Gary Silverman, in the Financial Times recently wrote about a heaven sent window of opportunity that the he experienced when the Playstation network went down. As a father of a 13 year old boy he was experiencing the struggle of parents across the world – of how to regulate internet gaming in the lives of children. The downtime of Playstation provided, as he describes, ‘a mandate from heaven’ – ‘The stars were aligned, the legitimacy of our rule was indisputable and the results were tangible. The sounds of war disappeared from our den, weekend homework was completed before dinnertime on Sunday, and our son seemed cheerier than usual. ‘
As a parent of a 16 year old teenage boy one of the main ‘issues’ in our home has been the use of the internet. The internet games marketed to children are so sophisticated. Some years ago when I attempted to close the account of one game my son played, I was asked the reasons I wanted to close the account. The first reason on the list was ‘not enough killing of animals’. If I had any doubt in my mind whether my son should be playing that game, that question certainly clinched it.
Internet dependency and addiction is becoming a serious concern. In South Korea there are two million people classified by the South Korea government as ‘internet addicts’. The seriousness of the situation is highlighted by the incidence of a young South Korean couple who left their baby to starve to death whilst they went to a internet gaming parlour to tend to their ‘virtual’ baby.
Our children need to be supported in their relationship with screen media through an understanding of what is ‘intelligent media’.
In a study ‘Freeze Frame’ from the Harvard School of Medical Health it was reported that children aged 8 to 18 spend an average of 6 hours and 21 minutes daily using media—more time than they spend in school or with their parents.
‘More than 2,200 studies have linked media use and aggressive behavior. By age 18, a child will, on average, have witnessed 200,000 acts of violence, including 18,000 murders. Children’s programs—shows that one would expect to be free of violence—average 14 violent acts per hour, 8 more than adult programs. For adolescents, the influence of violence in media may even prove fatal: the top three causes of death among 15- to 19-year-olds all involve accidental or intended violence.’
‘The connection between watching violence on television and aggressive behavior, he says, that the correlation is “stronger than those linking calcium with bone density and passive smoke with lung cancer.”
‘Media use is also a risk factor in obesity, eating and sleep disorders, and early initiation to smoking, sex, and alcohol. New research, much of it conducted in affiliation with HMS, shows how media can inhibit creativity and cognitive development and suggests that media may play a role in fostering bullying as well as anxiety and attention disorders.’
In a media literacy study in 2003 by a Stanford researcher, third- and fourth-graders participated in a media literacy program. After one week of “television turnoff,” they were encouraged to follow a seven-hour-per-week budget. Additional lessons taught “intelligent viewing.” By the end of six months, combined average television and video game usage plummeted from an initial 18 hours per week to 10, and the children experienced an average body mass index decrease of nearly half a point.”