Wednesday, December 14, 2011

Teen Video Game Addiction and the Loss of Social Growth.

When we think about the potential damage to teens from compulsive gaming, perhaps the most significant problem is the lost social "practice" time. As teens struggle to figure out peer relationships -- especially dating -- they go through hundreds and hundreds of learning trials. They practice approaching groups, keeping a conversation going, the art of sarcasm, how to make plans in a way that is inviting to a peer, and of course, being rejected. Personal identity is also a long process filled with ups and downs, wins and losses, coherence and disorganization. It's not so much a matter of the teen years being filled with drama and upheaval, but more that teens need a lot of time to grow and season.

For each hour spent deep in a fantasy land, building an army, creating wealth, etc., is time a learning trial is lost forever. The ratio isn't one to one -- meaning for every one hour in video game mode is one hour lost in reality. The cost is much greater. As typical teens create growth through risk taking in the real world, the video gamer falls further and further behind. Six months of compulsive gaming can result in a gap of twelve months of growth. At a certain point, the gap becomes so large that the gamer can't see any way to fit in and thus turns more deeply into his fantasy life.

The key is to try to head off/prevent these losses from happening by carefully monitoring time spent in "real time" with real friends. If you see a trend of withdrawal and avoidance, be prepared to act decisively to set clear limits so that your teen can keep pace with his peers and not get lost in a role playing game, potentially forever.

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