I am a cyber junkie, or should I say addict? Certain types of real-time strategy video games—like Age of Empires and Command and Conquer—appealed to me to such an extent that I used to play for several hours and feel that only 20 minutes had elapsed. I have had 50-hour binges, and used to play online all night, until it was time to go to work. Once I managed to get these behaviors under control, I got entranced by social networking, MySpace and then Facebook, as well as online chatting. I have friends all over the world and am multilingual. I used to have 15-20 chat windows open at once, as I carried on frenzied cyber conversations, chatting in French, German, Spanish, and makeshift versions of Portuguese, Italian and Dutch. These marathon sessions used to also take me into the wee hours. The cyber world was a source of stagnation. Nobody ever warned me of the dangers!
Now that I have some control in my life and have reached—absent interminable hours online—many of my goals, one might think that I would be an anti-Internet crusader, especially since I have a book coming out on the topic. I am nothing of the kind. I see the cyber world teeming with opportunities for growth and development. My message is one of responsibility, accountability, and awareness.
First of all, parents must aspire to a high level of awareness. Today’s young people have a technological savvy of which most parents cannot even conceive. I had a 19-year-old young man, Drew, come to his first cyber recovery group last week. Drew had multiple excessive cyber use issues, one of which was pornography. “My mother thought she was smart with her parental controls on the computer,” Drew told the group. “But on one occasion, she needed me to look something up for a recipe. She gave me her password, which she did change often, and I got her what she needed, but I also altered the parental controls for my account.” Drew was 11 years old at that time. This incident allowed him to start looking at online pornography which eventually became an all-encompassing “pastime.” Today’s young people are incredibly adept in the cyber world. Parents beware!
Parents need to make it a goal to harness the awesome motivational potential in cyber land. Simply link positive target behaviors—reading, exercise, chores, social interaction, turning in assignments, overall school performance, respectful behavior—with computer and Internet privileges. Come up with a plan and post it on the refrigerator. Get your child involved in this process.
Your child most likely considers the computer a necessity. This gives you as the parent an enormous carrot to dangle in front of his or her face. Use it! Treat the Internet and the computer as the privileges they are. I have seen powerful results from this approach.
Computers and the Internet comprise the main portal people use for entertainment, staying in touch with friends and family, and accessing useful and important information. If used properly, they enhance our ability to connect and relate with one another. Video games can enhance visual-spatial acuity. Surgeons who play video games make fewer mistakes in laparoscopic procedures, which are becoming more and more common. Predator drones are controlled by teenage military personnel who sit in front of interfaces that look very much like video games. Think of the cyber world as a gateway into a technologically-advanced future. Think of your role as a parent as one of guiding and mentoring your child into responsible and beneficial use. Let them have fun in the cyber world, but insist on balance and moderation.