It’s not enough to call it a disorder

The Way I See It
By Daniela Ginta
April 9, 2018 - 6:45am

KAMLOOPS — Depending on who you ask, video games are either good or bad. Or a bit of both, some say, but boundaries are blurry. The World Health Organization is looking into settling that for good by adding a new disorder to the roster. A gaming disorder. Video game organizations and supporters call that excessive and misdirected. After all, there are hundreds of thousands of kids and teenagers who play video games and they seem to function just fine, thank you.

There two approaches: one proposes limited screen time (no screens for babies and toddlers), while the other has experts (an overused term these days) argue kids can play video games to their hearts’ content, and once they had their fill, self-regulation kicks in (right?). Pro-screens (and games especially) advocates invoke the advantages: improved hand-eye coordination, memory, and processing speed. Take it with a grain of salt.

It’s no secret that video games are addictive. After all, they are designed by professionals whose goal is to keep gamers glued to their machines and trying their hardest, again. And again. That often leads to hours spent in front of a screen immersed in a different world. Disengaging from playing is hard and young people turn to desperate measures when forced to do so (violence, or threats, towards self and others for examples.)

While the debate goes on, you’re right to ask: what about the children? Will calling it a disorder solve the problem? Not really. It might provide help to parents who are at their wits ends with a doctor-prescribed reduced screen time. But it might also create opportunity for overmedicating children, should professionals get giddy with the prescriptions. A situation that is not exactly new or preferable.

If you check the numbers, it’s mostly boys that seem to be falling for video games. For girls it’s chatting and other social media traps. Should they call chatting a disorder then too?

Not quite but close enough. Most of us can agree that there is nothing healthy about excessive screen time, be it gaming or texting or whatever else young people (and not only) do while hooked to their machines. Then again, when it’s raining new apps and games, how do you keep their feet dry?

When my youngest was still in public school (grade 4), a new game called Five nights at Freddy’s was released. The story behind the game is, as a adult player wrote in a review, ‘nightmare fuel.’ Enough said. You can look it up for yourself. My son never played but ended up seeing the creepy characters anyway as kids were bringing them up on their screens at school. Like it or not, it takes a village indeed.

That was then. Others followed. Now it’s Fortnite, a survival game that is, according to one review, a combination of Minecraft and a tame version of Call of Duty. Many deemed appropriate because there is no blood and there is cooperation (to eliminate people, albeit in a bloodless mess). That can create another range of problems, such as removal from reality (i.e. guns are not for play.)

Many teenagers play until the wee hours of the morning, even on school days. Unlike a toddler whom you can pry away from the bookshelf before he throws all books on the floor, parents cannot exactly physically remove a teen from the screen, so they appeal to the better mind of their kid. Hardly a bulletproof approach, but the options are scarce to begin with.

There are 7-year-olds who live and breathe for Minecraft and other online games. They collapse in severe meltdowns should the screen be removed. Something’s amiss alright.

If your own kids have no trouble disengaging, cheers to that. I am lucky that way too, save for my eldest’s recent forays into Snapchat, which I am seeing subsiding gradually due to many (many) talks we have, activities we engage him in, incentives to keep his mind challenged, and boundaries. It’s no walk in the park, as you can imagine.

I got asked often how I prevented my sons from accessing their screens for playing while learning at home. Simple: it was never an option. Minecraft was allowed after school and for a limited time. I was unpleasantly surprised to learn that in some schools students access their phones during class. Knowing what we know about focus (and lack thereof), schools should be the learning environment that they are meant to be. Socializing and game playing comes second, after classes.

It’s an everyday conversation, because the screen temptation is a daily thing too (and let’s not forget that our example counts too.) While we reinforce our own rules at home, I’d welcome an unflinching decision by the school district to ban cell phones during school hours. Yes, I know, it’s hard to reinforce, but not doing it means failing our kids. And there are plenty of schools where it works just fine. Just say no! If more adult bodies agree on some things, we may have a chance to remedy the screen situation before we call it a disorder.

One of the prescribed cures for some teens and young adults in gaming detox treatment is a month-long (or longer) wilderness retreat. They are usually costly because of the detox classification. The lesson to draw from that is that it can be done for free, and it’s worth it. No one needs a doctor’s prescription to go for a hike with their kids. We can change the rules of engagement for our kids (and ourselves) and infuse their lives (and ours) with more nature and better rules on screen time, both at home and in school. More reading, more family time, more nature time, less screen time - it’s a win for everyone.

There are crises everywhere you look these days and disorders popping up as a result. I believe there is still time to fix this one.