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Think Before You Call ‘Game Over’ To Children Playing Video Games

video games
Greg Johnson Greg Johnson

As a parent or caregiver, your primary concern is keeping children safe, out of harm’s way and making sure they develop into healthy well-balanced individuals. So, it’s no surprise that images of men with guns and virtual cities being blown up trouble you and make you question your child’s choice of entertainment. Video games are an easy way to keep children occupied for a few hours so you can have some time to catch up on chores or reply to emails. But, many parents worry about the potential negative impacts of video gaming. The research varies and does not always provide much conclusive evidence, however, this article by BBC gives some interesting insights and much needed clarity on the issue.

“In a research environment that is often polarised between those who believe games have an extremely beneficial role and those who link them to violent acts, this research could provide a new, more nuanced standpoint. – Experimental psychologist Dr Andrew Przybylski

The study conducted by Oxford University reports that playing violent video games for long periods of time can distort adolescents’ sense of ‘right and wrong’. However, many people would argue that a moral compass is a social construct and what is morally correct in one culture may not necessarily reflect the norm elsewhere.

The study also found that empathy, trust and concern for others, which should develop as teenagers grow up, were delayed in youngsters who were over-exposed to violent video games. This points to the fact that beyond developing a sense of right and wrong, excessive video gaming affects children on a developmental level.

On the other hand, the study also suggests that limited playing of video games may actually boost children’s learning, health and social skills. Researchers asked children how much time they spent gaming on a typical school day – either using consoles or computers. Subsequently, they rated a number of factors, ranging from satisfaction with their lives to hyperactivity and inattention. The results suggest that youngsters who played video games under an hour each day were satisfied with their lives and showed the highest levels of positive social interactions. The group also had fewer problems with emotional issues and lower levels of hyperactivity.

Additionally, this research found that children who spent more than three hours playing games were the least well adjusted.

Some potential benefits….

Problem solving and logic

Video games that are interactive and involve making quick decisions help improve problem-solving skills. If you have observed young people playing video games, you would agree that the challenges of the games bring about an alertness in them. These challenges provide an opportunity for sharpening their quick-thinking skills and the ability to adapt to any circumstance. Some games require decision making skills in order to conquer challenges, which may enhance player’s logic and reasoning skills.

Hand-eye coordination, motor and spatial skills

Most video games require a great deal of eye-hand coordination and visual spatial ability to be successful. Especially shooting games, which require the real-world player to keep track of the position of the character – where he/she is moving, his speed, where the gun is aiming, and so on.

Multitasking ability

As playing a video game also involves tracking real-time movements of many shifting variables and managing multiple objectives, it helps boost the cognitive function, and, in particular, multitasking ability in young players.

Negative effects of video games

Aggressive behaviour

 The effect of video games in children are more likely to be aggressive, particularly those who favour violent ‘shoote-em-up’ games, as reported in this article. Additionally, a review of almost a decade of studies (in the same article) found that exposure to violent videogames was a risk factor for increased aggression.

Socially isolated

Too much video gaming makes your child socially isolated, as he/she may spend less time on other activities such as doing homework, reading, sports and interacting with family and friends.

Poor performance in academics

The time spent playing video games can affect academic performance negatively, as many players routinely skip homework to play games.

Safeguarding your children online

Parentzone has listed some tips on helping your child play safe:

  • You can allow your children to play for about an hour a day, which is the ideal amount of time to spend on gaming. Also, it’s best to intervene if your child’s gaming interferes with his/her homework, offline friendships or sleep.
  • Most of the games need to be purchased online, you can thus use parental controls to disable or require permission for purchases.
  • Inform your children about the dangers of downloading suspicious files that could lead to contact with strangers online.
  • Ensure that you speak to your child if they look worried after playing a game online. Do not ban games immediately if they come to you with a concern, as this can feel like a punishment and discourage them to ask for your help.

