Live and Play in Your World: Stimulus Addiction and the Growing Brain
Video games have become the number one choice for screen entertainment, surpassing TV/DVD viewing and movie-going. According to the Pew Internet and American Life Project, 99% of boys, ages 12-17 and 94% of girls in the same age range play video games. Eighty percent play five or more different genres, with racing, puzzles, sports, and action being the most common. (1)
What they play, of course, determines whether the game is harmful or helpful to their developing minds and spirits. Violent video games focus kids on murder and mayhem—very different from playing a puzzle game like Tetris that supports spatial thinking. However, even a few hours a day of Tetris limits the time a child or teen will spend in other activities. Like too much television time, too much video game time limits other experiences absolutely necessary for normal development.
When kids play action-packed, fast paced, or violent video games, in particular, they increasingly need more powerful images in order to respond emotionally to the game. This is called stimulus addiction. The term "stimulus addiction" describes the habit that is formed as kids seek out more and more stimulating games to hold their interest. Instead of playing in their natural world, kids are spending more and more time playing in the artificially constructed world of video games.
Often kids start out with simple non-violent video games and move into increasingly violent games because violent games are the most stimulating. They require the part of our brain that reacts, rather than reasons. Violent video games focus on the constant need to destroy in order to stay in the game. Violent images increase arousal levels of neurotransmitters (brain chemicals) that excite and entice kids to keep playing. Video games today display more horrific violence, with sharp images and realistic graphics. Words, ideas, and images of brutality not ever imagined to be “entertainment” ten years ago currently fill up much of our kids’ leisure time, habituating them to hyped stimulation in the process.
Although the fast pace and emotionally vivid images of manufactured horror are definitely habit-forming, even nonviolent games can become addictive.
Gamer addiction is real and not easy for moms and dads to deal with. Recently two of my coaching clients expressed major concerns over too much time spent with video games:
A dad of a fourth grader overheard his nine-year old in conversation with a friend:
“I’ll finish her off by ripping out her heart.”
Copyright © Gloria DeGaetano, 2009. All rights reserved. No reprinting rights granted without the author’s permission.
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