“Boys Adrift”–What Video Games are Doing to Our Sons

screen-shot-2017-02-08-at-1-48-21-pmVideo games!!!!!

Finally, some data and some answers. It’s like the story of the frog in the water  in the pan on the stove.

From Wikipedia,

A frog sitting on the handle of a saucepan, which is sitting on an electric hob, which is glowing red.

A frog sitting on a saucepan handle

“The boiling frog is an anecdote describing a frog slowly being boiled alive. The premise is that if a frog is put suddenly into boiling water, it will jump out, but if the frog is put in cold water which is then brought to a boil slowly, it will not perceive the danger and will be cooked to death. The story is often used as a metaphor for the inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of threats that arise gradually.”

The key to that paragraph is the last sentence–

“The inability or unwillingness of people to react to or be aware of threats that arise gradually.”  G—R—A—D—U—A—L—L—Y…

We are being boiled alive when it comes to allowing our children to play video games.

Dr. Sax has a generic example at the beginning of the chapter of a 13 year that is starting high school and how the parents think it’s time to limit his gaming to a half hour a day:

“But those games are the best thing I have,” your son says. His tone is simultaneously angry and pleading. “Those games are who I am. I’m not some pathetic nerd geek who is going to spend 6 zillion hours a week studying.”

“But those games aren’t the real world,” you say. “They’re just games.”

“What’s real?” your son says. Before you can answer this unexpectedly philosophical  question, he continues: “When I’m playing Halo, that world is more real to me than this one. I’m really good too,” he says dreamily. “Although I do NOT expect you to have even the slightest clue what that means.” He pauses, then adds, softly, almost shyly, “I could win the championship. Next year maybe. Definitely a possibility. But not on 30 minutes a day.”

Dr. Sax goes on to say, “Boy World is a weird place. Many boys and young men are wrestling with drives and motivations that a lot of parents, especially mothers, don’t understand…Two generations ago, in the age of Gidget and the Beatles, boys were more likely to be highly driven overachievers than girls were. Today the reverse is true. Society has changed. Your son, who seems so unmotivated to succeed at school, may actually be highly motivated to succeed—just not at school,   at least not at the particular school he is attending.”

“The Will to Power”

Dr. Sax continues, “The simplest way to express what…is meant by “will to power” is that individuals want to be in charge of their environment…we all know girls and women who want to be the boss, and we all know boys and men who are content to follow than to lead. What I have found in more than two decades of medical practice, however, is that many of our boys who seem unmotivated, from our perspective, are actually motivated by the will to power. The will to power can best be understood not so much as a drive per se but as a worldview, a way of valuing traits and characteristics. Secretly,, these boys often believe that they are special, that they are unique, that they have a hidden destiny that will be revealed in time.

“As a result, they believe that the rules that apply to ordinary people don’t apply to them. Their destiny matters more to them than friendship or academic achievement—more than happiness, for that matter. They often do not expect other people, including their parents to understand them.”

“Watch a teenage boy playing certain video games, particularly games in which the boy has to shoot and kill his way to victory, such as Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto. Such video games offer a quick and easy fix for these boys. They give them the feelings of power and control they crave: the power of life and death. It’s just a game”—but watch the seriousness with which these boys play. What happens when you tell your son that he should stop playing those video games! ” We all know what happens!

Dr. Sax goes on to talk about balance and moderation. If time is spent on video games is crowding out time spent with friends or time spent on homework, then your son is spending too much time on video games.

“The will to power also has a positive dimension.It’s not hard to see how boys motivated by the will to power might have been successful in earlier generations. They might have grown up to be successful entrepreneurs, daring innovators, explorers, politicians or soldiers.”

“And it is heroic. For years, Sony’s leading advertising line for its PS4 video-game console was “Greatness Awaits.” The official Sony Commercial offers some insight. The actor, a young man looking directly into the camera as special effects explode around him says, “Who are you to be ordinary? Who are you to be anonymous? You—whose name should be spoken in reverent tones, or in terrified whispers!”

These are some of the outcomes for unlimited video playing that  Dr. Sax talks about:

  • Attention Deficit
  • Risk taking
  • Obesity
  • Dehumanization/  changes in personality
  • Violent Video games change brains

Dr. Sax gives some of these cautions if you are going to have video games in your home.

  • Be aware of the content of the games.
  • You set how much time is allowed each day.
  • Watch for activities that are displaced by video games.

Video Game meets the Mobile phone

Dr. Sax continues, “Every screen that your son or daughter has is your responsibility as a parent. You must govern your child’s use of devices until your child is 18 years of age. If you inoculate good habits in childhood and adolescence, those habit are likely to be maintained after 18 years of age.”

“Install monitoring software in every device your child uses.”

“Another alternative is simply not to give your child a smart phone or tablet. When I speak to parent groups some parents gasp in horror and amazement when I make this suggestion. I remind these parents that the iPhone didn’t even exist until 2007. It is possible to have a rich and fulfilling childhood and adolescence  without constant access to a mobile device. In fact, I argued in the Collapse of Parenting, the device makes it more difficult for kids to develop an authentic sense of self.”

