Saturday, November 29, 2008

Video Game Addiction - Part 3

(Continued from November 22, 2008) ....... According to the fine folks at the National Institute on Media and the Family, “For the video game addicted person, a fantasy world in a game has replaced his or her real world. The virtual reality of the game is more inviting than the every day world of family, school or work. With the increased access to pornography in games, this fantasy world may be highly sexual. The first step to healing is to recognize the symptoms. Help from a professional is often needed”.

I am reminded of a terrific middle school student of mine from several years ago named Ben. Ben was the perfect child/student in every way. He was handsome with movie star good looks and jet blond hair, a gifted percussionist, sought by all of the girls for courting, and sought by all of the boys because their personal stock rose when they were in the company of Ben!

In addition, Ben always got an “A” in every single class. On top of all of that, Ben was just about the nicest child in the entire school. In fact, during the years that Ben was my student, even though he was 12-14 years old and my daughter was pre-birth through nine months old, I was sometimes wished that Ben would wait for my precious daughter to grow up, so that he could marry her!

Yes, he was so perfect that he was good enough for my own daughter (as many boys in our town can attest, my daughter’s father has a very high scale for her potential suitors!).

With all of his attributes and gifts, you might think that some middle school students would become jealous of Ben. But, no, he was revered and loved by all!

One day in the 7th grade, I noticed that Ben had an inordinately high number of students crowded around him (even for Ben!) before school in my classroom. When I inquired as to the extra interest in Ben, one of the students told me that Ben’s parents had just bought him a video game system (this was in 1987 and he was the first child in our school to get one of these) and he was explaining the various games to the students.

I don’t remember the cost of the gaming system, but I do recall that Ben had indicated that the individual games were $50.00 each (in 1987 prices)!!! While this was my first experience with one of these devilish toys, and while I couldn’t believe that anything that cost that much money for one game could be good for a child, I was willing to wait and see the effects. Over the next few weeks, I did notice that Ben and his friends could speak of little else, other than the latest video game that he had obtained and conquered, sometimes with the help of his friends. Before-school and lunchtime stories were filled with killing, annihilating, and the severing of limbs that had occurred on the previous night’s game.

Well, it was only a few weeks until I noticed that Mr. Perfect Ben had become angry and insolent with his friends, unfocused and disinterested in class, tired on most days, and, even though he had been able to previously speak intelligently on a variety of subjects, he was now solely wired to speak of his video games, sometimes even during class! Other teachers began to notice the change, as well.

To make a long story short, I spoke to Ben’s parents, who were both highly-paid and well-respected professionals, about the substantial changes in Ben’s behavior and schoolwork. After several conversations, they agreed to limit Ben’s video game activity. In fact, they told me that they had punished Ben for his improper behavior in the home by taking away his game system for the weekend. They indicated that his behavior that weekend was similar to person who is in the detox unit of the hospital (no kidding!).

Apparently, that weekend was the final straw in Ben’s household, as his parents began to wean him of the gaming system a little at a time, until Ben no longer much cared about his video games.

YES!! However, how many times has a similar scenario played out in many other homes and the parents did not act to intervene as did Ben’s parents? In my experience, very few parents have taken the necessary steps to intervene, because they have been led to believe that the video games are not dangerous or injurious to a child. WRONG! How about your house?

So, watch the games that your kids are playing, monitor the number of hours that they log with the games, and take the necessary steps to protect your child!

Now that you've been sufficiently motivated, we'll take a break from the video games for a little while. Hang in there and take care of your kids!

Paul W. Reeves

Saturday, November 22, 2008

Video Game Addiction - Part 2

If your child plays a “harmless” 3-4 hours of video games on each school day, and then another 7-8 hours on each weekend day, your child’s video game time could easily total 29-36 hours per week, many of them alone in their bedroom or basement!

Back when you and I were little tykes, that time was used to speak with friends and family, play baseball, basketball and other sports, study, complete chores or tasks in the household, reading, or even just plain relaxing. Now, with over 30 hours per week devoted to video games, your child may simply be too tired and stressed to engage in any other activities, ….. other than eating, of course!

According to the National Institute on Media and the Family, “When time spent playing video games reaches a point that it harms a child's or adult's family and social relationships, or disrupts school or work life, that person may be caught in a cycle of addiction. Like other addictions, the video game has replaced friends and family as the source of a person's emotional life. Increasingly, to feel good, the addicted person spends more time playing video games. Time away from the game causes moodiness or withdrawal.

When a child spends up more than five hours a day playing games, major social, school or work disruptions will result. Time away from the game causes moodiness or withdrawal”.

