’s cognitive hardware. He, the father of two boys and a gamer himself, in effect claims that parents are imagining things, and that researchers are not finding what they are finding.
He proposes that video games and smartphones do not make people play them or stare at them obsessively; rather, that some parents are not providing proper supervision. That’s true, as far as it goes. He then offers that nothing is bad in moderation, which is one of the stupidest adages ever conceived. The list of things that are bad/evil in moderation include pornography, heroin, cocaine, arsenic, assault, murder, rape, armed robbery, lying, cheating, child abuse and cruelty to animals.
Furthermore, if an addiction is defined as a self-destructive obsession over which an individual seems to lack control, then video games and smartphones do indeed “make” some people play them and stare at them as if their lives depended upon it. Furthermore, the force of that effect appears to be inversely proportional to the age of the individual. As such, what a 40-year-old may be able to do — that is, fit playing video games into an otherwise responsible and richly varied life — a 13-year-old boy may not be able to do.
One of my grandsons is a case in point. After I expressed concern to his parents that his obsession with playing video games bordered on unhealthy, they took his game controller away. A year later, at age 14, he told me that he realized in retrospect that he had indeed been addicted. If his parents had not stepped in, he said, his adolescence would have been a disaster.
I’ve lost count of the number of parents who have asked me what to do about unemployed 20-something male children who live at home, sequestered in the slums that are their rooms, playing online video games day and night. Most of these adult children do not engage in meaningful conversations with their parents, participate in family meals, or even leave the house unless there is no option but to do so.
A few years ago, a convention center manager told me that many of the young males who participated in a gaming convention at his facility wore adult diapers so they would not have to get up from their consoles to use the bathroom. To get them to eat and drink, he had to threaten to unplug the games.
The mother of a 25-year-old man-child recently asked if there are resources for parents who are dealing with adult video game addicts. I have figured out that in this context, “resources” is a euphemism for “stuff we can read or meetings we can attend to convince ourselves that we’re doing something when we have no real intention of doing anything but complaining endlessly to anyone who will listen.” When I suggest the “resource” of involuntary emancipation, these parents come up with one excuse after another, demonstrating that where there is an addict, there is often an enabler.
Would that these parents had employed the resourceful word “no” when these males first asked for a video game console. What America is discovering, and most painfully so, is that a lost adolescence often precedes a lost life.
Family psychologist John Rosemond answers parents’ questions on his website, Rosemond.com.
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