If we’re doing our best why isn’t it working?
I feel pretty confident that almost every parent wants to raise healthy, well adjusted kids who are prepared for the future.How we define each of those categories may be up to some debate, but I have yet to talk to a parent who did not wish some version of this for their children. Within the last 10 years increasingly, parents have started to feel that one of the biggest obstacles to well-adjusted children are the video games their children play.
If you feel video games are impeding your child’s development, then it is my sincere hope that this series of articles can help you. My goal is to take a fresh look at video games, how kids are growing up today, and most importantly, what science has to say about this. Increasingly there is a gap between what science knows and what parents practice. That gap and its cause could be a whole series of articles in itself, but I want to keep my focus on the kids we all care about and want to help. With that in mind, let’s break down the three parental goals and how video games seem to “impede” them.
The apparent conflict between video games and child development can be aggregated into three categories. I will state these as the three most popular accusations leveled at video games.
- Video games make kids fat.
- Video games make kids violent.
- Video games are a waste of time.
As a game developer those accusations sting a little. They seem overly harsh, but in every audience I’ve spoken with parents nod in agreement when I read this list. It doesn’t matter if I am speaking in front of a group of parents at a Beacon Center in Brooklyn, NY or at a Dave and Busters in North Scottsdale, Arizona. The three horsemen of video games seem to cut across all racial and demographic boundaries.
And they line up in direct opposition to parental goals. Parents want to raise:
- Healthy children
- Emotionally well-adjusted children
- Productive children prepared for the future.
So, let’s frame up the discussion, and take each piece one at a time.
In 2015, the Chief Executive of the British Science Association, Imran Khan argued that science is too important to be left to scientists alone. Albert Einstein echoed that sentiment almost 50 years earlier when he said, “science should not be left to scientists”. Both men were not arguing against scientists but rather that each of us should not stay in the laboratory. More than any other field, ordinary people feel disqualified to discuss science with confidence.
As an engineer, I am a firm believer in the citizen scientist. Does it work? Does it produce the effects reported? Can I use it? Academics call this the “Wisdom of Practice”. My dad would call it common sense. (He’s an engineer too, and a particularly brilliant one). So before we even begin, I want to give you a warning.
We are going to explore a lot of things that feel true
The real question is are they true? What does the science say? Is it true in your own experience? I don’t mean to give you a lot of work, but I do want to make sure you know that you are, and always have been free to test ideas, to confirm their validity. You do this every day with marketing claims; cleaner clothes, faster data, whiter teeth. You test and decide if it’s actually true. And if it works for you, you probably keep your laundry detergent, keep paying your cable bill and use the same toothpaste. If the claims are not true, you make a change.
It’s weird when it comes to ideas however. The higher the emotional impact (regardless of truth) the stickier an idea becomes. Ryan Holiday author of Trust Me I’m Lying, confessions of a media manipulator, called this “outrage porn”. Emotion plays an important role in how neurons bond together. The higher the emotion, the stronger the bond and the stronger the memory. This is one reason why a headline that upsets you is more memorable than a fact that informs you.
Our goal here is to discover the cultural pale toward video games and health. You can gather the data any way you want. I have done it multiple ways. I talk to individuals (moms and dads), or by a show of hands when I’m speaking in front of groups. My point is that if we are going to try to achieve better outcomes, we first want to know where we are starting. I am curious where it begins for you and your circle of friends. This close circle is your “Pale” or fence. It constitutes a psychological circle that directs its community members back toward the middle, back toward safety. If you’re going to scale a wall, you probably want to know how high and deep it is.
So, my plan is to explore each of the pillars of parenting and how video games challenge them. Then, based upon what science knows, we can look at effective strategies for leveraging video games with your children to help achieve your goals.
4.Stealing Fire, by Steven Kotler p51 Beyond the Pale