Video games can enhance your child’s overall development or hamper it, depending on how much time they spend playing. But, if you’re afraid that your child might be getting addicted or gaming is having a negative impact, then it’s time to set limits around video game use. To know more about e-Safety and other topics related to safeguarding children online, follow us on LinkedIn or Twitter.

Teenage Depression – how serious is this issue?

teenage depression
Mark Kingham Mark Kingham

The Department for Education recently conducted in-depth interviews with thousands of teenagers aged 14 and 15. The study revealed some interesting and worrying statistics about young people,  substance use and teenage depression. Experts suggest that the figures from the report point to a ‘slow-growing epidemic’ of mental health issues in schools. The highlights of the study include the following:

  • The number of girls with poor mental health rose by 10 per cent in the past decade – they were twice as likely as boys to report symptoms.
  • Some students said that pressure to achieve was affecting their self-confidence, and that they did not feel in control of their futures.
  • The study found that 37 per cent of girls had three or more symptoms of psychological distress – for example, feeling worthless or unable to concentrate. This was compared to 15 per cent of boys.
  • Depression and anxiety in boys has actually fallen since 2005
  • Pupils with parents educated to degree level were found to be 5 per cent more likely to experience mental distress than those without.

Experts have suggested that social media plays an important role in contributing to increased drug use, as it stops children ‘switching off’ after school.

Marjorie Wallace, Chief Executive of the mental health charity Sane, said: “Over the period covered by the report we have seen a very disturbing change in admissions to hospital for self-harm in under-16s – this has gone up by 52%.” She told The Times that her charity had been contacted by worried school heads.

Furthermore, according to NHS guidelines in the UK, children as young as five are showing signs of depression and nearly 80,000 children in the UK are living with mental illness.

What is even more alarming is that the UK has the highest rate of self-harming in Europe – as many as 1 in 10 children self-harm. Mental health experts attribute cyberbullying, social media pressures and breakdown of the family unit for this rise of mental health issues in children.

How to identify teenage depression?

As a parent, caregiver or educator, it’s necessary to understand the warning signs of depression in children and adolescents. Young people often suffer in silence and are not as likely as adults to talk about their emotional distress or difficulties. Also, unlike adults, depression might appear very differently in children and adolescents than it does in adults. Here are some warning signs to look out for:

  • Irritability, anger or hostility are prominent symptoms in children with depression, as opposed to overt sadness.
  • Indifference or withdrawal from social life and daily activities/routine
  • Restlessness and agitation
  • Feelings of worthlessness and guilt
  • Lack of enthusiasm and motivation
  • Fatigue or lack of energy
  • Difficulty concentrating
  • Unexplained aches and pains
  • Thoughts of death or suicide

Securus can help schools gauge students behaviour and monitor for signs of depression. If anything is picked up, schools can then intervene and offer appropriate help and advice accordingly.

“Anorexia is a lifestyle, not a disease”. How pro-anorexia sites are impacting body image in teens

Securus Securus

“Infinity is so damn sweet
Your mortal earth cannot compete
Starving for the other shore
I will not eat!
Say it loud
& say it now
I’m anorexic
& I’m proud.”

This disturbing poem features on the website ana’s underground grotto. As with several other websites just like it, it dishes out a variety of dangerous information regarding weight loss, tips for hiding an eating disorder from family and friends, and how to ‘purge’-  plus images of models and other skinny body types to endorse the ‘thinspiration’ trend.

Out of the 1.6 million people in the UK who are affected by an eating disorder, around two-thirds have visited such sites.  Data from the health and social care information centre (in 2013) revealed an 8% rise in hospital admissions for eating disorders. This surge has been attributed to Pro-ana websites which are promoting a serious mental illness as a lifestyle choice.

According to Dr. Bryan Lask, medical director for eating disorders at Charity Care UK, social media is a very important part of his patients’ lives. He explains: “Eating disorders are genetically-determined, but the society in which we live – which creates thinness as an ideal – plays a major contributing role,” He adds: “I have one patient who spends many hours a day blogging about her experiences. I have others who spend many more hours reading other people’s blogs. It becomes their lives. It’s an escape from the inner pain and the confrontation of the external world.”

