John Rosemond September 2017 Columns
Copyright 2017, John K. Rosemond
Video Game Addiction Worsening Problem for Teens
Responding to my recent columns on video games and smart phones, a reader asks what the problem is, thus proving that these devices can and do cause serious harm to one’s cognitive hardware. He, the father of two boys and a gamer himself, in effect claims that parents are imagining things and researchers are not finding what they are finding.
He proposes that video games and smart phones do not make people play them or stare at them obsessively; rather, that some parents are simply not providing proper supervision. That’s true, as far as it goes. He then offers that nothing is bad in moderation, which is one of the stupidest adages ever conceived. The list of things that are bad/evil in moderation include pornography, heroin, cocaine, arsenic, assault, murder, rape, armed robbery, lying, cheating, child abuse, and cruelty to animals. Need I go on?
Furthermore, if an addiction is defined as a self-destructive obsession over which an individual seems to lack control, then video games and smart phones do indeed “make” some people play them and stare at them as if their very lives depended upon it. Furthermore, the force of that effect appears to be inversely proportional to the age of the individual in question. As such, what a 40-year-old may be able to do—that is, fit playing video games into an otherwise responsible and richly varied life—a 13-year-old boy may not be able to do.
One of my grandsons is a case in point. After I expressed concern to his parents that his obsession with playing video games bordered on unhealthy, they took his game controller away. A year later, at age 14, he told me that he realized in retrospect that he had indeed been addicted. If his parents had not stepped in, he said, his adolescence would have been a disaster.
I’ve lost count of the number of parents who have asked me what to do about unemployed 20-something male children who live at home, sequestered in the slums that are their rooms, playing online video games day and night. Most of said adult children do not engage in meaningful conversations with their parents, participate in family meals, or even leave the house unless there is no option but to do so.
A few years ago, a convention center manager told me that many of the young males who participated in a gaming convention at his facility wore adult diapers so they would not have to get up from their consoles to use the bathroom. To get them to eat and drink, he had to threaten to unplug them.
The mother of a 25-year-old man-child who fits the above description recently asked if there are “resources for parents” who are dealing with adult video game addicts. I have figured out that in this context the word “resources” is a euphemism for “stuff we can read or meetings we can attend to convince ourselves that we’re doing something when we have no real intention of doing anything but complaining endlessly to anyone who will listen.” When I suggest the “resource” of involuntary emancipation, these parents come up with one excuse after another, demonstrating that where there is an addict, there is often an enabler or enablers.
Would that these parents had employed the very resourceful word “no” when these males first asked for a video game console. What America is discovering, and most painfully so, is that a lost adolescence often precedes a lost life.
To Stop Yelling, Change Yourself Not Your Kid
Q: I get very frustrated with my children when they don’t obey me, even down to the simplest of instructions, and end up yelling. How does a parent stop yelling at her kids?
A: Thank you, thank you, thank you for asking this very pertinent and timely question. Yelling is commonplace among today’s parents (as opposed to 60-plus years ago); therefore, almost everyone reading this column will benefit from it. And yes, that is a guarantee. If the reader does not benefit, then he or she only engaged in rote decoding of alphabetic symbols.
Parental yelling occurs for two reasons, depending on the type of parent in question. As regards the sort of parents who read my column on a regular basis—parents, that is, who love their children unconditionally and want to be the best parents they can be—yelling occurs because they tolerate misbehavior. Tolerant parents repeat themselves, threaten, bluster and otherwise work themselves into a state of frustration that eventually expresses itself in yelling. Intolerant parents do none of that. They are mean. A parent who qualifies as mean does not yell. Said parent is virtually unflappable, which is to say cool, calm, and collected.
From a child’s perspective, a parent (or teacher) is mean if the child discovers that the parent says precisely what he means and means precisely what he says. No means no. It does not mean maybe. “I (parent) want you (child) to do thus and so” means the child is going to do it. It does not mean anything short of that.
Mean parents do not negotiate, backtrack, equivocate or blow smoke. They do not threaten or give second chances. For example, if a mean parent tells a child to go straighten and clean his room and the child pushes back or fails to perform the task properly, mean parent might go clean the child’s room himself and then ground the child to the home for two weeks with early bedtime. Mean parent in this example gave the instruction once. The child had one chance to either obey or disobey. If the latter, mean parent did not repeat, complain, berate, bluster, give a second chance, threaten, jump up and down while flapping his arms, or yell. He was calmly intolerant; therefore, he did not yell.
I have polled hundreds of audiences on the issue of yelling and discovered that the percentage of parents who frequently yell has at least tripled in the last fifty years or so. The percentage of children who do habitually disobey at first instruction has risen accordingly. During that time, the nature of the child has not changed. The increase in yelling is due to parents of two generations ago being generally more intolerant of misbehavior.
Their intolerance expressed itself in several ways, including that they did not repeat themselves, did not give reasons and explanations, replied with “because I said so” if asked for a reason or explanation, and used consequences that instilled permanent memories. The payoff to children who grew up with these intolerant, mean parents was rarely if ever being yelled at.
Sorry to disappoint, but if you yell at your children, you do so not because they are strong-willed or argumentative or can’t take no for an answer. You yell at your children because you are weak-willed, accept invitations to argue, and can’t say no and mean it. Stop trying to change your children. Change you.
