Saturday, January 5, 2008

Video Game Addiction.....and it goes to Mass!?!?!

Many of us already know how addicted kids (and even adults) can become to video games. There is an excellent article in the Opinion Journal of the Wall Street Journal by a parent explaining just how bad it can get, and how difficult it is to break the cycle.

My wife and I aren't entirely inept parents--our 6-year-old seems fairly well-adjusted anyway. Back in October we established for the older boys strict screen-time limits. It was then that we discovered the true extent of their addiction. They ranted and raved and cursed and even threw things--almost as if demons had taken possession of them. These are classic withdrawal symptoms; they craved a fix. When we installed parental controls on the computer, our boys scoffed. It took them about 15 minutes to disable them. We've become so desperate that we may have to get rid of the computers entirely, though that may hamper their school work.

Something jumped out at me in the article. I have actually seen - not at Grotto, but at "St. Suburbia", kids with Gameboys at Mass. The author discusses this, as well.

It turns out that we're not alone in our predicament. A parent down the street confided to us that his 12-year-old son was so obsessed with video games that he wouldn't take even a three-minute break from gaming to go to the bathroom--with unfortunate results. The other day we saw a kid at church, in a semi-trance, going down the aisle to Holy Communion while clicking on a hand-held Game Boy. Talk about worshiping a false god.

Fr. Perrone has written on these kinds of topics in his column. If you spend any time at Grotto you will soon learn that all of the priests preach frequently on the need for moderation, even in good things. We can become addicted to almost anything. A hobbyist can spend so much time on a hobby that family and relationship with God are hindered. An athlete can join so many leagues that he has no time for his kids (or lead in divorce, which I have seen after one man was on 3 or 4 different baseball leagues and even let it interfere with finding a job). Someone can become so obsessed with fashion and shopping that more important bills don't get paid and the family goes into debt.

Moderation goes hand-in-hand with mortification of the apetites. Those apetites can be anything. If they aren't controlled by us, they end up being in control, which is the essence of addiction. It's in taming the little things, that we learn to tame the bigger things. Grotto priests have often encouraged us to make small sacrifices on a daily basis and offer those up. It could be saying "no" to a piece of chocolate just as you are craving it and reaching for it. It could be sacrificing time in front of the television to go visit a sick relative. There are so many opportunities to practice if we are willing to see them.

If we let the tail wag the dog with ourselves, how then can we expect the children around us to learn how to wag the tail? Parents especially have to set examples and talk about mortification and how it can be used like prayer when the pain of not having something at a given moment becomes perfect as an offering to God for some great cause. Perhaps a child could offer up that sacrifice of not playing a video game for a poor child in some other part of the world whose only toy is a carton of some kind. My point is that this is not only for the priests to teach. The fact that an entire generation of kids could get so out of control shows that the culture does not encourage mortification, nor do our churches.

Shows like "The Nanny" have become popular among young parents, struggling with out of control kids and in the end, it is always predictable. It's about making tough choices for your kids and learning to weather the temper-tantrums. The parent whose child can't fall asleep unless Mom is in the room, has created a situation in which the tail wag's the dog. The child is not in control of himself, but his emotions and wants are controlling him. "The Nanny" shows how to break the cycle, and it is painful for the parents.

I'm not married; I have no kids and you can tell me that I don't understand, as I've been told so many times before by parents when I've mentioned this: Parents are afraid to parent their children.

I wonder if the boys discussed in the article have regular, daily or weekly chores. If they did, they would have less time for video games and learn critical life-skills, like how to wash a load of laundry so Mom isn't still doing it for them in their twenties.

Letting "wants" control us is not just a problem with kids. It's a problem with all of us and even priests have become afraid to discuss it. There was a time when Catholics heard this from the pulpit regularly, as we do at Grotto. I recall nearly falling from my pew during sermons for months after coming to Grotto (half from knowing the priest was hitting home with reality and the other from trying to contain my laughter at just how true his words were).

Some feel it is bad on the self-esteem. Those are the people who walk out thinking the priest was negative (and probably have the greatest problem controlling a single child). However, we need our priests to be more concerned with the salvation of our souls, than with preserving our self-esteem. I pray for the day when you can walk in any Catholic Church and expect to hear the priest explain the importance of virtue and mortification. Save the self-esteem speech for those in hell because they're the ones who will need it. True self-esteem is built through virtue and mortification.

Lack of moderation comes in many forms, but I must say that the video game craze, be it on TV, computer or handheld, is one of the most visible among youth today. I would encourage you to read the entire article: Teenage Zombies

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