I’ve been participating in discussion groups with Unschoolers for many years. One of the most popular topics and areas of concern for those new to Radical Unschooling is visual media, specifically gaming. A common objection to gaming is the potential for addiction.
Clinically speaking, addiction is defined as:
a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Dysfunction in these circuits leads to characteristic biological, psychological, social and spiritual manifestations. This is reflected in an individual pathologically pursuing reward and/or relief by substance use and other behaviors.
Do I believe that someone can become addicted to video games? Absolutely. Just as someone can become addicted to food, exercise, books, or sex ~ all of which also play a meaningful part in our lives. For nearly 40 years, since the Rat Park studies of the late 70’s, researchers and medical professionals have repeatedly found that addictions often disappeared when the environment of the addicted was positively changed. The drugs, alcohol, and video games are a means to producing a euphoric effect combating a perceived miserable situation. The solution to or prevention of addiction is not to forbid or limit your child from video games (or food, or exercise, or books), it is to facilitate an environment and foster a relationship they don’t feel the need to try to escape from.
Often parents will then share the “signs of addiction” they note in their children.
She gets cranky and rude!
He throws a fit when I ask him to stop!
That’s all he does all day!
Let’s take each of these statements and find possible solutions that are respectful to our children’s interest in gaming.
She gets cranky and rude! Is your child hungry? Bringing snacks to a gamer can help eliminate blood sugar drops and other hunger symptoms that manifest in a short temper. Monkey platters are a fun and easy way to keep energy up. Is your child simply venting their frustration at a particularly difficult level? Sometimes parents will be upset because their child is grumbling about a lost life or a failed task. A child verbally processing the game play isn’t necessarily a bad thing. This could be an opportunity for you to ask questions and better understand what they are doing. You could offer to help them look up a walk-through on YouTube or take a moment to grab a drink of water before sitting back down and trying again. Have you interrupted their play? That leads to…
He throws a fit when I ask him to stop! If I’m in the middle of reading a book and someone interrupts me ~ I generally ask them to give me a moment to finish the sentence/section/chapter. I apply the same principle to our gaming children, “I’d like to talk to you about something, when you find a stopping point can we chat?”. Or setting up the expectation that we have commitments later in the day. When our son started getting into games like League of Legends where a match could last thirty minutes or more ~ I made an effort to let him know if we have appointments so that he doesn’t begin something that he can’t finish. Some servers penalize users for leaving matches/games/rounds early. Equate it to sports. Can you imagine if your child was playing football and you walked onto the field in the middle of the 3rd quarter and said, “We’re leaving. Now.” It’s frustrating to not only the individual player, but the “team” as a whole. Work on identifying what led up to their frustration and brainstorm solutions that are respectful to both of you.
That’s all he does all day! This can have roots in several places. If you’ve limited gaming (or Television, or food, or pretty much anything) ~ you’ve likely created scarcity. Then, when children are given the opportunity they will “hoard”, trying to get in as much as they can in fear that it will be taken away again. When the restrictions are removed and our children are secure in the fact that gaming is available at any time ~ they are emotionally free to explore other things. Though, for some children, gaming IS their passion. Which means that it isn’t a matter of scarcity, but of interest and they will continue to spend significant amounts of time on it. Many folks complain that kids can’t “stay on task” or “focus more than a few minutes” ~ but when a child spends hours/days/weeks immersed in something, parents will complain about how much time is spent on it. Even if your child wants to spend “all day” gaming, that’s OK too. It is as valuable an experience as reading, writing, talking, and researching. If you really pause and watch, you will see that they are doing all of those things as part of gaming.
If you’d like to talk with other Unschooling families about possible solutions to concerns, learn more about removing arbitrary limits, or just meet more people on this journey ~ please join us on the Alternative Living and Learning Forums here.
Rachel Miller is married to her high school sweetheart, Josh, and they happily unschool with Cam and Livy in the Houston suburbs. She is one of the coordinators of the Texas Unschoolers Conference in New Braunfels. Her family will also be at the Free To Be Unschooling Conference in Phoenix at the end of September.