Where You Sit Determines What You See

A respected colleague makes the case for allowing kids to play video games. Not only do they enhance hand-eye coordination, but gaming is also the new form of reading, he suggests. Decrying video games because some are a waste of time is equivalent to throwing out all novels because Sweet Valley High is badly written. Good games are interactive and endlessly fascinating. Good games are eating the lunch of novels and other forms of fiction. The alternative to a good graphic game isn’t _The Scarlett Letter_ or _Moby Dick_. Kids read graphic novels on-line rather than reading books. Hours spent gaming may not be hours spent studying or developing a plan to end homelessness in your community, but time spent on programming is not hours spent taking drugs or mugging old ladies either. Gaming allows hard working productive students to relax. And attempting to ban gaming in 2014 will be as productive as trying to get rid of alcohol a century earlier. Restrictions won’t be effective; games are here to stay. Good arguments surely, but from my chair the view is harshly different: I only see kids whose lives are spinning out of control as a result of unhealthy relationships with screens of all kinds. “If you take away my game, I’ll kill myself” said one unhappy child in my office recently. Another young man threw his iPad across the room; had his aim been better, a fellow student would have been bruised. My clients are playing video games when they should be studying, when they should be learning social skills by interacting with other humans. My kids are playing video games when they should be eating. There is no argument to be made against an adult having a glass of wine of a weekend evening. Those who drink to feel good harm no one. But those who drink so that they don’t feel bad are another story. There’s no end to the misery--as anyone with an alcoholic or drug addicted family member can attest. I can’t argue for prohibition. I can argue for making a distinction between those who can play games safely and those who can’t. A student who performs in school and fulfills his responsibilities to himself and his family can play video games. A student who stays in his basement sucking on screens nine hours a day, not so much. The trick of course is determining who is a social gamer and who has an addiction spiraling out of control. Of a roomful of college kids drinking beer on a Saturday night, most will grow up to have a healthy relationship with alcohol, a few will be problem drinkers for the rest of their lives, a smaller number will die as a direct consequence of their alcohol consumption. What are loving parents to do? Parents must provide attractive alternatives to the siren song of screens. Just as few children will choose a healthy meal when there are alternatives that open the door for diabetes (chips, ice cream, and chocolate frosted sugar bombs trump vegetable lasagna any day) parents have to fill their homes with Parcheesi games and peers with whom to play. “But all the families in our neighborhood allow their kids to play video games as much as they like.” Nah. That’s what they’re saying about you. If your house is the one without screens, you’ll find the kids who want to hang out there. Playing dress up and playing outside are easily acquired tasted. You wouldn’t let your ten-year smoke cigarettes or drink beer. Why would you expose her to screens to which she can easily become addicted? “But she has to have a healthy relationship with technology. She has to use the Internet for research in school and email for communication.” Of course. But she doesn’t have to spend three hours a day on Facebook while she’s supposed to be reading, studying or thinking. And she certainly doesn’t have to be playing “Shoot, Shoot, Shoot, Blood, Blood, Blood, Kill, Kill, Kill” when she’s supposed to be living her life. You heard it here first.

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