Gamers no Brainers? 16/11/2011

As Christmas is rapidly approaching, it was with some interest that I read two stories in the papers this week connected with the side effects that over exposure to computer games, mobile phones and the Internet have on our children.


The first piece was reporting on a clinic recently opened in Central London that specifically treats children aged between 12-17 with addiction to computer games. The clinic of course is private and they did not disclose how much the treatment cost, but I think it’s fair to assume that it won’t be within the grasp of the average Joe.


It unfortunately also did not indicate in terms of hours what constituted addictive behaviour or what their treatment methods are.


The second piece was about the effect that playing computer games has on the brain. They took a group of 154, 14 year olds and split them into a control group that gamed occasionally and a group that played on average 12 hours per week. In the group that played for 12 hours or more it was noted that a specific part of the brain linked with drug addiction, heightened sexual behaviour and binge eating was also shown to be present in these hard core gamers. Now before all parents start to panic and rush to see if little Jonny/Josie has a stash of sweetie wrappers, condoms and needles under their bed, it also noted as a plus that there were measurable differences in the frontal lobe region associated with improvements in brain function.


 

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The report however did state that further research was needed simply because they had no way of knowing if these areas of the brain were already different prior to the exposure to video games.The suggestion was made that a group of people who had never played computer games be monitored to see if their brains showed any differences after playing games for several weeks. Talk about stating the bleeding obvious. How much did this research cost to complete?


There are several questions that give me concern when I read things like this. Firstly most of the symptoms they list as being the side effects to the brain sound like a roll call on my life. I have always suspected I have an addictive personality yet I didn’t go near a computer game until I was in my thirties. Not because I thought they were bad or anything they just hadn’t been invented until then. 


I confess I have now developed a tendency to play the online face book games but wouldn’t say I was addicted. Oh hang on a minute, I did get a bit hooked on Kingdoms of Camelot when it first came out, but then I got a life. I now only play the really easy ones that you don’t have to pay for and I have to say I am amazed at the number of people my age that do. I know this because their pictures come up on the stats details whilst you play. 


So does this mean my frontal lobes have had a makeover? Have I given my brain the equivalent of a super dooper boob job? I know my IQ is higher than it was when I was in my twenties. How? Because I spent a week on line, brain training till I got an above average score. Oh my god! I’ve just proved the theory. 


The more I did the tests the brainier I got. Shame I put on half a stone binge eating and smoked more than a beagle. Funny though, I don’t remember lots of sex. Oh hang on; I was single which is why I had the time to do it in the first place.  


My point is these statements could be true of many of us not just the poor, always to blame teenager. Parents are right to be concerned about their children, but let me ask this question. Who buys their mobile phones, personal PC’s, play stations,  X Boxes and what ever else is out there? Parents do.  To my mind if they were really concerned and bothered about it, they wouldn’t buy them the bloody things in the first place. “Oh yes” they say, “but if he/she didn’t have one they would be the odd one out amongst all their friends.” So what.  Why should you care, your being a good parent and protecting your child from what you see as a possible danger. Let them go round to their mate’s house and play on theirs. Yes you’re going to be the worst parent ever and they’ll slag you off  and tell you your being a complete and utter git but they are teenagers they are going to do that whatever you do. At least this way you have a credible reason for them hating you.


Kids today are completely spoilt. They have no perception of being deserving they expect to get what they want just because they ask for it. If they really want the latest mobile phone or Xbox tell them they have to buy it themselves. These things are luxuries they are not items essential  for the well being of your child. I was 13 when I got my first Saturday job. I swept up in a hairdressers and got 50p and hour. Eh those were the days. Seems ridiculous now but at the time I felt so mature and responsible. I learned what the work ethic was (remember that?) I had my own money and my own self worth. What I did with that money was up to me, no one else. Did I do anything profound and wonderful with it? No, I spent my very first pay packet on a load of sweets and bought my very first single. It was Baggy Trousers by Madness, very very sad, I know but the point is I can still remember it 30 years later.


The other example given by the London clinic  as to why this addictive gaming is becoming such a problem was that a lot of these kids when told to stop using their games or Pc’s get aggressive and abusive and in some cases the police have to be called to sort it out. Now I know my days as a teenager are long gone but I can still remember what it was like, just.


I come from a large family so at one point my parents actually had 6 teenagers in the house at the same time. I remember my mum going absolutely ballistic at us for watching what she thought was too much telly. One particular incident related to when Saturday morning TV was first introduced. She was so appalled at us all watching Noel Edmunds in Swap Shop instead of doing something more constructive that she unplugged the TV got a screwdriver and took the plug off. She put it her pocket and wouldn’t let us watch TV for the rest of the day. Now we weren’t happy about this and I am fairly sure my brothers uttered some random expletives, but that’s as far as it went, my mum was not someone you messed with, we respected her. 


Now if your kids react in a more extreme way than that, your problems go way beyond the time they are spending playing computer games. 


I may wax lyrical about my childhood but has that much really changed? Parents and children are always in conflict about something when they get to this age. With mine it was too much TV, today its computer games.


So are we right to delve into the effects these things have on our Kids? Of course we are,they are a completely new form of entertainment.  We had no idea how the brain would be affected by this type of stimulation and as far as I am aware there were no clinical trials on any of this stuff before it was released, why would there be? Its entertainment. As parents you have to take responsibility and make the decision as to whether this stuff is appropriate for your kid not just buy it for them because everyone else has one.


Here’s an interesting little statistic for you to end with. The newest release of the game Call of Duty took $400 million in sales within 24 hours, it broke all first day records and that was just in the US and the UK. Now I may be wrong but I  don’t think all those copies are destined for the little Jonny’s of the world, I have a sneaky feeling there will be a fair few finding their way into grown up’s stockings as well this Christmas. My guess is the clinic in London is going to have to up it’s age limit.

 

 

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