Addiction. We all know it and at times have been forced to overcome it. I certainly know I have. I remember being addicted to a daily 2 p.m. Diet Coke as a working gal after college. I overcame a nail-biting addiction that spanned most of my childhood and high school career. I had to curb my “social” smoking before kids, and I have yet to curb my morning coffee addiction. Addiction is real, active and apparent in every person.
But my kids? Sure, they’re addicted to talking back and to making messes; addicted to candy, cartoons and cuddles. But this Christmas I watched a child virtually free of addiction become completely and utterly infatuated with video games – and it was becoming an addiction – an ugly one at that.
Since Christmas morning when Santa brought our eldest son his iPod Touch, I have been at odds with Santa. I approved of the present, as it was the only thing on my nearly 8-year-old’s list. In the weeks leading up to Christmas, my son and I had many talks about the rules that would be imposed should Santa grant his Christmas wish.
During the days following Christmas, Connor spent endless hours playing with his new toy. He would play a few games and then become fanatical about purchasing new apps. He couldn’t stop talking about the next game he wanted to get, never appreciating the ones he already had on his device. He would play his “iTouch” until his eyes were bloodshot and he looked sullen, sucked dry of all stimulation. It was like the little guy was on crack. He couldn’t tear himself away from it. And when he wasn’t playing it, he was talking about it, over and over and over.
We took a road trip – nine hours in the car – and only heard a peep out of Connor when he was hungry, had to make a pit stop or worse yet, when the battery in his iTouch was out of juice.
It was then that the fixation continued. Connor would beg for us to charge the iTouch in the car and was rather irritable during the hour or more it took to have the handheld charged. He would tell us he was bored, snap at his siblings and wasn’t able to relax his restless body. The child whose imagination made him capable of playing independently for hours at any age, had zapped his brain of patience, rational, reasoning and satisfaction.
What had Santa done?
In just two days, the iTouch had quickly become an extension of my son, his main source of happiness and calm. The books and toys that just days before had ignited his intellectual curiosity had been replaced and it became apparent that my technology “rules” were far too lenient.
My boy had become a video game junkie. Compulsive video gaming is actually a modern-day psychological disorder that experts describe as extreme use of video games that interfere with someone’s daily life.
According to Common Sense Media, a national nonprofit dedicated to helping parents improve kids’ experiences with media and technology, among 5- to 8-year-olds, 17 percent play console video games at least once a day. More than a quarter of all parents, (29 percent) have downloaded apps on their mobile devices for their kids to play; 52 percent of 5- to 8-year-olds have used a mobile device.
What’s more shocking in their statistics is that in a typical day, 11 percent of all 0- to 8-year olds use a cell phone, iPod, iPad, or similar device for media consumption, and those who do spend an average of 43 minutes doing so.
Research also finds that nearly one in 10 youth gamers age 8-18 can be classified as pathological gamers or addicted to video-gaming; boys being more likely than girls.
These statistics are startling. So I got to work on figuring out how Connor could co-exist with his iTouch. I mean, he was old enough to “deserve” one, so how could we foster a relationship with technology that would help Connor continue to thrive in all other areas of his childhood? This predicament proved trying for me.
I got to work on a technology agreement that could be a benefit to Connor. Knowing the password, having designated gaming times, using the iTouch as a tool to guide Connor to better his behavior, having him earn his time after school work. It was working fine until the timer beeped one evening before dinner and the reaction I received after voicing that Connor’s time was up was simply put: Unacceptable.
His punishment? Two weeks without his iTouch. Blasphemous if you ask Connor. But we’re four days into it and he knows I mean business. He is once again cognizant of something he seemed to forget with every swift stroke of his finger on his iTouch: That a privilege can be revoked.
I must admit, I am hesitant to re-instate Connor’s iTouch privilege. It’s only been a few days, but my life has returned to simple and my battles seem a little easier to fight.
Our generation of parents will continue to struggle to teach our children to co-exist with technology. We must teach them when it’s appropriate to turn it on and turn it off and more importantly, we must set appropriate boundaries to avoid the negative effects of the technological addict.
I bid us all good luck.