Studies on children who play video games have shown that when breaking through walls, shooting people or accomplishing a certain level of completion, the pleasure centers in the brain become stimulated and the neurotransmitter dopamine is released in unnaturally high levels. It is a rush of chemistry that wakes the brain-body up with a jolt.
The child begins to anticipate that rush after extensive video game playing, but the cells in the brain become desensitised over time. The dopamine centers recalibrate to a higher level, and the child feels compelled to play faster, harder and longer to feel the same rush.
In the absence of that stimulation, a child can’t enjoy many things. ‘Why don’t you go for a walk?”, you might say. But the child will say, “how boring!”. This is because walking or time in nature can’t stimulate the dopamine centers in the same way as their video games. Also, adrenaline is boosted in the child’s biochemistry, which gradually reduces their focus on daily tasks. Often, this can lead to attention deficit disorders, a loss of impulse control and associated behavioural issues.
We live in a culture that is increasingly pleasure-seeking, and children are completely dependent upon the emotional rush of the video game, which for them can only stimulate dopamine in the way they’ve now become used to.
Further, when they experience situations and circumstances in their life years later that require them to focus on a particular issue, or to look at pain, loss, or other emotional difficulties that can only truly be managed and expressed within the context of life and society, they will have difficulties in emotional processing as a result of compulsions towards external stimuli that increase dopamine levels and create an artificial ‘high’.
As the research has shown, this can lead to addictions, including drug addictions in later life, that provide the same over-stimulation of dopamine to create the same ‘high’ and chemical saturation that video games and other artificial stimuli have created for them.
Technology in and of itself is a useful tool and can still be used to provide entertainment. But if it becomes a way of emotionally regulating the child, particularly if the child already suffers from an attention disorder or neurochemical imbalance, then long term destructive habits may result. Further, when children become pleasure-seeking, in the absence of that stimulation children will find difficulty in receiving as much pleasure from people or situations around them.
What Can You Do? Things To Consider
Encourage your child to do something in nature (the brain re-calibrates from narrow to open focus).
If you ask your child while they’re playing a video game to stop and to listen to you, counting backwards from 5 to 1, and if they can’t pull themselves away from it, they’re addicted and the game should stop.
Having children break from a game regularly is an important factor in avoiding addictions.
Don’t make video gaming something they do first. Instead, involve them first in activities that activate and encourage their self-esteem. Video games can be allowed when these activities and other chores have been finished.
Social skills, eye contact, manners, compassion, and completing cycles of action should always come first.
Encourage children to talk about how they feel.
A recent US study found that children who ate dinner with their families every night were significantly less prone to using drugs or engaging in criminal behaviours in later life. This is because bonding, the sharing of ideas and encouraging the child to express themselves socially are all highly beneficial in evolving the child’s personality, adapting to social norms and encouraging emotional intelligence in later life.
Anderson, C. (2004). Video Games Boost Visual Attention but Reduce Impulse Control. Society for Personality & Social Psychology.
Dispenza, J. (2013). Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself: How to Lose your Mind and Create a New One. Hay House.