Ancient Egyptian civilization required regular flooding. The harnessing of water through irrigation and the nutrients that went into the soil caused the desert to bloom. The miracle of the Nile allowed a parched landscape to thrive. The recent deluge in the Detroit area makes me mindful of one potential benefit that might help a parched landscape of a different sort. In my personal and professional opinion, video games are causing a desertification in the social skills of our children. Yesterday’s flood waters may have lent parents a helping hand.
One city in this area, Huntington Woods, experienced a massive torrent of water that caused the storm drains to back up and almost every basement in the city to fill with sewer water; basements, the place where most families keep their video game systems. I realized the potential opportunity when I was helping a friend clean out her basement yesterday and came upon her son’s water-logged Xbox. “When he saw the flooded basement last night,” she told me, “his first question was, ‘Where’s my Xbox?’” Children often struggle with priorities and perhaps even empathy, but this boy’s reaction disturbed his mother to such an extent that she declared right then and there, “No more Xbox in this house!”
We know a problem exists when an individual starts to prefer video games, the Internet or the computer, to people. When activities once enjoyed and pursued take a permanent back seat to the video game console, it is time to take notice. Behavior modification plans can be enacted, and measures can be taken to limit game and Internet time. It is remarkably difficult, however, for parents to play constant cyber cop, patrolling the house to make sure children are not circumventing the rules and imposing punishment when transgressions are uncovered. Over half of families that try this approach end up failing, because children are so adept at attaining access, and constant vigilance gets to be grueling. These children have grown up totally in the cyber age and easily outsmart parents when it comes to technology.
So, maybe these floods have given some of us an opportunity: Do Not Replace Your Xbox! The floods may have destroyed your basement and parts of your home, but video games could well be destroying your child’s life. Does he or she play with friends face to face? Is your child getting regular exercise? Does your child spend more time in front of a screen than on homework? Do you have to fight to get your child off a game? If video games prevent your child from leading a balanced life, maybe it’s time to get rid of them, or at least not replace them.
When we spend time in certain activities, the brain responds by allowing the neural circuits needed for those activities to thrive, while it “prunes” back those that are not being used. I am afraid that the neural networks needed for face-to-face human interaction are becoming parched. I worry that our young people are becoming screen-oriented to the detriment of balance in their lives. As the people of Egypt needed the life-giving waters of the Nile to sustain their civilization, I believe we need renewal in our own culture. Consider that recent floods have brought us a small opportunity to move in that direction.