New Digital Divide: Reality vs. Virtual Reality-Impacts of Gaming and Internet upon the Youth
Written by Dr. Trudy Hu, 11/11/2014
“My son was talented in math, science, and computer when he was in elementary school and received excellent grades but he has changed so much lately. His grades are falling, he does not wake up early to go to school, and he sticks to his computer/laptop/smart phone day and night. Eating, sleeping and hygiene are not important to him at all… What went wrong with my son? What have I done wrong in parenting? What can I do to help my son? …”
More and more worried and tearful parents told me same stories about their children, especially sons, and described similar behavioral patterns. A decade ago, the similar symptoms were demonstrated by rebellious boys and girls who tried to drink alcohol or experiment recreational drugs and sex. They had lost interest in academic work. But, now, most of the puzzled parents are hard-working successful engineers and professionals in Silicon Valley areas and their children are very STEM (science, technology, engineering, mathematic) oriented and showed much potential before age 10. The children do not have any “bad” behaviors or “bad” friends but “studying/researching /working” in front of the computer/laptop/iPad constantly which was considered as a positive cognitive learning habit as a computer wizard by many parents. The parents do not fit into the traditional stereotypical images from divorced families, alcoholic families (ACOA: adult children of alcoholic), or abusive families. Instead, most of the parents are devoted to their children’s education, future career and financial planning.
There are many professional articles and researches regarding internet addiction, gaming addiction and they shed much light on this subject. This article would like to add more insights to this issue from clinical perspectives through teens’ eyes between reality and virtual reality.
Movies have become one of the major entertainments and industries for adults and children. Big box office hits have the secret formula in attracting viewers, young and old. That includes attractive characters, action-packed plot, unpredictable twists and turns, unexpected conclusion. Based on similar secret formula and marketing strategies, gaming industry is more successful in tapping into the enormous market in young generation domestically and globally. The images, shapes, lighting inside the video games are colorful and visually stimulating. The contents of the games are action packed and fast pace. Children are actively interacting and involving with the characters to “make a killing” to score high and become a hero within a few minutes or maybe a few seconds. By playing games in less than 30 minutes, children experience sense of achievement, success and leadership. Long term practice not just provides instant gratification but also virtual friends, virtual community and virtual society which are turning into the true reality in children’s and teens’ eyes and mind. “Beauty is in the eyes of beholders.” Reality is in the mind of the participants. The words that best describe the virtual reality are SENSATIONAL, MAGICAL and EMPOWERING.
School Children’s Reality
Elementary school children tend to have more fun in schools. Games may attract a small portion of children who enjoy fast-paced and visually stimulating learning style or those who experience frustration in academic subjects or struggle in dysfunctional family dynamics. Many children reported that they experience anxiety and adjustment difficulty in middle and high schools due to drastic environment change from relaxing playful atmosphere to rigid and demanding routines. Middle and high school students are facing same text books, same lectures, and same teachers at the same locations at the same time every week but much harder subjects, home work, and exams.
The pre-requisites for academic success include patience, concentration, attentive listening, memory, problem solving, tolerance for boredom, self-discipline, self-control, judgment, time management, healthy lifestyle (eating, sleeping, exercising, self-care), emotions, self-esteem, just to name a few. It takes repetitive learning and practice to cultivate learning skills and qualities for months or for years to see slight improvement. Sometimes, children work very hard for hours and days without any reward but negative comments and bad grades from concerned adults around them. In addition, generating feel-good sensation in the real school life requires social interactions with family members, peers, and friends to establish genuine social network which is time-consuming and an almost impossible task for children and their working parents. When children reach middle and high schools, parents are facing crucial life challenges and transitions, such as job change, job loss, marital discord, divorce, health concerns, aging or death of loved ones. It is difficult for adults to cope with losses and traumatic changes, not to mention the youths who witness the unspoken anxiety and pain without emotional maturity and life experiences to navigate the turbulence of the uncertainty and ambiguity on their own. The words that best summarize the reality are MUNDANE, OVERWHELMING and DEFEATING.
Contrasts: Reality Virtual Reality
--Monotony --Attractive Variety, Sensory Stimulating
--Slow Pace, Results shown in months --Fast Pace, Results shown in seconds
--Discipline Building --Pleasure Building
--Goal Setting, Delayed Gratification --Instant Gratification
--Far from the Ultimate Success --Instant Heroism and Celebrity Status
--Daily and Long Term Effort Required --Convenience and Effortless
--Improving through Negative Feedbacks --Positive Reinforcement by Pleasure
--Developing Work Ethics --Entertainment, Relaxation, Escape
-- MUNDANE, OVERWHELMING and -- SENSATIONAL, MAGICAL and
After the comparison, who could resist the charm of the virtual reality? That is the reason why adult populations are addicted in alcohol, substances, pornography, gambling, or even internet surfing. The structural basis of learning is “practice makes perfect.” Repetitive thoughts and actions stimulate brain cells and reinforce the connections among neurons which create neural pathways among different parts of the brain. The more an individual practices a certain activity, the stronger that neural pathway becomes. The more games an individual plays, the stronger the neural pathways in multi-tasking, multiple object tracking, combat strategy developing, scoring and manipulation in the memory have become in a fast speed fashion. However, the perceptual and cognitive skills through gaming are not equal to advanced cognitive capacities in the real world. Neural pathways (i.e. memory integration, judgment, emotions) that are not used often eventually get pruned. “Survival of the fittest” should be adapted to survival of the most practiced.
Vulnerable Young Brain
From the age of 10 to 20, it is the crucial stage for the central nerve system to develop healthily and for youth to lay a foundation for their value system formation and behavioral patterns. The purpose is to prepare the youth for more developmental tasks successfully in adulthood and to enjoy the fruits of their labor.
Playing video games several hours daily for months, the young brain has been exposed to fast pace, instant gratification and unpredictability and their brain has been flooded with “feeling-good” neurochemistry. Their brain is not able to perform sitting still, paying attention, listening to monotone lectures, following instructions, recalling lecture to solve problems. Interactions with their peers, teachers, parents, and sibling are gradually diminished. Attention is replaced by distraction, avoidance and then alienation; that is complete disconnection with the so-called reality. On the contrary, in the virtual world, their impulsivity, multi-tasking and fast strategy are rewarded with 24/7 online community and they are easily transformed into a winner, a hero, and a virtual god.
How to Bridge the New Digital Divide
The internet and video games are impacting 64 million youth in United States only but the number must be alarming globally. Computers, tablets and smart phones are embraced by everybody.
It is time to understand more about the positive and negative impacts of the gaming and intensive usage of internet games upon the youth.
It is time to innovate teaching styles, parenting styles, and therapeutic approaches to be more effective to the youth.
It is time to do more public awareness education for the general public to understand the characteristics of the workforce when the younger generations reach adulthood.
It is time to install more healthy outdoor activities or training camps in the nature and wildness, social events, and various exciting games in schools and in communities to channel energy or aggression in a socially mentally and physically exciting way.
Key words: Gaming, Internet Addiction, ADHD (Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder), Anxiety, Depression, Social Isolation, Apathy, Parenting, Teaching and Learning Styles.
Counseling and Consultation Modalities in High-Tech Era:
Dr. Trudy provides online coaching and telephonic consultation through telephone, Skype, or Facetime to save your time in traffic and commuting. This service modality has been well-received by many busy professionals.