Harmless Fun or Addictive Habit?
About the Guest
Today on the broadcast, Kurt and Olivia Bruner, faculty of the Center for Strong Families and The Heritage Builders Association, talk with Dennis Rainey about the effects video gaming had on their son, Kyle. Find out how you can determine if your child has an addiction to video games.
Kurt and Olivia Bruner talk about the effects video gaming had on their son, Kyle.
Harmless Fun or Addictive Habit?
Bob: With all the hoopla this year about the new Playstation 3, people waiting in line to get theirs, spending hundreds, even thousands, of dollars getting one on eBay in time for Christmas. Maybe someone ought to ask the question – how many hours a day should we be spending playing video games? Here's Kurt Bruner.
Kurt: God designed real life always to have a point of excitement and culmination and rest. Video games are designed to never end; to always have another complex twist that keeps you consumed with going further and further and further, and that leads to the addictive patterns and, frankly, the loss of joy and satisfaction in life, which is one of our greatest concerns.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Monday, December 4th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. To game or not to game – that is a bigger question than you might have ever thought.
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us. You know, last summer we had a little family getaway. We went to visit some friends who have a place on the lake, and I was talking to my son, David, when we were coming back, and I said, "What did you like most about the time at the lake?" And he said, "Well, I always like the fact that they've got the Playstation there, and I can do Mario Cars." And I'm thinking, "We went to the lake. You can swim, you're out of doors, and what you liked was the Mario Cars on the Playstation or whatever it was, I don't know the XBox, whatever those things are.
And I guess part of it is because we don't have one at our house, so for vacation he got to race cars on the thing, and that was a big deal to him. But we're not caving, we're not buying – he said, "Dad, can we get" – no, we're not …
Dennis: Was this a full court press?
Bob: No, you know, somehow – David is the last of our five children. Somehow, he just knows, in the family that …
Dennis: … it isn't going to happen.
Bob: We've been fighting this – we never did the Gameboy thing and I don't know why. Mary Ann and I just, early on, said, "It's a lot of money, and we just watch kids kind of veg in front of those things, and we thought "Nah." We've got a computer, and the kids play some games on the computer from time to time. In fact, I'll have to be honest, Jimmy, my son, probably knows more about the National Football League from playing, "Madden" on the computer than he does from anything else.
So we're not purists in that regard, I guess is what I'm saying, but we've never done the Playstation. Did you do that when your kids were growing up?
Dennis: You know, we caught the very beginning of the – what I call a "tidal wave," and our sons kind of got involved a little bit, and our daughters, of course, they didn't get involved in the games, they got involved with IM, instant messaging, and of the 450 million instant messages that were sent daily, about half of those came from our house or from friends.
Bob: And said things like "Yeah, dude, LOL."
Dennis: Well, we have a couple here who are joining us on FamilyLife Today – Kurt and Olivia Bruner, who are kindred spirits, fellow warriors, around dealing with this Playstation Nation. In fact, they've written a book by that title.
Dennis: Olivia, Kurt, welcome to FamilyLife Today.
Kurt: Thanks so much, great to be here.
Olivia: We are thrilled to be here.
Dennis: Kurt and Olivia live in Colorado Springs. They worked at Focus on the Family for a number of years; now serve on the faculty for the Center for Strong Families and also The Heritage Builders Association, and both Kurt and Olivia have a passion around this subject of – well, of video games.
In fact, as I read your book, I was just thinking, you know, I think this may be a bigger problem than any of us realize, and that was really your finding, wasn't it, as you did the research for this, Kurt?
Kurt: Well, I tell you, backing up, we wish we had made the choice you made, Bob, in our family, because we actually experienced it firsthand with our boys. We have three boys and a daughter, and it's prevalent among boys; it's a significant issue among boys. We had no idea just how serious it was. We had no idea of what the research was saying in terms of the addictive process that's occurring that's unlike – you know, there's discussion, "Well, it's like television or anything else. You're wasting time." It's not like that, and the research shows it's much more like drug addiction or gambling addiction. It's a very serious addictive pattern for about 25% of those who play, and it's much higher among boys because, obviously, they play much more than do girls.
