Video game addiction can have serious consequences. But killing brain cells? Really, guys??
Our cyber experts review the facts, and advise on how problematic use can be be prevented.
A recent 60 Minutes profile of teen gamer Logan Ford, whose habit is allegedly so severe he hasn’t attended school in two years and has physically abused his mother when she’s tried to set boundaries, has raised the hackles - and stoked fears - of digital parents across Australia.
But it’s not gaming per se that has sparked the outcry. It’s not even the outrageous and at times violent behaviour of Fortnite-obsessed Logan. It’s the 14-year-old’s parents.
Fellow mums and dads have flooded social media with scathing denunciations - and exasperated advice - in the wake of the program, which aired on Father’s Day.
“You are the problem. Stop trying to blame video games for your lack of parenting.”
“Cut the power cord! Drag the lil sod to school and make him go! How weak and pathetic are the parents! Who’s in charge here cause they certainly aren’t!”
“You are the one who brought them the console, you are the one who introduced them to video games in your home, you are the one who buys them the games and allows them to play them,”
But how realistic is the advice to forcibly unplug a seriously addicted child?
Would you treat an alcoholic or a drug addict by unilaterally removing all their substances? For that matter, would you hurl abuse at a parent whose child had developed such an addiction? How is gaming addiction any different?
“Kids develop excessive gaming habits like this because of other underlying factors,” explains Family Zone cyber expert and clinical psychologist Jordan Foster.
“Most kids don't develop 'addictions'. If you believe that your child may be struggling with compulsive or problematic gaming, always seek help from a GP - and avoid turning to Google for answers.”
Friendly Parent Syndrome
Susan McLean of Cyber Safety Solutions, an adviser to the Office of the eSafety Commissioner and a Family Zone cyber expert, is firm that parents need to be parents, not friends. “You know what? It’s not your job to be liked by your kid. You’re the parent.”
The “friendly parent syndrome” - “where parents are too scared to say no to their kids” - is something she says she sees frequently in her work with schools. She is clear that the consequences of such timidity can be devastating by the time the child reaches adolescence.
In the case of Logan Ford’s mum, Britta Hodge, Friendly Parent Syndrome resulted in a concussion, bites and other violent assaults from her son.
But undoing Friendly Parent Syndrome is not something that can happen overnight - and pulling the Playstation out of the wall may well make a serious situation even worse.Brain death?
Foster, a clinical psychologist, scoffed at the charge that excessive gaming would result in “the death of brain cells” - as one expert featured in the 60 Minutes segment insisted.
“Brain cells are supposed to die throughout childhood,” Foster explained. “Babies are born with 85-100 billion neurons (or brain cells), and will lose around half of them by the time they become adults. To give parents the idea that they have to try and salvage all of them is absolutely ludicrous.”
What’s more, thanks to the phenomenon of neuroplasticity, “our brains are actually quite malleable," she notes. "Even for skills that we haven't utilised much before, with practice our brain can start strengthening our neural connections in that area too. It's like the small country town starting to grow into a small metropolis. If our kids are spending too much time gaming, they can improve other underdeveloped parts of their brain by practicing more.”
The key - as all observers would agree - is balance. The trick is how to maintain it.
“Make sure your kids are doing lots of activities - homework, playing a musical instrument, sporting activities, social play, and of course games. Enforce a balanced schedule. That's the most important recommendation I can give to parents to support healthy brain development," says Foster.
What can you do to prevent an internet habit spiralling out of control? Digital safety experts speak with one voice on this one:
With Family Zone, parents can now block or limit Fortnite, Clash of Clans, Minecraft, Roblox and other games that children may be playing to excess. And remember: preventing problematic internet use now is the key to avoiding addictive behaviours down the track. Learn more - or start your free trial today - at familyzone.com.
A message to Logan’s mum: It’s never too late to set boundaries, but in a case of entrenched behaviour, seek professional help first. Best of luck to you!