The influence of social media on body image has become an important debate.  With the increase in internet use among teens, it is not surprising that the issue has gained serious significance in recent years.

In one study which examined both pro-recovery sites and pro-eating disorder websites, the researchers found that many teens had a pre-existing condition, and that viewing Pro- ana websites often negatively impacted one’s body image, even if it was not the original intent.

What are pro-anorexia websites?

Before we can begin to examine the impact of the internet or social media on body image or eating disorders, we must fully understand Pro-ana websites and the motivation behind them. As with any mental illness, Anorexia and Bulimia lead to serious psychological disturbances, often accompanied by depression, anxiety and damaged self-esteem. Anyone who suffers from these illnesses is in an extremely vulnerable position, which leaves them more susceptible to outside influences.

The word ‘pro-ana’ meaning pro-anorexia, was created by young women who have anorexia or bulimia, or are in recovery from one or both of the disorders. Eating disorders have been reclaimed through vocabulary, with terms like ana and mia becoming extremely popular ways to describe this serious mental health condition.

Several websites have been built around the notion that anorexia and bulimia are not diseases but rather ‘choices’ and don’t require treatment. While there is some debate about the extent to which these sites do any real harm, most experts agree that such websites can be seriously damaging to young people who are mentally unstable and have a skewed body image.

Most pro-anorexia sites include the following disclaimer on their homepage

This site does not encourage that you develop an eating disorder. This is a site for those who ALREADY have an eating disorder and do not wish to go into recovery.
If you do not already have an eating disorder, better it is that you do not develop one now. You may wish to leave.
(ana-by-choice.com)

What is most disturbing is the empathetic approach taken by these sites. Presumably, this is intended to lure young women who have serious doubts about their weight and appearance, or are already suffering from serious mental and emotional problems. At first glance, the sites appear to be helpful, informative and seek to support girls struggling with eating disorders. Delve a little deeper and you quickly realise that the ultimate objective is to promote an unnatural ‘thinness’ and unhealthy ‘dieting advice’. The websites are flooded with images of women who are dangerously thin, very often celebrities who have either been diagnosed with an eating disorder or photoshopped into looking like they have one.

Body image in popular media

The issue of media influence on appearance and body image has been around since the first TV commercial was shot, or probably even before that, when the first print ad portrayed a woman of ‘perfect appearance’. While this phenomenon is nothing new, it has been catapulted into a much more serious issue with the advent of the technology and the internet- especially via platforms solely dedicated to pictures, images and videos. The ideal body type and the ‘perfect face’ have been largely redefined in the last decade, with the selfie craze at the helm of this revolution.

From perfectly sized models, and flawless celebrities, young people are bombarded with unrealistic notions of beauty and perfection. With the increasing development and use of interactive social media platforms, we are no longer passive consumers of media – there is no escaping the constant trends that relate to body image and appearance.

Case in Point

The thinspiration trend

“If you have time to complain, then you have time to train”.  This is one of the slogans associated with the the ‘thinspiration trend’, a campaign meant to encourage young women to achieve the ideal body type. This is often shared in the form of images and photos of women who possess these ‘ideal’ body types.

The thinspiration trend has become serious enough for Pinterest to start posting a warning regarding eating disorders. When a user types in specific search terms, such as thinspiration, the search results are headed by a banner reading – “Eating disorders are disorders that if left untreated can cause serious health problems or could even be life-threatening. Also, the popular platform Instagram posted a ban on pro-anorexia content earlier this year –unfortunately though, researchers suggest this may have made the problem worse.

For an educator, the task of protecting children and teens from exposure to damaging content online can be extremely challenging, given that they have access on various devices. However, you can monitor your students’ internet activity at school and ensure they are safe from potential harm. Get in touch with us to find out more. Securus software solution is aimed at protecting children and teens, and safeguarding them from online dangers.

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