Have a Question? Need Parenting Advice? Ask Michael Hawton

 

There have been reports of a number of violent incidents involving young men in the media recently.  As well, assaults seem to be on the rise. So, what is causing this?  Obviously alcohol and drugs play a part, but in my opinion, an under-estimated factor is the impact of technology on the lives of children and young people.

Here are some factors that might be contributing to the rise of violent behaviour among young people.

  1. Many children and young people are not getting the right amount of sleep. The part of our mind that sets limits, thinks through consequences and weighs up options, the pre-frontal cortex, needs rest to be able to function properly. To see how much sleep children need, go to www.sleepeducation.net.au
  1. There is growing evidence of a link between the amount of time people spend in front of screens and attention problems. And fast-paced games are linked to impulsive aggression, that is, aggression that occurs almost automatically without thinking about whether it should be carried out.  To read more go to http://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2013/08/130804081115.htm Research released from the USA states that people who play violent video games lose their ability to premeditate.  This means that violent gaming decreases their ability to ‘catch’ themselves before reacting.
  1. The online games of today are more graphic and, in some cases, more realistic than games of past years. These games frequently put the player in the active role of a character who makes decisions and commits violence. The player of the game is involved at a psychological level in killings, rapes, assaults and other criminal activity. We don’t actually know the full impact of this exposure, especially on developing brains, but it is likely to be desensitising players to violence and, to some extent, normalising violent behaviour.

And, before you think I am overstating the effects of violent gaming, consider this. For the past 30 years we have trained commercial pilots using simulators so that when they get into an emergency they know what to do.  In other words, pilots use virtual situations away from an event to learn how to behave in the event.  I think what we are seeing in children and teenagers who play games like Call of Duty and Grand Theft Auto is an increase in visual skills and hand-eye coordination but a decrease in an ability to hold back or appropriately inhibit some behaviour – and these games may be training them to be more aggressive.

While some parents and professionals might wish to see the violent games banned, just as our society prohibits other dangerous products like certain drugs and firearms, this is unlikely to happen any time soon. So, what can we do?

As parents, we can take an active interest in our children’s digital world and pay close attention to the activities that they engage in, we can set limits and provide a positive example of responsible digital use. If we want our kids to limit their time on their phones then we have to limit our time on our phones as well.

Five tips to help parents manage their children’s online activities.

  1. Establish a set of guidelines for the use of technology at home and outside the home. These rules need to include limiting the use of technology, protecting personal privacy, dealing with cyber bullying and online etiquette. Children also need to know what to do if they encounter inappropriate content. See http://www.cybersmart.gov.au/. Children need to be taught that real world interactions come before virtual ones and online connections are no substitute for real friends and real social activities.
  1. Make sure your children and teenagers are getting enough sleep. You won’t be alone as a parent if you insist that there be no technology in bedrooms after a certain time, usually an hour before sleep time. Set up a charging basket in the kitchen where everyone’s devices go overnight.
  1. Monitor your children’s use of technology and set limits from when they first start using devices, such as ipads and computers. Make sure they are involved in a range of other activities. Children and young people need to exercise and engage with each other in real time. Make sure you spend time with them offline; go for a walk, play frisbee at the park or kick a football around.
  1. As far as possible, know what your children are doing online. Talk to them about their online research for school, their social connections or the games they are playing. Discuss with them situations that you have concerns about.
  1. Develop an attitude to the internet that it is an invited guest in your home, not an assumed resident. Make the internet work for you – not the other way round.

The digital world is part of life these days, but it should not define our lives.

Finally, if you have ever thought that after playing a violent video or computer game your son or daughter is a bit more antsy than usual, you’re probably right. While some children will always be attracted to high adrenaline action games we need to help our children have a firm grounding in the real world and to live balanced, healthy lives.

Michael Hawton MAPS

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