This is a good moment to ask yourself, including all of the hours of the week, even when you’re not home, is your child logging more than five hours a day of video gaming? Of course, while it is not actual playing time, this includes the hours of game research, questioning of friends to learn new tricks to unlocking secrets to their favorite games (so, that they can kill more people!), and thinking of new tactics, as well. Unfortunately, I can speak from my experience with middle school kids (more on this in a future post), that what begins as a seemingly harmless event eventually turns into a level of addiction. The only question is to what degree will your child become addicted.

Continuing with the research by the National Institute on Media and the Family, they have defined the symptoms of video game addiction as follows:

For children:
• Most of non-school hours are spent on the computer or playing video games.
• Falling asleep in school.
• Not keeping up with assignments.
• Worsening grades.
• Lying about computer or video game use.
• Choosing to use the computer or play video games, rather than see friends.
• Dropping out of other social groups (clubs or sports).
• Irritable when not playing a video game or on the computer.

There are even physical symptoms that might point to addiction:
• Carpal tunnel syndrome.
• Sleep disturbances
• Back, neck aches
• Headaches
• Dry eyes
• Failure to eat regularly or neglect personal hygiene

Without question, in my over 25 years of working with school children, I have seen all of these symptoms, many of them to mind-numbing proportions! By now, you’ve probably already packaged up that game system in a nice, clean trash bag and you’ve placed it in your car, so that you can drive it to the dump tomorrow! But, in case you’re still holding out for more proof that video games can be addictive and dangerous to your child’s mental health, come back next Saturday!!

In the meantime, the Thanksgiving break can provide children with a lot of unstructured time in which to engage in video game activities. Be sure to monitor the content of the video games, as well as the number of minutes/hours that are spent with the games. After all, this should be the perfect family weekend! Have a great holiday!

Paul W. Reeves

Saturday, November 15, 2008

Video Game Addiction - Part 1

Although this topic mostly applies to boys, girls can also be affected by the addictions, habits and lessons that are developed from the use of Gameboy, GameCube, Xbox, Playstation, Wii, and other video games that are competing for your child’s attention.

If your middle school child has one or more of the aforementioned game systems, or other similar systems, based on many years of watching students fall into the trap and allure of these systems, my advice to you is to explain to your child that you’re trying to be the best parent that you can be, you want your child to grow up to be a healthy and well-adjusted adult, and that you’re willing to do anything at all to help them succeed in life, and then …….. GET RID OF THEM RIGHT AWAY! The game systems, that is, not your kids!

While the concept of such video games might appear to be innocuous, these games can have an addictive and debilitating effect on your child, particularly as they advance through “killing” various characters to get to the desired location on the game, encounter scantily clad men and women throughout the games, and increase their addictive intensity levels as they get closer to the desired victory over the enemy!

Yes, these elements are actually present in many of the games! While there are a few friendly and harmless games to play, (sports games, for example) I would venture to guess that your child owns one or more games that contain violent and/or inappropriately sexual elements to which you do not want him/her exposed. In reality, for many middle school children, time spent on video games is out of balance, and has displaced work, school, friends, and even family.

And, if you say that you’re a parent who would never allow such garbage in to your home, that’s terrific! However, I then have two questions for you: 1) Have you actually sat with your child for the necessary hours (yes, HOURS!) when he/she plays the games to make that determination, and 2) Does your child have access to these games at a friend’s house?

It has been my experience that the playing of even the friendliest games can lead to the beginning of an addiction that can only be satisfied by playing more and more of the dangerous games.

And, don’t forget, there are financial costs involved with the cost of the actual unit (between $100.00 and $300.00), the individual games (approximately $30.00 - $60.00 each), and the accompanying magazines (approximately $10.00 each) that help to unlock the mysteries of each game. A parent can go broke just by feeding their child’s dangerous addiction!

I will write more in the coming days on video game addiction. For now, please be sure to monitor the video games that your child plays and to log the number of hours that are spent with these games!

Paul W. Reeves

Saturday, November 8, 2008

Illicit Substances-Keep Away!

Your child receives multiple messages about the Use of Illicit Substances (UIS) each day from friends, television, magazines, movies, etc. How many do they receive from you?

Do they receive any? Do your kids actually know your views on UIS? Do they firmly believe that there will be dire consequences if you were to find out that they have been experimenting with UIS?

As difficult as it may be, it is not the job of the school, church, counselors, your kids’ friends, or other adults to lay and maintain the foundation for your kids to understand that UIS is forbidden in your house and in your family. It is your job and, if you haven’t already done so, the time to begin is now. As I have seen this happen way too many times in my years with middle school kids, there will come a time when it will be too late for you to have any influence on your kids in this area.

Unfortunately, when kids engage in UIS to the point that they do harm to themselves or others, including possible fatalities or severe injuries through car accidents or other erratic behavior, your time to prevent such disasters will have long passed and the people who will fill in the gaps that you created will be law enforcement officers, judges, attorneys, and insurance agents! Of course, all of the intervention from those groups can be avoided if we promise to be highly involved with our kids’ lives.

