my thoughts on Media: Chapter 4 of “7”

Our intentions were good.

We thought it was innocent

fun.

What started as the DVD player “for the plane”, became the DVD player for the restaurant.

What started as “educational games” on the computer or iPhone, turned into mindless gaming at sites marketed for children.

What started as “Oh, what a great way to spend time as a family!”, turned into “Go spend time on the game system so that I can sleep one more hour.”

Does this sound familiar?

Oh my, we were such suckers.

My husband and I thought all of this media was great, until one day we realized what great babysitters we had “purchased”.

Yikes! What a wake-up call.

My husband and I would reminisce about how as kids we would go on car rides and play the ABC game or the license plate state game to pass the time. Or sing songs. Or tell stories.

What happened? Why couldn’t our kids go run errands without complaining about being bored or begging for my iPhone?

Our boys would have full-blown temper tantrums when the games were turned off. More often than not the tantrums would last for just as long as they had been playing.

I overheard a conversation between my boys one day, they were discussing the level they had been playing in the most recent Lego Wii game. Strategizing. Organizing their thoughts for the next time they would be allowed to play. Ugh!

Soon I found myself the referee, the time keeper, the diffuser of anger when tempers flared over games gone bad.

The final straw was when my five-year-old asked me, “Mommy, how many lives do we have?”. Yikes! We had a problem.

Extremely concerned, my husband and I began reading all we could. And, we discovered that we were not alone.

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I would like to recommend two books we found very convicting and which ultimately led us to decide how to manage media excess for our children.

{Full Disclosure: I am an Amazon Affiliate. This means if you link to Amazon from my blog and make a purchase, I will receive a percentage of the proceeds to support the ministry here at jana’s three dresses.}

The first book is “Playstation Nation” by Olivia and Kurt Bruner who experienced gaming addiction with their son. It is very well researched. It speaks to how our brain chemistry changes when we are playing video games. They found that the changes seen in brain activity while children were gaming mimic the changes seen in the brain of a person with addiction to drugs and alcohol. It discusses, in easy to read language, the research which supports the behavioral changes we were seeing in our children: disrespect, short tempers, withdrawal, and loss of interest in real life activities. Their story is heartbreaking as they reveal how the “innocent”  gaming in their home turned into a full blown addiction that led their son to a very disfunctional lifestyle.

The second book is “Endangered Minds” by Jane M. Healy. It has an older publication date, but it is still very relevant. Again, the research is presented to show how the human brain changes in how it receives and analyzes information. More importantly for my husband and I, it helped us to realize the behavior we were witnessing in our boys was evidence that they were addicted to media.

As a result of these two books and several other articles we read, we made a decision a year and a half ago.

We no longer allow

gaming in our home.

As you will see in the two books, boys have higher rates of gaming addiction than girls. We were deeply concerned for our two sons and wanted to make radical changes.

Just prior to our decision to get rid of the gaming systems, I had read an article written by a family who decided (when their three children were teenagers) to do away with TV in their home because of the addictive behavior they were seeing in their children. In the article they explained that it took almost three months for the kids to fully “detox”. Going through that time of detox was hard, but totally worth it from their perspective.

Three months! OK, this gave me hope, but was a reality check as well. I knew this change was radical and not going to be easy. But, would be totally worth it.

So, we boxed up the gaming systems

{including the “educational” one that starts with an “L” –

in our belief, it is a precursor to the bigger systems}

and put them away.

The kids were shocked and tantrums did happen. But, it was not nearly as bad as I thought it was going to be.

I was no longer being pestered for time to play games or to be on the computer. I no longer had to referee, or watch the clock, or diffuse anger and frustration.

My children were not going to say “Thank you”,

YET,

but I knew in the end, they would understand.

Freedom!

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Today, my children are readers.

We play board games.

We play outside, go for walks, ride bikes.

Dodgeball has become a family favorite.

They have learned to entertain themselves in their bedrooms when they wake before 7am. They are good friends who have fun creating together.

Sure, we have tantrums. Sure, occassionally they ask for computer time. The system is constantly being reworked, adapted, and challenged. But, their dad and I are sticking to our guns. We have seen the addictive behavior dissapear. That is evidence enough for us!

A few notes:

  1. The money we saved on video games we are now spending on lego sets, a trampoline, and a basement filled with fun boy-centered activities. I feel good about buying board games when I know they will be used and provide for quality family time.
  2. We own one TV. We do not have cable. We only stream movies from “N”. The boys are limited to two hours of TV a week. This is a recent change we made when we began to see the same behavior surrounding TV that once surrounded gaming.
  3. Our family room does not have the TV in it. Instead, we have been intentional to fill it with books, board games, comfortable chairs, and a table. We spend most of our family time there.
  4. The biggest challenge we are facing right now is how to enforce our “No Gaming” house-rule when the boys go visit friends. We understand that we cannot dictate to other families how they handle gaming and TV in their home. However, I have found that if I explain our history with gaming and explain to the parents our logic and reasoning, they are more than willing to work with us, and appreciative that we have been proactive on this topic. In fact, more often than not, I find parents have the same concerns we did but just have not known how to change things. I recommend these books to everyone I can. This takes some boldness on our part, but we have not had to restrict our kids from playing with their friends because of this issue, yet. I know as they get older this will become more and more difficult. I just hope more and more parents catch on.
  5. My husband and I have to watch our time on the computer. Our kids are our time-keepers now. We have an understanding that when the boys are home the laptops are closed. We can’t expect them to abide by our rules if we don’t also. Believe me this is not easy, and I am often tempted. But, I firmly believe it will pay off in the end!

newly purposed,

jana

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