By Larry F. Waldman, Ph.D., ABPP
Video games are like crack cocaine to today’s youth. Many children, especially boys between the ages of 11 and 16, spend untold hours involved with these electronic games, often from the time they come home from school until they finally go to bed. Far too many kids spend essentially entire weekends (and most of their holiday and summer breaks) playing these “games.” I regularly hear reports from parents that their children engage in “gaming” to the neglect of homework, reading, eating with the family, or going out with the family. No-shows to college classes are at an all-time high due to students missing class to play video games.
To say that video gaming is addictive is not an exaggeration. These games are brightly colored, quite visually and orally stimulating, very life-like, and, most importantly, are self-regulated. Kids who are unable to sit and concentrate for 15 minutes in school, will spend an entire afternoon alone in their room intensely focused on a video game.
Children of previous generations watched too much TV—this writer included. Nevertheless, those TV-watching kids managed to occasionally pull themselves from the “boob tube” to get out and interact and socialize with peers. Today’s “gamers” are socially isolated. “Virtual friends”–other kids who play along remotely–are considered “best friends” by many “gamers” today, though they have never met in person. Because of video games, today’s kids do not have the same opportunities to learn social skills as did children of previous generations.
Data on the epidemic of obesity in US adults (60%) suggests that the early bad habit of excessive TV-watching may be part of the reason many adults today fail to exercise. If the majority of the previous generation of TV-watching kids are now obese as adults, even though they got some exercise as children, what can we expect from the current generation of kids who are not active even as children?! In 15-20 years we are going to see some of the largest “tushes” known to man—but their thumbs will be long and lean. (Some newer games encourage activity, interestingly, but their use is in the minority.)
Finally, and most significantly, we must consider the medium of these games to which kids are addicted. The overwhelming majority of these video games involve violence—graphic violence, replete with screams, life-like blood, and gore.
In the 1970’s and ‘80’s many research studies were conducted which documented the negative psychological effect excessive TV-watching—and its associated violence–had on kids. Today’s “gamer” views more violence in an afternoon than I did throughout my entire childhood of TV watching.
I firmly believe it is no coincidence that many of the young men who were responsible for some of the recent shootings we all have heard about were reported to be active “gamers.” I am not about to argue that video games caused these tragedies, but I have to wonder if electronically killing thousands of “aliens,” monsters, or “bad guys” over hundreds of hours of video gaming, could distort a young person’s reality or desensitize them to the value of life?
Pilots learn to fly via simulation. Maybe we should start calling this process video “training”—not gaming. I am waiting for the first defense attorney to use the “Gamer’s Syndrome” as a means to defend their client.
Every older generation thinks the younger generation is “going to hell in a hand-basket.” I remember when I got into the Beatles and my mother thought I had “lost my religion.” Having worked with hundreds of children over the past 40 years, I have become truly worried about the impact video games are having on our youth. I am fearful that soon we will have a generation of under-socialized, impulsive, impatient, entitled, apathetic, obese young adults. To this health professional, video games are the newest plague.
Parents, please toss out the X-Box or, at least, limit its use. Take a walk or hike with your child. Take a bike ride. Do something fun, active, and interactive; go to the gym together. It will be good for you and your child.
Larry F. Waldman, Ph.D., ABPP is a licensed psychologist who has practiced in the Paradise Valley area of Phoenix for 38 years. He works with children, adolescents, parents, adults, and couples. He also provides forensic consultations in the areas of family law, personal injury, and estate planning. He speaks professionally to laypersons, educators, corporations, and fellow mental health professionals. He teaches graduate courses for the Educational Psychology Department at Northern Arizona University. Waldman also is a certified senior fitness specialist.
He is the author of “Who’s Raising Whom? A Parent’s Guide to Effective Child Discipline,” “Coping with Your Adolescent,” “How Come I Love Him but Can’t Live With Him? Making Your Marriage Work Better,” “The Graduate Course You Never Had: How to Develop, Manage, Market a Flourishing Private Practice—With and Without Managed Care,” “Too Busy Earning a Living to Make Your Fortune? Discover the Psychology of Achieving Your Life Goals,” and “Overcoming Your Negotiaphobia: Negotiating Through Your Life.” TopPhoenixPsychologist.com.