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Thursday, November 21, 2013

Electronic Game Addiction

I was trying to diagnose the motivation problems of 2 children in the past month when it occurred to me that they were behaving very much like cocaine addicts...

(1) They were physically restless. They could not stop moving.

  • One child had to get up to drink water every 5 minutes. When I told him that there was no need to drink water every 5 minutes, he got up to go to the toilet every 10 minutes. Sitting on his chair, he had to move his hands and feet. He was a ball of restless energy. It was even more obvious since all the other children were quietly concentrating.
  • The other child talked so fast that I couldn't understand him. He too had nervous physical tics which were less obvious because his class involved quite a bit of physical movement. Still... he was a lot more restless than the other children.
(2) They had very little impulse control.

(3) One child lied and lied about his homework.

(4) Neither child could focus deeply. One could not focus at all! He had to drink water every 5 minutes!

Alone, each of the above symptoms mean nothing. Together in the SAME child, alarm bells rang in my head. As I chatted with the parents, it turned out the both children played computer games extensively... 2 to 4 hours at a stretch.


Professor Douglas A. Gentile studies gaming addiction. You can read his CV HERE. Here is what he has to say about gaming addiction...

 "When you play the games, your [brain’s] biochemistry does change," Gentile said, "and it changes in many of the same ways that it does if you take cocaine. Your brain does release dopamine. That adrenaline rush you feel from playing games is really adrenaline. That's epinephrine coursing through your veins. You also get other stress hormones—glocucorticoids and catecholamines like cortisol and testosterone. And over time, [your brain] get desensitised."

- See HERE -

Note that the biochemical effects on the brain are EXACTLY the same as what happens when you take COCAINE. These children's brains had become so desensitised. Normal levels of stimulation (inherent in calmer intellectual pursuits such as reading and writing) could not capture their attention! The normal strategies I used to help children develop work focus did not work!

Parents complain their children cannot focus. No wonder! Both of these children sometimes spent up to FOUR hours a day on electronic games!

Why Can Adults Play Computer Games, But Not Children?
You know, we don’t give alcohol to children for a reason. They are physically incapable of dealing with the substance. We give children half doses of flu medication for a reason. The child’s body is unable to cope with higher dosage. Like it or not, the brain is an organ. It responds biologically to chemicals and hormones.

Most adults work. Adults have little time for computer games. The sessions of TV and computer games after work is much like a half glass of cognac before bedtime for an adult male. It is done in moderation. Children (especially during the holidays) can spend up to 4 hours a day on computer games and TV. This is like 4 glasses of cognac flooding a child’s body in ONE day.

If you fed your child such high doses of alcohol a day, your child would become an alcoholic in no time. His liver would also be damaged. Such Desensitized Brains can only focus when gaming. Anything else is bland and boring because these brains need the HIGH DOSES of adrenaline, dopamine, epinephrine and cortisol (provided by computer games) to stay focused. This explains why such children are unable to focus in class and cannot do work without getting up and fidgeting.

It doesn’t matter how interesting the class is. No academic class is as gripping as a fast moving computer game.

Dulls the Brain
One child's brain was so over-stimulated that the cognitive paths for even basic word recall and generation were frozen. These are LOWER order thinking skills necessary for language manipulation. The other children could generate 5 adjectives to describe a noun where this one could only generate ONE.

In the eyes of a psychologist like me, this is nothing less than BRAIN DAMAGE. No... I do not exaggerate. These brains had changed physically. The brain is an organ, remember? These brains had changed just like your liver would change if you drank 1 litre of vodka a day!

In one of the cases I saw months ago, the child was only 3.5 years old. His preschool used songs to teach the alphabet. The children danced. This one could not engage with any of these interesting learning activities. He was so bored that he pummelled on the door and tried his best to break it down to avoid the learning activities. Gee... he was bored by Songs and Dance?

In this particular child, improvements to focus and concentration could be seen after 3 months of going Completely Cold Turkey on computer games. Improvements were seen without ANY OTHER intervention.

Little Boy was only allowed 2 hours of TV on Friday night, if at all. He was not allowed ANY computer games until he reached Secondary 1, where his brain had sufficiently matured to take such high doses of excitatory stimuli. The Daughter at 4 years glued her eyes to the TV for hours. We removed the power cord quietly, and that was that.

Computer games are not innocent fun. They operate a lot like cocaine in your child's brain. Think about that, when you next say "Yes" when they ask to play.

1 comment:

Wen-ai said...

O yes... I totally agree with you! And thus, Beanie does not play with my iPhone (we don't own a iPad). However, she does watch TV although I try to limit to 1 hr per day (max). Hmmm... maybe I should limit TV to 1 hr every 2 days instead!