Talking with a Teen About Video Game Obsessions: Respectful Communication Helps
Teenagers are especially vulnerable to both the blessing and the curse of technology. They’ve probably been using computers, cell phones and other tech gear since about age three, so they’re well-prepared to function and earn a living in the 21st Century. Many have also enjoyed video games, while some teens may have succumbed to the lure of these games, a problem that might be called “cybertrance.”
Psychologist and teacher of Buddhist meditation Tara Brach faced this issue with her son and found a way to keep at bay an almost instinctive negative reaction by taking a “sacred pause,” which she describes in a video interview with Psychotherapy Networker entitled “Mindfulness Meets Cybertrance” .
“My first reaction was one of feeling aggressive toward the cyber world, a sense that it was destroying my son,” said Brach, who said she felt rising anger, especially about the violence commonly found in video games. Before she burst into her son’s room with anger and a declaration of the rules about limiting video game time and doing homework, Brach took a deeper look at her own initial reaction.
She sensed that under the anger “… was fear that he was going to get pulled into this world of gaming and never really discover his full potential,” said Brach, author of Acceptance and True Refuge. “Under the fear was a sense of sorrow about the distance that had been created.”
Entering her son’s room with a more balanced, self-reflective approach from a “sacred pause,” Brach asked her son about his experience with video games.
“I asked him why he felt he wanted to stay up later,” she said. “I was actually was able to understand that it gave him a sense of mastery and he felt he was developing a skill. I was able to honor and acknowledge his enjoyment and his reasoning and still say, ‘This is how it has to go.’ He could listen because he didn’t have to be so defensive, because I wasn’t attacking him.”
Respectful communication between parents and teens can keep the time and effects of video games in balance.
That’s important because playing violent video games for long periods of time can hold back the “moral maturity” of teenagers, according to a study of 100 adolescents at seven schools in Ontario, Canada, done by Brock University
The study, according to a BBC report, found that over-exposure to violent video games by 13- and 14-year-olds could weaken their sense of empathy and lead them to lose their sense of “right and wrong.” Those negative impacts were found among the teens who spent more than three hours every day playing games that involved killing, maiming or mutilating other human characters.
Researchers suggested that it’s helpful for teens obsessed with video games to be encouraged to be in social situations where they can see other people's perspectives or needs, such as charity work.
On the positive side, the study found that many teenagers could play these games without any evidence of a change in attitude. And non-violent games seemed to have no adverse effects on "moral reasoning," regardless of time spent.
Brach, Tara, “Mindfulness Meets Cybertrance,” Psychotherapy Networker, April 16, 2015.
Coughlan, Sean, “Violent Video Games Leave Teens Morally Immature,” BBC News, Feb. 6, 2014.