7. Video Games
Video games are more widespread and accessible than ever. Addiction and overexposure are genuine problems that can stunt children’s cognitive development. Parents should be clear about these problems with their children and take steps to address them early on.
Video games are more accessible and inexpensive than ever. Phones, tablets, and computers can all be used for playing video games. And the days when video games could only be played on pricey consoles are long gone. Accordingly, the video-game business model is evolving.
Today, many children aged 10 to 12 own a phone, a tablet, and/or a console. And, of course, today these technologies can all be easily and systematically connected via the internet. The “freemium” subscription model entices many children to nag their parents to purchase such-and-such virtual accessory. A game that was initially free can end up costing a lot of money.
We know that this intermediary period between childhood and adolescence is a sensitive time. Many children, especially boys, are drawn in by games in which power and violence predominate. These video games respond simultaneously to impulses aroused by puberty and to the need to escape the unpleasant realities of daily life (e.g., school). Such games are more and more commonly designed to be addictive. Today, children’s addiction to video games is an affliction recognized by both psychiatrists and psychologists. Of course, not every child who plays these games reaches this point, but addiction must be recognized as a danger.
Our brains are genetically programmed to seek pleasure and satisfy our impulses. It is only education that can lead children to control and defer their impulses. The pleasure of playing a video game and being forced to stop sets off a sensation of withdrawal from the so-called neurological reward circuit. This is the same addictive mechanism at work with drugs, cigarettes, and alcohol.
The part of the brain which allows us to defer pleasure and control our emotions and impulses is located in the prefrontal lobe. If children regularly cave in the face of immediate gratification, they do not have the mental energy to self-regulate. From the age of 10 to 12, the prefrontal lobe, whose function is to inhibit, is far from being fully developed (which happens after the age of 20). What’s more, the less children try to stop themselves playing, the less they reinforce their inhibitive neural networks, and the more difficult this task becomes.
Anyone who finds themselves addicted, be they children or adults, begins losing interest in other activities.
What relationship can we establish between this phenomenon and the development of critical thinking and reasoning? Addiction to any substance or activity adversely affects our self-image. Anyone who finds themselves addicted, be they children or adults, begins losing interest in other activities. They don’t feel that intellectual, cultural, or sporting activities have anything to offer. The only things that are important are immediate gratification and that which invokes it. This no longer leaves any room for critical thinking and reasoning and can even cause regression.
Addicted children will rationalize their lack of motivation by stating that everything else is uninteresting and that they play the game out of free will—because it’s the only interesting thing out there. This absence of critical thinking about oneself will forestall the possibility of shaking the addiction.
Overexposure to video games can therefore be disastrous for pre-adolescents and teenagers in terms of the development of their critical faculties. It can affect children’s future for good. It can deprive children from experience in sublimating their impulses and in taking joy in learning.
What can we do?
Wait as long as possible before introducing children to video games, other than those which are cognitively or intellectually stimulating.
Guide children in the direction of games that do not play into impulses linked to domination, violence, or seduction, but that instead stimulate curiosity and reflection. You can find some good examples here.
If children have already taken a liking to an addictive game, it will be necessary to limit their access to it and to make it conditional on participating in other activities that facilitate critical thinking and reasoning.
Parents should also converse with an addicted child to try to get them to recognize that games are stifling his or her interest in other things.
It is critical to pay attention to all of these considerations for children around the age of 10. Once puberty hits, it will be a lot more difficult to call into question addictive behavior and simple, instant gratification.
Case Study 4