When the Media Is the Parent

The media as family member

Is Internet Addiction Disorder a Valid Idea? Part 1

In my work with children and adolescents, I have seen a growing number of kids drifting into excessive absorption in the Internet. Though this behavior is not usually the primary reason for their first coming to see me, it soon surfaces as a nettling and contentious one. Read More

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I have worked primarily with middle school through college aged people my whole career and my experience certainly mirrors yours. I've seen college kids fail out of school playing MMO games, losing sleep, and generally replacing gaming with reality that they begrudgingly enter into.

I see many of my depressed and anxious teens chronically lose sleep as they watch endless youtube clips or facebook, or play games, or as they attempt to "multitask".

I see games, cell phone text messaging, facebook, as such a social norm now that its easy to rationalize away chronic sleep loss, or a lack of a social life that doesn't involve a gamertag or other person that they have never met in 'real life'.

I think one of the main reasons why gaming in particular can become an overused form of escapism--is that it helps with self-efficacy. Unlike TV/Movies etc, kids don't brag about watching TV 60hrs a week when they are socially isolated/depressed or generally trying to tune out the world and their own thoughts. Yet, I have met 100's that brag to me about proficiency in Online gaming, 1st person shooters and the like. The video game provides a sense of esteem/capability that sometimes is utterly lacking otherwise.

I'm not too keen on throwing diagnostic labels at what I see as new cultural/technological manifestations of old problems--but regardless it's a complicating factor for many struggling people--even adults. Jobs, school, romance takes persistence, frustration tolerance, luck etc, yet the quick reinforcement of logging into a game and become a highly competent gamer of whatever flavor, sometimes with its own social peer group and status, can provide a quick rush. I will say that trying to get some people to step back into the real world and engage others, rather than use electronic media/games as their simulcrum can be a major challenge. Often times gaming allows for more of an ego syntonic presentation, and keeps people afloat, although often times it certainly adds to being sedentary and more socially isolated when taken to extremes which prevents people from become happier overall. But for some kids real life is truly risky, scary, I've been to inner city areas where staying inside and playing games endlessly is the safer than walking over to a neighbors.

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George Drinka, M.D. is on the clinical faculty of the Oregon Health Sciences University.

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