Bob: Olivia, how old were your boys when you brought one of these – you brought one of these home?
Olivia: We did. I was just thinking the same thing what Kurt said, and I thought, "Oh, I wish I would have gone with that." But you know what? I know that God used our decision and what we've learned from this to help other parents, and I'm really excited about that.
But we brought one home – we actually – I remember having the conversation with my neighbor, Sarah, and saying, "Do you think you'll ever get one of those?" And having the same feeling you did – "No, those kids are zombies that play that thing, and I don't want my kids like that," and I stood pretty strong until we had some friends who, in front of my boys, said, "Oh, we have an old system. Would you like to have it?"
Olivia: And I was, like, "No."
Bob: The economic barrier has now been removed.
Olivia: That's exactly it.
Kurt: That was the excuse we were using.
Dennis: And they said it in front of your kids.
Olivia: They did, yeah.
Dennis: So you couldn't actually have a private conversation with them at that point and say, "Let's talk about this for a second."
Olivia: Right, and what I've noticed with a lot of families is that is what's happening. It is so prevalent in the culture that a lot of times if you don't own one, someone offers you one, or Grandma and Grandpa send one in the mail all wrapped up in Christmas wrapping without telling you. Your kids open it up on Christmas morning and, boy, are they excited, and it's not something that you would have chosen to bring it to your house.
Kurt: One of the challenges is it's not a moral issue. Most people will talk about the games that are so horrific and the content, which isn't really our concern, because most Christian parents aren't going to buy those games. The majority …
Bob: "Grand Theft Auto" is not on the menu, right?
Olivia: Right, exactly.
Kurt: And so we felt it was important, based on our experience, to explain what's happening on the addictive side and what's happening to the souls of our – particularly our young boys, because it's not a moral issue, by and large, but it is a very spiritual issue.
Bob: Well, take me back to the story, though. These friends say, you want this old system …
Olivia: Okay, good. Yeah, so they offered us the system, and what we had done in the past, my oldest son was about six when he started asking. We have – our three boys now are 16, 14, 8, and then we have a 5-year-old girl. So this is like 10 years ago when Kyle started saying, "Mom, could I please have one," I mean, begging me, and he was a really great kid. He was reading at a fourth-grade level, he loved to read, he loved to do other fun things, and so I thought what we had been doing in the past is we would rent a system maybe for a weekend and let them play over a birthday holiday and then be done.
Bob: We've done that, yeah.
Olivia: Okay, and that was really easy, because once it's boxed up, it's gone, you don't have to worry about it anymore. So when they first offered it to us, I thought, "Well, okay, we'll use it like when we use to rent it. We'll keep it in a box, and we'll only bring it out every once in a while," and we'll treat it like that. Well, that didn't last very long. You're laughing, Dennis, because you know.
Dennis: Well, they just wear you out. Kids, they wear you down, and they just pester you, and the easiest thing to do – "Go play with it."
Bob: Was this a Nintendo 64 or what was …
Olivia: It was a Nintendo 64, yes.
Bob: Okay, all right.
Olivia: And we began to notice, and I must admit, it was a bit of a tension because Kurt, I think, from the very beginning, did not like it, and I’m kind of the fun one, and we always say he's kind of the boring one in the family, you know.
Kurt: We don't say that.
You said that.
Olivia: So I was, like, come on, I can handle this. You know, we can limit it, we can be really careful about it. I say no to so many things as a Christian parent. You know, I don't want to have to say no to one more thing. We'll only get the "E" games, and Kurt said, "It doesn't have to do with the content, it's what they look like when they're playing. It's what they're doing with their brain. I don't know what it is, but there is something that bothers me."
Bob: Kurt, there was a red flag just in watching kids interact?