“Don’t do what the neighbors do. It’s possible that most of your son’s friends have such devices. That doesn’t mean your son needs one as well. As I explain in the Collapse of Parenting, being a good parent in the United States today means doing things differently from your neighbors.”

The end of this chapter, Dr. Sax talks about “Insight or Not”.

“When psychologists says that the client has good insight, they mean that the client understands the situation and has a good grasp of what needs to be done. Some boys have insight into their own video-game predicament, others do not.”

Dr Sax talks about Jacob, who did not have good insight into his own life. This is such a sad, sad, example of the dangers of unchecked gaming.  He was 22 years old, living with his parents, working a few (!) hours a week, helping his father who was an independent contractor. No job, other than those few hours with his dad, no education beyond high school, no interest or plans for the future. No girlfriend, no friends.

After an alarming discussion between Jacob and his parents, Dr. Sax said,

“The only effective intervention in this context with a man 22 years of age who is spending more than 40 hours a week playing video games, is complete abstinence. You have to eliminate all access to video games.”

“Jacob’s face froze.”

“‘You mean we have to remove the Xbox?” Jacob’s mother asked.’

“Remove the Xbox from the house. Destroy it or give it away. Eliminate all access to the Internet, including the cell phone.”

What follows is a very angry young man who says, ” You can’t tell me what to do. My parents can’t tell me what to do.”

Dr Sax said, “You’re right. You are an adult You are free to move out of your parent’s house and make your own way in the world. But if you leave—your parents are not to support you. You are on your own… (Right now) you don’t pay rent, they pay for your food. They pay for your Internet access. If you are going to stay in their house, then you have to abide by their rules.”

The parents followed his instructions—donated the X-box and all the games to Goodwill. They took away the cell phone. They removed his computer from his room. They put on a password on their computer and wouldn’t allow him to use it. Four weeks later they came back–

The Dad said, “Everything is different. At work for example. It used to be pulling teeth to get Jacob to help me at all, and I had to check everything he did. But now he is showing initiative. And to be blunt, he’s a lot smarter than I thought. He understands better. He’s got a better attention span. He’s got more patience.”

Dr Sax asked Jacob, “What do you think? Do you agree?” Sadly Jacob said, ” No I don’t. I don’t feel any different.”

Dr. Sax then asked, ” If it were up to you, would you start playing video games tomorrow?”

“Absolutely.” Jacob said.

“Jacob showed no insight. No awareness of how his video games had displaced his real world activities.”

Dr Sax ends with “If your son is one of the millions of boys or young mens who have allowed video games to displace their life you must intervene. Remove the device, limit screen time.” Dr. Sax ends that section asking,

“If you don’t who will?”

I think the above example of Jacob, the 22-year-old, is a tragic example of boiled frog syndrome. We have had video games around, starting in the 80’s, and face it, Pac-Man was so cute. So harmless.  In the 90’s videos games became more sophisticated than their 80’s predecessors but they still looked like cartoons. The best thing is that it kept our children safe inside, quiet and occupied, were we could see them in our family rooms. The water got hotter when the games became more violent and addictive. Look at where Jacob’s parents are now. If they can “hold their boundaries” as Jodi Hildebrandt says,  and not let the same addictive behavior go one then maybe, just maybe, their son will wake up and become a productive human being.

It’s interesting  to realize  that video games  are actually stunting our childrens’ motivational drive, plus a series of other terrible outcomes listed above. They are getting sucked into a substitute life where they can be a pilot or a soldier without having to have the discipline or schooling. But what is to be done? EVERYONE plays video games.  You choose to not participate. Be an agent for change. Change your family habits and inspire others around you.  In the 1990’s my dear friend, Ann O. told me how their family had stopped watching TV and would rent movies from the library to watch after chores and homework was done. Yes, it was more work, but she felt she was protecting her children. That had a huge impact on me. That had never occurred to me to do that. From then on we had no TV, only videos that we would rent or buy. Our children could watch only after their daily work and homework was done. As my children have moved up and out they have thanked me for limiting their TV watching. They were outside more, reading more, and not so fixated on the box.

After “a series of unfortunate events”, we also limited video games in our home. Since last August, we have enjoyed freedom from that distraction. It wasn’t easy to limit our son. I wish I had read “Boys Adrift”   earlier, but it is so validating reading this after the fact. He has filled his time with lots of reading and friends. He can drive himself to the library to restock on his favorite book series and  it has been a great change. My husband and I were talking the other night and we don’t think our son will ever play videos in our house again. I can’t control him after he moves up and out but hopefully he will learn from the past few years and that connection  with a group and good books  is better than video games.

My  next post is on the 3rd Factor of why boys are struggling in our society today—Medications with ADHD

It’s the boiled frog syndrome. Short term, they are quiet, happy and they aren’t on their phones or watching who knows what on TV. But it is actually stunting their motivational drive. They are getting sucked into a substitute life where they can be a pilot or a general without having to have the discipline, or schooling. In the 90’s my dear friend Ann O. told me how their family had stopped watching TV and would rent movies from the library to watch after chores and homework was done. Yes, it was more work, but she felt she was protecting her children. That had a huge impact on me. That had never occurred to me to do that. So we had no TV when my children were growing up besides videos that we would buy.

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