Part 2 in a series of five posts.
I am thinking about something much more important than bombs. I am thinking about computers.
John Von Neumann, 1946
“You know,” Nick’s teacher at Fern Hill said to me, “You might take this as an opportunity to think about what shooter games are doing to Nick’s brain.”
I had just told her about Nick’s busting my computer in frustration.
“You think they’re making him violent?” I said.
Nora and I had often considered whether the shooter games were teaching Nick to be cruel and brutal. We hadn’t noticed a change in his behavior.
He’d begun his love affair with swords and guns when he was around four, and there seemed nothing we could do to influence it. He had never confused fantasy with reality. And we worried that trying to restrict his play would only backfire and increase his obsession.
“The video games may not be making him more violent,” said Nick’s teacher. “But they may be damaging his ability to learn.”
She noticed the bewildered look on my face.
“It’s like the brain becomes so accustomed to immediate gratification that it closes down to other modes of input. It can’t tolerate frustration.”
I hadn’t heard that. There were a lot of things Nora and I hadn’t heard about video games, it turned out. How we’d managed to parent Nick eight years in the 21st century and remain oblivious this particular body of information remains a mystery to me. But I soon set about filling the blanks in my head.
Once I became conscious of the issue, of course, it appeared everywhere, especially on the internet. There were blogs, for example. Blogs by angry parents. Blogs by defensive parents. Blogs by frustrated parents.
There were tweets, newspaper articles, magazine features, research reports. Most of all, there were opinions. Opinions, opinions, opinions. Computer games=good. Computer games=bad. Computer games=get a life.
Through the fog a picture began to emerge. Brain development, it turns out, is conditioned by the environment, including the digital environment. Grammar school kids are especially vulnerable, because at that age the brain is still learning how to learn.
Nick’s teacher was right. First person shooter games, those hypnotic, thoughtless, violent, realistic adventures in which the player and his gun are dropped into a rapid-fire war zone, are the worst offenders. Played hour after hour, they habituate the brain to instant gratification and lower its capacity to tolerate frustration. They change the wiring.
We had three such games in our house. They’d been there for a couple of months. They were the first thing Nick wanted to play with in the morning, and the last thing at night. Negotiating the limits of screen time had become a daily ordeal.
I think Nick would have played constantly if Nora and I had let him. In my lighter moments, I had begun thinking of those games as digital junk food. Now they seemed more sinister, like digital heroin. And whether or not that was an exaggeration, it was clear they had to go.
What wasn’t clear was how to tell Nick.
. . .
Next time: Family Meeting . . .
You might enjoy: Fast Times at Woodside High
This seven minute video, produced by the New York Times, addresses the scope of the digital problem in schools:
You might also enjoy the following NY Times article:
And this post from The Good Men Project about a father’s nightmare:
First Person Shooter
And this discussion from Singlemommyhood on how texting is replacing social skills.
Any thoughts on kids, brains, or media? Express yourself. I’d love you to add your comment below. I always respond here.
Want an alert to the next action-packed episode in the amazing adventures of Just Add Father? Scroll up to “Get E-mail updates” in the column to the right.