Sunday, 31 May 2015

Symptoms of being plugged in: TV and gaming

​Based on conversation with a pupil early...then developed into something wider.

With one to one tuition, my practice often runs like a doctor's office. Funnily enough, I explained to my pupil, I am a doctor (PhD in philosophy). People come in with similar symptoms all the time. So, imagine a medical doctor sitting there with patient after patient coming in with a runny nose and sore throat.

What would be the problem?

Cold, she says.

Great. Most probably.

Now, when student after student comes in who struggles with spelling and can't focus very well and whose attention span is very limited, there are similar symptoms. In this case screen-itis. Of course they may be playing mind-suck online gaming or just messing with the iPad or device, but basically they're plugged in.

Symptoms: difficulty concentrating; poor English skills (comprehension, listening, following instructions); weak analytical skills; a desire to rush to the answer and not think (just like clicking the game consoles); relatively low vocabulary; inability to think for themselves; looking at the tutor for the answer; creates confusion around them; eyes tending to jump around (looking for the artificially focused world of the flat screen); lethargy - mental and physical; an unwillingness to work for up to half and hour after arriving (especially if they've been playing on phones on their way to tutorial); easily frustrated; twitchy towards the end of the lesson, especially if I'm talking to the parent and they need to go get plugged in; fear of learning new things; lack of personal discipline.

It's a catalogue of vices really. Let's look at how the great 17thC educationalist John Locke, whom I wrote a book about, would have described these traits. John Locke is a virtue theorist: education should be more about character development and freeing in individual to pursue a morally wholesome life and we should train our younger charges in the virtues and to avoid the vices. These are words I garnered from his writings on philosophy and education:

Drowsy; indulgent (in their playing); emulatory (every one else is playing, so should I); excuser (usually doesn't get homework done); timorous (poor social skills); slavish (tell me what to do...); foolish (living in the now but not thinking about priority); perverse (hmm, often enjoys surfing for videos that will stimulate further - porn, violence - especially if playing 18+ games); ungraceful; sheepish (lack of confidence); ignorant (or manners and intellectually); sluggish; obstinate; rebellious; disobedient (refuses to stop playing); playful (in the sense of wants to do anything but focus); pedantic (again, used to avoid priority focus); dominating (after all, he/she dominates the game why not people around?); covetous (always needs the next game or watch the next series); elusive (finds it hard to provide a straightforward answer); careless (in work and thinking); negligent.

Would you hire your son or daughter if that were the description? 

That's the character that I see some children and young people converging onto. Ah yes, you may reply - they're very sporty, they're lovely to be around...sure, but why not offer them a cigarette to round them off? Huh? Well, why introduce them to gaming and dvds  to watch all night in their room or download movies or youtube videos on their iPad? What are they watching, do you know? Some tell me and I'm shocked. 9 year olds watching horror movies. Teenagers watching videos of cruelty and pornography. Then there are those who get addicted to the games side of life. No, they're not good for mental development.

There is a moving video on youtube - that most people think funny - of a father who has had enough of his son's gaming and mows over them with a ride on mower. The son is understandably anguished and it is painful to see him writhe in pain (while his brother filming it sniggers - nice). I'll not link it as I don't think it appropriate for us to wallow in another's misery - we need to turn away when we cannot provide a hug. The guilt though initially lies with the father: who bought the games? who put the tv and console in the kid's bedroom? who said nothing for years while the kid slowly got addicted? No doubt his school results were reflecting his addiction and if not then he wasn't being encouraged to strive harder and reach his potential. Reaching your potential on level 8 of a game is not real. That's not reaching potential, that's diving into the 8th layer of mental hell - a world far removed from the reality of social nuances and developing the mind.

Oh, I hear from defensive mothers, it's helping my son (usually son) learn how to manipulate objects and organise his mind by juggling lots of variables. Dad's tend to join in the gaming - even kicking their sons off so they may play with their friends. What's going on there? 

Do you smell the BS? Do you hear the rationalisations? What price the easy life? As Locke wrote, do not complain of undrinkable water if you've poisoned the stream.

Let's look at the rationalisation. Picking up a cigarette involves dexterity and coordination involves manipulation of fine objects. Real objects in this case rather than virtual. But not many parents of good intellect and moral standing are going to suggest providing their child with a cigarette is anything to be proud of. Buying cigarettes also involves jugglinh variables, especially for younger people - which shop to buy ciggies from, whom to ask, how many to buy, where to smoke them. All competencies in their own right but assuredly not healthy ones. 

Isn't it just easier to let the child plug themselves in to netflix, online gaming, collections of dvds than work with them. Oh, they scream, but life as a mother is so hard, you don't know what it's like in our house. I have to work, cook, clean, organise the kids...

- Yep. Choices you've made. You choose to continue working.
- Ah, you're against women working now?
- No, not at all. But don't gripe about it after choosing to have children.
- Well, we didn't really plan little Susie.
...? You mean you immaculately conceived? Wow! Have you told the church?
- No! Idiot! I didn't realise it would be this hard!
- So why not encourage the kids to help rather than plugging them in? Why not shut the screens off and let them howl for a couple of days and then explain how hard it is for a working mum (or dad) and how we all need to chip in. Or stop worrying about keeping an immaculate house when you've got children. Kids want love and parental support - not a show home...Why not talk and listen to them? You'll find them lovely...

Parenting is a juggle. It is hard. We're sacrificing so that we can home educate; We both work in the business and we have to work around and with our children. It is hard, it does get frustrating, and sometimes we do wonder whether we havee made the right move, but we have never considered buying ourselves the easy way out and putting them in front of the tv or a games console. We're raising children not zombies. 

I've played the games - and I've felt the addictive nature of them. Like tv, they draw us in and then pull us in for more. Sure, I'm like an ex-smoker who can't understand why people still smoke - I know that, but I keep up with the research and see the symptoms daily in my office.

That said, many of the pupils can handle playing and tv - we live in the country and there's lots for them to do, especially when they're young. It's when they hit 12 and suddenly exploring fields is no longer as cool as mind-suck games. They excuse their online gaming on the fact that they can't get to their mate's house and it's so much easier to hook up online.

Ever heard of a bike?


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