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Battle For Children’s Brains.

Recent news that China has declared it a ‘Societal Responsibility’ for computer games companies to reduce the amount of time children spend playing highly addictive computer games, is, in my opinion, very good news. This battle for children’s brains may already be lost.

The Battle for Children's Brains.
Image from The People Speak

It is odd though, I think, that it is a communist state that has taken the lead on this, though perhaps for the reasons you may not immediately think. I believe that they have made this move, not solely from the perspective of care for their children. I think that this has been done to rein in some of their rapidly growing tech behemoths. To manage the flow of what they see as disinformation that hasn’t been ‘party approved.’

Share prices of those behemoths have fallen in the last couple of days, and rapid response statements by those same companies were immediately published saying they will curb game time.

It appears to me that whilst individual games might be able to lock a child out after say an hour, surely the child will just play multiple different games from different companies or on different platforms?

This is why I think it is good news.

Firstly, the Chinese government are acting on one of the curses of the modern age. It’s not obesity, or social media, but the same dopamine hits that come from winning a game can also be felt by getting ‘likes’ on social media, and by eating something particularly delicious.

One of the key reasons game designers make great games is of course to make a profit. There is of course nothing wrong with profit as a motive. However, when the tech companies start using state of the art algorithms, more powerful than certain parts of the brain, to keep your eyes glued to a screen and consuming content, then something is wrong. Especially as they develop the technologies far faster than the governments can regulate.

Now I hold this subject close to my heart. Over different periods of my life, I have been addicted to computer games, both as a child and as an adult. As a child, I was a coder, and I wrote my own games on Sinclair ZX spectrum. Showing my age I know, but I got my hits from getting the coding right. As an adult, I was addicted to games for all the wrong reasons. I loved to play them and could sometimes spend whole days playing, emerging only to eat pizza, drink coke and go to the loo. Even a couple of years ago, I started to slide down that slippery slope again. I discovered new games, that were just sooo good! Luckily my wife quickly put me right.  Why was I slipping away, putting noise cancelling headphones on, and playing for four hours straight after work? What about my attention to the kids, to her, to life!

What about my approach?

At that point, I vowed to never play another video game again. I deleted them from all my devices, and I am proud to say, as of the 1st of September I will pass the giddy milestone of two years without even so much as touching a computer game. What did I do with my time instead? Well, I wrote and published a fictional novel. (Plug Alert The Ransom Drop)

The Battle for Children’s Brain – Zombification

Sorry about that, back to my article.  One of my biggest issues is the zombification of the child’s brain. When did it ever become ok, to fund free to play games, by making a child sit through YouTube adverts? This being done so the game publisher makes money and the player gets credits, or coins, or gems, or whatever the hell else. How stupefying, watching adverts, pummelling them rubbish, wasting their time, switching off, eyes glazing over. And then, advert over, they are back into the battle or whatever. Its nuts!

You might think that I manage my children’s screen time like a man possessed. I like the Apple eco-system and the ability as a parent to have age controls, app installation controls, set time limits on particular apps or categories of apps and to switch off apps automatically at a certain time of night.

 In total, if my kids did all their app time allocations during a day, they get a total of two hours screen time. I still feel partially guilty about that. My daughters tell me that their friends all have Facebook, Instagram, TicToc (or Tic Toxic as I call it.) They tell me that they are missing out on conversations between their friends. I still hold the line. Instead, I see my girls going out. Playing, using their imaginations, building things, singing, playing board games. In short, being creative children which, I hope fervently as a parent, sets them on a better path. They have plenty of time in later life to plug in to computers at work.

The parental role?

I hear the argument, that in some instances devices or screens take the role of parent. There will always be outliers but surely that can’t be true? Is it in fact parents who are glued to their own screens, who ‘don’t have time’ to engage with their children? (Remember I have been there!) Children follow their parents as role models, and I am sure there is an argument for neglect somewhere in there.  It’s time that parents stepped up and made the unpopular choices for their children, managing this digital opium on their behalf. When they are adults, they can make their own choices, but at least they will have gotten to the point where their brains have fully developed, they hopefully have an education, and most importantly of all, they have learned to communicate face to face with their peers.

So, this is my call. My passion. In order to win the battle for children’s brains we need regulation, joined up across platforms, and devices to avoid ‘hopping’. That will help put the emphasis on the big tech organisations, though it will take time. Parents must take control. You would do everything you can, I assume to prevent physical harm coming to your children? What about their brain’s development and mental health? Don’t take the easy option of parenting.

Oh yes, and if you are addicted to your screen, your social media, your video games. Do something about it!

About the Author

Rob Phayre spent 17 years living in Africa and specialised in the delivery of ransoms to Somali pirates. He and his teams successfully resolved a large number of maritime hostage situations using an innovative solution, dropping millions of dollars by parachute to the pirates at sea. Rob has written a thrilling fictional account of one such drop, blending excitement with reality. His novel explores the origins of Somali piracy and the horrific impacts on the crews that were held and tortured for months on end.

More about Rob Phayre

The Ransom Drop Bonus Materials

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