If you haven't already done so, get involved with giving your kids the proper messages on staying away from UIS. They are already getting messages that UIS is cool, trendy, "everybody does it", etc. It is YOUR job to ensure that they receive the proper message to stay from the Use of Illicit Substances!!

Hang in there, give your kids the right messages, and monitor their behavior and friends, and they will be given a tremendous opportunity to grow up to be healthy, productive, and happy adults!

Paul W. Reeves

Saturday, November 1, 2008

Illicit Substances-Ned's Story

When raising middle school kids, it must be remembered that our kids might be involved with legal or illegal drugs in various ways. Unfortunately, even in the best homes, experimentation with drugs during the middle school years is common. Just as unfortunate, our middle school kids often don’t see the link between their actions today and the consequences tomorrow. They also have a tendency to feel indestructible and immune to the problems that others experience. You remember that feeling, don’t you?

Using alcohol and tobacco at a young age increases the risk of using other drugs later. Some teens will experiment and stop, or continue to use occasionally, without significant problems. Others will develop a dependency, moving on to more dangerous drugs and causing significant harm to themselves and possibly others.

During my years as a Middle School Assistant Principal, I once lived in the same neighborhood as my students (unbelievably, my house was never egged!!). One of my neighbors, Ned, was a classic, textbook case of a middle school child who initially engaged in smoking cigarettes behind the shed in his backyard (he stole the cigarettes from his dad and uncle) and then “graduated” into cigars, marijuana, alcohol, inhalants, cold medication, and then illegal drugs that he was able to purchase (his dad was quite wealthy and, instead of giving him the love and guidance that he needed, he peppered him with money, not only the $100.00 per week for allowance, but also anytime Ned asked for money, his dad gladly forked it over!).

Early on, before I realized the details of Ned’s forays into the world of the Use of Illicit Substances (UIS), I sought to gain Ned’s confidence, so that I could help him succeed. Ned was a very bright student with good leadership skills and a promising future. However, he always seemed to choose the wrong road with his school work, his teachers, his choice of friends, and his relationship with his parents and sister (also a student at my school). As I began to spend time with Ned, it was clear that he was perpetually bothered by something.

His mother seemed quite nice, although somewhat immature and, perhaps, not the best candidate for a mother to a child who was suffering. His father, a successful attorney with movie star looks seemed to be the only hope for Ned on the home front. Although I delved into every aspect of Ned’s life with him, I always came up empty, as he never wanted to talk about his parents, he wanted to keep all of his friends (most of whom also seemed to be destined for failure in life), and he certainly didn’t want anything to do with school, even though he was easily capable of earning all A’s on his report card.

Then, of course, it finally hit me. Ned’s problems centered around not only his continual UIS, but particularly his never-ending request to get more and more and stronger and stronger substances. Ned continued through cigarettes, cigars, marijuana, alcohol, inhalants, cold medication, and then illegal drugs to the point that he needed serious intervention and medical attention for his highly developed addiction.

After Ned entered a treatment program, I began to get to know his dad. His dad was very difficult to get to know, as he always seemed distant and unwilling to discuss his family’s situation. At times, Ned’s dad became visibly angry with me as I asked questions that were intended to help his son.

After spending about six months speaking with Ned’s dad off-and-on in my office, in the backyard, and near his mailbox, he began to share his reasons for his anger. He had lectured and yelled at Ned since he was young about the dangers of UIS. Hardly a day went by in which his dad didn’t blast away about the perils of UIS. As such, his dad was hurt and angry that Ned had gone down the road of drug addiction to the point that he needed intervention to save his life. His dad felt like a failure.

However, I learned that the behavior of Ned’s dad did not align with his daily spoken words to his son. Ned’s dad drank heavily (he was inebriated on most nights and actually became drunk once or twice a week), he smoked marijuana in the basement, he slept with a variety of women (yes, we was married!), he was gone for a few days each week, and, in general, his personal life was a mess.

So, even though his words to Ned were accurate and were delivered with great consistency, since his actions did not even remotely mirror his words, Ned fell into a world of severe drug addiction. To paraphrase the song “Cat in the Cradle”, Ned had an inner desire to be just like his dad, despite his words. Unfortunately, Ned had accomplished his goal. With Ned’s I.Q. and desire for success, I am convinced that, if his dad’s behavior had been aligned with his words throughout Ned’s early years, Ned would have not been enticed by the world of UIS.

Yes, somebody is watching you, but it's not Big Brother .... it's your children! Yes, parenting can be difficult (you actually have to watch your own behavior - OUCH!), but the rewards of successful parenting will bring a lifetime of rewards for you, your children, the children of your children, etc.

Hang in there and remember that your kids are watching you! Outwardly live the life that you want them to live!!

Paul W. Reeves