Kurt: There was, and, you know, men will understand what I mean by this – I had the feeling, physiologically, psychologically, that it was similar to pornography, but I don't mean morally; I don't mean in terms of right or wrong; I mean in terms of the effect it was having on my boys – this sense of something is drawing them that's beyond their control, and it really was bothering me, but we didn't have the research at this point. We just thought it was I'm boring, you know, and yet it really – at the deepest level of my gut bothered me every minute I saw them playing those games.
Dennis: It was a sensory addiction.
Kurt: It was.
Dennis: And what I'm seeing today is I'm seeing a generation of young people coming out of the homes going into college …
Olivia: That's exactly right.
Dennis: And I'm seeing young men in college who won't engage in relationships – now, this is serious stuff – who won't engage in relationships with the opposite sex because they'd rather play a game. Now, we're talking about 20, 21, 22, 23-year-old young men who ought to be taking a wife, taking responsibility, obviously not 100 percent of them, some of them may be called to be single, but this addictive quality carries on into adulthood.
Dennis: Or delays adulthood, I should say.
Kurt: We sat down with – we got a call when one couple – actually, a pastor and his wife found out we were working on research for this book, and they tell their story, they tell their journey.
Olivia: We also have an interview with a married couple who, after about a year of marriage, their marriage was about to fall apart because of the husband's video game playing – the hours and the time that he was spending doing it.
Kurt: But on this particular – it was a pastor and his wife – their two adult children were about, what, 20 and 22, and college age, and they wanted to sit down with us because they were at wit's end – "What do we do? Our boys are consumed with this, but they don't think they're addicted." You know, this is just the boy culture, this is the young man culture now. It's taken over to such a degree, particularly on college campuses, you're absolutely right.
We sat down with this young man – or these two young men with their parents, and we talked through it, and they were saying things like, "Well, I don't see it as addiction," you know, "Mom's just overreacting." The dad was pretty passive, I must say, as I sat, and he didn't say a word.
Finally, I looked at this 22-year-old man who talked about all the things he wants to accomplish in life and how he would love to be married and all these things, and it just slipped out at one point that he was doing games six hours a day.
I said, "Wait a second. You don't think you're addicted, and you're playing six hours a day?" I said, "I haven't earned the right to say this to you, but you're here, and you've asked. You're a man. You're responsible to marry, to raise a family, to build something in our world to the glory of God, and you're sitting there six hours a day playing video games."
But I could say that to literally millions of young men today who are consumed with this, and it's because their parents didn't know what we found out about just how serious this addictive pattern is and how chemically based this addictive pattern is.
Bob: There are young men who are young men who are performing poorly in college because they're playing their games or who are losing scholarships or dropping out, and you sit down and go, "What's going on?" and their friends will tell you – they didn't study. They just sat around and played games until 3 in the morning. And you go, "Doesn't it register to them this is messing up my life?"
Kurt: Well, I'll tell you, it's worse than that. The first young man we interviewed, 23, 24 years old, he was a major success in college, but all the rest of his time – when you talk about the relationship side of things – all the rest of his time was video games. So he was succeeding. So no only would look at him and say, "You see, it's affecting his life in terms of success," but it was affecting his life in terms of any sense of joy, engagement in real life.
He told us the story. He said, "I was in London last year," and it was related to school in some way, "but here I was, sitting in downtown London. The only chance in my life I may ever be there with all the sights I could see, and do you know what I did? I pulled out a video game and spent most of the night playing a video game in my room." And he said, "I'm not engaging in life, even though I'm successful in all the basic things that need to be accomplished."
Dennis: Well, in your book, you guys actually have a foreword written by Dr. Walt Larimore who uses an illustration of a knock at the door.
Olivia: Yes, he talks about – which – when I read his foreword, I was, like, "Wow, great, he's stronger than I am," because he's really worried about it as a doctor and as a father, and he said there's a knock at your door, and there is a prowler. There is someone who is dirty, and you wouldn't really trust them, and he says, "Hey, can I come in and spend some time in the bedroom with your kids?"
