Video Games, Virtual Reality & Attention Span: The Battle for our Children’s Attention in the Digital World
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As a teacher, I often get asked the following question from students: “Do your children play video games?”
As a PhD holder, I can never leave a good question alone so this rather long blog examines this question in more detail and attempts to shed light on the reasons that our family answers “NO”. We do not play any video games at our house.
In fact, my wife and myself believe strongly that video games disrupt a child’s attention span and eliminates their options for natural play (real world tasks, not digital world). By attention span, I mean the child’s ability to focus, concentrate and learn with enjoyment without distraction or agitation. The blog touches on 4 themes to illustrate the issue further:
In today’s world, Video Games, Virtual Realty games and even Children’s games and the myriad of delivery Devices (Twitch, Tablets, Android, IPhone) are widely accepted everywhere in society and are conspicuously consumed by millions of Adults, Teens and Children in Canada and around the world. Wherever there is the internet and a device, you can connect to a video game and immerse yourself in the digital world.
I may be wrong and often am but it appears to me that when something is widely available in the digital world such as Facebook, Twitter, Video Games, Virtual Reality games; this visual MEDIA grabs the veneer of social acceptance and becomes defacto accepted in society by parents --- by virtue of being widely available in society.
Clearly, just because something is widely available in Society does not mean that children should be allowed to engage in the activity. Addictive substances in Canada are highly regulated and parents are rightly horrified by the idea that their child (ages 1-11) would be allowed to legally access and consume addictive substances such as cigarettes, alcohol or marijuana.
However, parents generally do not hold the same moral outrage in regard to video games, virtual reality games or social media consumption. Instead, these games are perceived to be harmless and children are allowed to engage in age appropriate Gaming (Video Games and Virtual Reality) without question in regard to how these “Games” could damage their child’s psychological well-being; ongoing brain and behavioral development.
10,000 Hours of Video Games
In his Youtube video, The Secret Powers of Time (2010: 5:48), Psychology Professor emeritus Philip Zimbardo argues that the average American teenager: “has at MINIMUM played 10,000 hours of video games ALONE” that does not include other forms of visual media such as pornography, youtube, movies or facebook that these boys watch in addition to playing video games.
Zimbardo’s research shows that video games are not a mild form of entertainment but are in fact dangerous to a child’s social (anti-social personality), emotional (self image: cognitive dissonance with reality) and brain development. According to Zimbardo: “Teenage boys brains have been digitally rewired which means they will never fit into a regular analogue classroom where someone talks at you and gives you instructions” (Zimbardo 2010).
The addictive nature of tobacco, alcohol or drugs is well known. In my view, Video games, Virtual reality games are far more pernicious than traditional addictive substances precisely because they are intangibles; it is difficult for a parent to observe how Video Games and VR affect the child’s brain - day by day, year by year. With new media, parents must ask: is the child consuming the product (Video Games & VR) or is the product consuming the child?
The idea that Video Gaming can be dangerous to brain development is not new. More recent research (2018) on the next generation of gaming – demonstrates the psychological affects that games can have on the brain.
Virtual Reality Gaming: “Lasting Psychological Affects”
The CBC radio program: “The Ethics of Virtual Reality 2018” discussed the impact that Virtual Reality can have on ‘Gamers’ psychological attitudes and recommends a code of ethical conduct should be developed in order to safe guard against “Lasting Psychological Affects”.
The research on VR gaming showed that the study participant’s consciousness (personal attitudes) can be changed after repeated exposures to virtual reality environments. The dramatic finding was that human beings sub-conscious attitudes can be influenced and even programmed by participating in Virtual Reality. In other words, the person is NOT even aware that their behavior has changed after participation in the VR session. Please see the full link to the CBC article below.
Unplug for Learning
In order for a child or any human being to be successful in life, we must have the ability to focus our attention span on the task at hand for lengths of time. In comparison to the visual kaleidoscope of Video Games and VR, normal classroom situations can appear boring or uninteresting to overstimulated children. The successful student knows the secret about learning; that it can be boring to learn subjects you are not interested in. However, these students are still able to focus their attention in order to achieve a benefit in class.
We parents can do several things to create the environment at home where our child’s Attention Span can flourish. Foremost is turn off the video games and keep turning them off, as much as possible. Parenting is not a popularity contest with our Kids; we parents often have to make unpopular decisions to show them the right way to succeed to become a relevant adult in the real world.
Students that have experienced Gaming find School terribly boring as they are not the centre of attention and are definitely not in control. Here is where Tutoring, One-One tutoring comes in to stimulate and focus the student’s attention. Intense attention from ones Teacher is a motivator for both parties as the student soon realizes:
In the digital age, Video Games, VR and Social Media are waging a war on our children’s attention. Parents must recognize that we are literally in a Battle for our children's hearts and minds, can take a proactive stance to influence how digital media are consumed in their home.
We can Unplug to Learn, focus our attention and discover our real dreams and aspirations in the extraordinary world of everyday life.
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