Treat Kids Like They're No Big Deal
I am a member of the last generation of American children who were no big deal. No one made a big deal over me, ever. Not my mother, my father, or anyone else. For my parents, raising me properly was a big deal, but I was not. It may come as a shock and surprise to some readers, but the process and the person are two different things.
Even though my parents possessed three PhDs between them, neither of them helped me with my homework on any sort of regular basis. They never even asked if I had homework, if I’d finished it, or if I had any tests coming up. My mother’s favorite after-school activity for me was “go outside and find something to do and don’t show your face around here until dinnertime or I’ll put you to work.” Upon which I went outside and found other kids who’d been kicked out of their houses and we played. We did not form rejected children support groups.
I don’t remember ever thinking that my parents were concerned or worried about me. The only time they made a fuss over me was when I did something bad. The fuss consisted of a calm demonstration of disapproval and disappointment followed by an equally calm assignment of a consequence that never failed to create a permanent memory. To my parents, time out was something having to do with basketball. Their “time out” was being grounded the entire summer between high school and college, during which time I painted the house, mowed the grass, weeded the lawn, and listened to my transistor radio in my room while all my friends were having the time of their lives. Never mind what I did. Suffice to say, it was bad.
I made straight A’s in high school as well as the highest score on the ACT exam in my high school graduating class, which was something like 900 strong. Nonetheless, my parents never bragged to anyone about me. In their estimation, I was intelligent; therefore, straight A’s were no big deal, nothing to brag about.
In Little League one year, I pitched a no-hitter, led the league in home runs, and led the team to the league championship. My parents never came to a game. That was just fine with me because parents were embarrassing back then. In high school, I led the golf team to two district championships. I don’t remember my parents ever asking me how I’d played. It never occurred to me that they should have.
I never got much attention, but not much was enough. I never worried for lack of anything. I was well taken care of. My parents provided all the essentials and occasionally they provided slightly more. For Christmas and my birthday, I generally received school supplies.
I engage in all this reminiscing because I am acutely aware that most of today’s kids are a big deal or even a BIG DEAL. To their parents, they are American Idols. Being the center of attention, being the person on whom your parents seem to hang their very sense of self-worth, that’s got to be a terrible burden. When that’s your life, however, and furthermore appears to be the state of your friend’s lives as well, you don’t realize what a burden it is.
I’m just eternally grateful to my parents that I was no big deal. That childhood experience has helped, and still helps, me put many, many things into proper perspective.
Parents Should Keep Kid With Irrational Fears Grounded
Q: Over the past year, our 4-year-old has developed several fears that have become quite disruptive. It started with a fear of dogs, which is inconvenient given that there are lots of dogs in our neighborhood. Since then she’s become afraid of noises at night, wind (she thinks a hurricane is coming), and dying in her sleep. Needless to say, she is anxious a lot of the time. We’ve talked to her, reassured her, and so on, but nothing has worked. She’s becoming a wreck, and so am I. Should I take her to a counselor? If not, then do you have any advice?
A: With very selective exceptions, I generally recommend against having children – especially young children – talk to mental health professionals. First, there is no research-based body of evidence that would verify the general efficacy of any form of child therapy. Second, over the course of my now 40-plus year career, I’ve collected a significant body of anecdotal evidence to the effect that exposing a child to psychological counseling often (perhaps more often than not) makes matters worse. Having said that, I must add that my point of view on child therapy is not widely approved of by my colleagues, so if you’d feel better having your daughter see a therapist, then do so.
The problem is that almost invariably, therapists talk to children about fears, anxieties, and persistent thoughts as if they represent something meaningful – as in, deep-seated issues that the child is incapable of expressing otherwise. Example: A child’s inability to tell her parents that they haven’t been giving her enough attention since a baby brother arrived in the family is expressed in frequent tantrums (an actual account recently related to me by the parent of a 5-year-old). This is what these folks were educated and trained to do; so was I.
The fact is that a child’s thinking and emotions need as much if not more discipline than her behavior. The more adults talk to a child about irrational fears and persistent thoughts, the worse they are likely to become. One such conversation is enough, and it needs to contain the message that the fears/thoughts in question do not represent reality and are not going to alter, much less dictate, parental decisions or parental behavior. In situations of this sort, I encourage parents not to “explore” the child’s fears/thoughts, not to ask lots of questions about them, but to simply tell the child, authoritatively but lovingly, that fears are common during childhood, they do not represent things that are likely, and that life will go on as usual in the family.
Your daughter doesn’t want to take a walk through the neighborhood because she’s afraid of dogs? You’re taking her on a walk anyway. She doesn’t want to go outside because of wind? She’s going anyway. She is afraid to go to bed because she thinks she’s going to die in her sleep (one of my daughter’s fears, around age 10)? She’s going to bed anyway. And by the way, sometimes crying is a necessary purgative and needs to be allowed (if contained in the child’s room) until it’s run its course.
A child who has become caught up in and carried away by the sort of randomness that often characterizes a child’s thinking and feelings needs parents who will act quickly to keep her grounded, who will continue to steer a straight course in the face of the emotional tempest.