Dennis: Well, actually, he described him as having an unlit cigar hanging out of his mouth, kind of shaggy and …
Olivia: … a little beard, yes, grungy …
Dennis: … scruffy looking and not the kind of character you would ever even let in your house let alone go up in the bedroom and hang out with your teenage son.
Kurt: And he says that's exactly what we're doing. You know, we let them right in the door, but we don't realize, and this is, again, the dilemma – many people talk about the content of games and the immoral content of some of these games. We have more of a concern about the addictive nature of the games, because you, as a Christian, in particular, can make a moral choice. I'm not going to let that kind of content into my head.
Kurt: But when we aren't aware of the addictive pattern, we get sucked into something that is far more insidious in the long run and aren't aware of it, and so we let these prowlers in, but these prowlers look pretty clean. You know, this prowler looks like, "Hey, it's a nice guy, the kind of person I'd like my kids to hang out with."
Dennis: It's Mario, for goodness' sakes.
Kurt: I mean, for heaven's sake, it's Bob's buddy, Mario.
Bob: He's a fun-looking guy.
Kurt: He's bouncing around, you know, what could be wrong with this guy?
Bob: You know, here's the thing – you know that some folks who are listening to us right now are going, "Okay, this sounds over the edge to me. This sounds like typical Christian overreaction, and the Bruners are starting to sound like fruitcakes. I mean, let's just be honest. We've been through enough in the Christian community where we have overreacted to stuff where we – you know, I remember when the Care Bears were going to lead us all off into oblivion, right? And so there are folks who are listening going, "I've got a Nintendo at my house and, yeah, my kids play it some and probably too much, but I don't see a problem."
Kurt: And, you know what? Seventy-five percent, that will be the case, because it's 25 percent who get addicted, and we wanted to give parents the information we wish we had had while we were making decisions, because we have at least one child who is prone towards addiction in this, and we were seeing that pattern in his life.
Bob: How long, from the time that you brought the Nintendo 64 in before you said, "Kyle is too interested in this?"
Olivia: Well, you know, I think every parent – and we say this in the book – there is no cookie-cutter approach to this, but Kyle was 7 when we got it, and it was probably 14 when I realized, "Hm." Because I remember thinking, "When he's 14, he's not playing video games anymore, he'll be all done with those."
Kurt: He'll outgrow it.
Olivia: He'll outgrow it, and instead the compulsion was stronger. He was wanting to play more and more and make it a big part of his life, and he was beginning to find, "You know what? I'm really good at video games." And so that became his identity.
Now, Kyle is very good at the piano, he's very good at trombone, he's good at a lot of things.
Olivia: Academically, he's really good, but, you know, I asked him one time, I said, "Kyle, why do you always choose the gaming first?" And he said, "Mom, that's easier. If I can play a game in 20 minutes, I feel really good. I've accomplished something." And, you know, he hasn't really accomplished anything, but he felt like he had accomplished something. "I have to go sit at the piano and practice for 45 minutes, and I feel like I've just inched along."
And so he really hit the nail on the head. And when we decided to take it away and make a family decision, it was extremely hard for Kyle. He went through literal withdrawal symptoms.
Kurt: Well, we should go back to the story, because at the point we realized this is a problem in our son's life, again, we would be like these other parents. We would say, "Well, come on – Mario – what's wrong with Mario? There's nothing immoral about this, right?"
So we would have had the same reaction if we had heard someone saying, "These are of the devil," and so forth. Which isn't what we're saying. By the way, I should point out, our book is not a Christian – explicitly Christian book. This is a general market publisher, and the research is all from that perspective because we felt it was important to let people know – not, again, the moral discussion but the physiological reality of the addictive pattern.
But nonetheless, so we saw this, and what we decided to do was we're going to take this away for a month or two. We're going to entirely box it up and put it away, and we're going to do some research because we sensed, more strongly than ever, that this was a problem.
