A few weeks ago, our pastor wrote this article for the parish bulletin. He kindly gave me permission to reprint it here. At our house, we think we allow less screen time than many families, but there is much room for improvement and it's a bit of a challenge to pull back even more. For the sake of our children, we are trying.
What is it about video games that prompt certain people (like me) to consider them to be damaging to boys?
A couple weeks ago, in the sermon, I spoke about helping young men to be free enough to find God’s plan for their lives (I spoke particularly about the priesthood). I talked about the problem of being immersed in an “image society” and what that does to boys as discussed in Neil Postman’s Amusing Ourselves to Death. I reported again that for two decades, there has been a trend in colleges and graduate schools that show fewer and fewer boys obtaining degrees. Almost 70% of all graduate degrees are awarded to women. At that time I mentioned how damaging video games can be. But I didn’t say why!
The next morning it so happened I was grabbing a bagel and a man in line started talking to me — for some reason which certainly escapes me — about why he doesn’t allow his son to play video games. This man articulated very well, what is a big part of the problem.
He said that when his son played video games, his son was mentally engaged in the conflict and the minimal physical participation in the video “battle” was not enough to dissipate the emotional residue of playing through the realistic fights in which he was engaged. The games exposed his son to this very quick succession of loud and graphically stimulating battles and then have no outlet for the aggression that built up inside. He went so far as to say that he observed his son full of adrenalin because of the games but with no way to dissipate that tense energy. That rendered the boy moody and difficult to deal with for hours after playing the computer game.
Part of what is so seemingly addictive about the games is the intense emotional involvement that is stimulated; a boy — precisely because boys are so much more visually stimulated — can feel wholly drawn into the situations he sees and interacts with in video games.
With video games, one is engaged in a battle but not really fighting. The imagination is inflamed to participate and the body is also engaged to a degree, yet no commitment is really made. This could leave one internally conflicted. One can experience the fantastical elements of the situation in an intense way but without real exertion or consequence. Here it is possible to see a parallel to pornography. In that situation, one engages in a highly impersonal mode but with the selfish illusion of the personal. Anyway, it seems to me to be possible to also ingrain a whole attitude that one can have intense experiences — and even “achievements” — without paying the price for them. To the extent that occurs, it is obviously a big problem.
The coincidence did not stop there. I just happened to talk to
another man that day about this matter. He confirmed this pattern of brooding — of sullenness — after playing these games. My friend described something else he observed: that most times, his son, who was accustomed to playing these games with the same set of friends, would end up in a big wrestling pile after the game(s) were over. This shows the inherent need to burn off some of the pent up physical aggression.
Certainly when all of us get moody, the danger exists that our mood can carry us away. This can happen especially if we are unsure of the reason for our moodiness or if our moodiness does not have a clear connection to the circumstances we are really living. Teenage boys (and girls too) already have a difficult time sorting through their thoughts and feelings. Many today don’t even have the inclination to do the work necessary to trace their interior life in such a way that leads to fruitful self-knowledge. Therefore, putting boys in this position may be a serious disservice to them.
The goal of human formation within the family is to help our children be affable, self-disciplined, joy-filled, self-possessed lovers of God and people. Hours of playing video games do not seem to me to meet the healthy criteria a building a man up in these characteristics as do sports or other forms of recreation.
I know very well, I risk appearing to be a fuddy-duddy again by sticking to this assertion. But I realize that being a Christian today is, in so many ways, to make a stand against anti-human cultural trends. That is what I believe I am doing. The man I ran into was a complete stranger and yet we chatted about the matter. I saw that as God’s providence to go deeper into this discussion.
WHILE WE’RE AT IT, I notice that it is important for dads to work at this “formation” in human character. We want our boys to know how to walk, how to sit, how to shake someone’s hand and look them in the eye when they are engaged in conversation. These small things build up the qualities of character that help a man be affable — to be available to others.
When I was a young man, my mom and dad taught me about proper posture. They warned me gently that they would occasionally correct me if they saw me exhibiting poor posture. I appreciated that help. I saw them as teaching me to be respectable.
Boys should not wear hats indoors. They should be taught this and explained the reasons why (it has to do with not manifesting a threat but being open to serve). They ought to be taught to stand up when their “superiors” enter a room to again manifest their availability in energetic service. To speak clearly and directly or to be attentive to others in opening doors, carrying groceries, exercising discretion in the presence of women; all these things help form true character.
Part of the responsibility especially of a father is to cultivate a confident character in their children. This happens in part by teaching them to respond appropriately in various situations. It is also a service families owe to the wider society to raise people who are able to contribute to a climate of mutual service or even so society has the leaders it needs. Every profession of significance has customarily offered some training in manners and ethics.
Of course, everything I said about boys applies to girls in their own particular way. Fathers must be active in helping the girls along with mothers. This goes without saying, right? And yet we all know, in so many places, it is just not happening.
I think sons and daughters love parents more when they experience their parents as parents. Friendship must grow as time goes on, but
parents have the special role of teaching humans how to be human.