When we finished the research, we knew this was never coming back into our home. Now, that's not to say that will be true for everyone, but with our home it was the case. We needed to make that decision, and, I tell you, it was traumatic. Because, again, the physiological process, which we can get into later, there was a literal withdrawal process of about six months where Kyle went through the same kind of symptoms you would have going through withdrawal of nicotine or gambling addiction or anything else.
So parents need to understand that if they make some of these hard decisions, that be prepared. It's going to be difficult. This isn't going to be an easy thing where you just turn off the switch. It was a very, very challenging season.
Dennis: The makers of these games realize that they can put together a package that offers an instant psychological reward and stroke. Homework is hard. Playing the piano and learning how to master that instrument is difficult, it's hard work, it demands perseverance, and there isn't always an instant gratification and instant reward.
And if you think about life, life doesn't always offer those strokes. A lot of life is tough.
Kurt: Now, think, Dennis, for a moment, though, of the culture before video games among boys, because you – as a male, you got a sense of identity from doing the hard thing in sports or being first chair in band or whatever it might be – being the academic leader.
There was a culture of accomplishment and success in the real world. The culture now among boys is almost entirely video game culture. It's dominant in terms of identity, in terms of what level have you reached and how did you get there, and Kyle got a real sense of – he was successful in this arena, and so he was popular, he had his group.
Now, there are no girls in this group, which is a whole 'nother issue.
Olivia: Girls are not interested like that.
Kurt: So there isn't – as you mentioned earlier, there isn't the social dynamic that should be there, but there is a strong boy culture of reinforcing, "This is where male identity should be."
Dennis: And I think what parents need to hear us saying is "Be discerning." Not legalistic – you can certainly do, as Kurt and Olivia have – you can ban it from your home and say, you know, "For our children and our family, no." Just like Bob and Mary Ann did. But, for others, they are going to need to maybe take a step back, take a look at how many hours a day your children are spending in front of the game station and evaluate "Is this having an addictive influence in the lives of our sons, specifically," and then take the steps that you need to.
And, frankly, Bob, that's where a book like this comes in hand. In fact, Kurt and Olivia share what one expert listed as eight questions. In fact, what I'd like to do, with your permission, Kurt and Olivia, is put those on our website for our listeners to go to and get a look at this.
But there are eight questions that an expert listed for you to do an analysis to find out if your children have an addiction to one of these Playstations.
Bob: You know, I've heard reports that there are actually children going into bookstores and hiding these books so that Mom and Dad can't get them.
Dennis: You're talking about Kurt and Olivia's book?
Kurt: I tell you, we've already started getting e-mails of very unhappy young men.
Dennis: I'm sure.
Bob: We have copies of the book in our FamilyLife Resource Center, so if any moms or dads have a hard time finding it, they can contact us by going online at FamilyLife.com. Click the red button that says "Go" in the middle of the screen, and that will take you right to a page where there is more information about the book, "Playstation Nation, Protecting Your Child from Video Game Addiction," and I don't want to ruin anybody's Christmas, but I think moms and dads need to be aware of what the potential is with something like this.
Again, the title of the book is "Playstation Nation." You'll find it on our website at FamilyLife.com. And I might just add, this is just one of a myriad of issues that parents of preteens and teens are going to face, Dennis, that moms and dads have to make up their mind in advance what their convictions are on these issues.
You talked about that in the book you and Barbara wrote called "Parenting Today's Adolescent," and we have that book on our website at FamilyLife.com as well. In fact, any of our listeners who want to get both Kurt and Olivia's book and your book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent," we can send along at no additional cost the CD audio of our conversation on this subject with the Bruners.
All the information is on our website, FamilyLife.com. Click the red button that says "Go" in the middle of the screen. That will take you right where you need to go for more information about the resources that are available from us here at FamilyLife or call 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and someone on our team will make arrangements to have resources that you need sent out to you.
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Well, tomorrow, we're going to be back with our guests, Kurt and Olivia Bruner. We're going to talk more about video games and the effect they can have on some young men. And if you've observed any of these things with your sons or even your daughters, I hope you can tune in for our conversation tomorrow.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you next time for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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