Digital Citizenship Week: Social Media, Addictive Games

The next few posts will be related to Digital Citizenship Week. I believe this was initiated by CommonSenseMedia – https://www.commonsense.org/education/digital-citizenship-week

I found myself with some time to spare. I tried a number of game apps and ended up deleting because I found theywere very addictive. I started with Candy Crush because it’s so well known. Once I was unable to get past levels, I found that I was prompted to buy more moves. Some of the dollar increments are small but they don’t get you very far. It’s also so easy to tap Google Play and almost immediately purchase moves, hints, or whatever is on offer.

Why am I writing about this? I am an adult and I deleted the app. But I teach teens and I’m concerned about impulse control. Even adults have difficulty with cutting those ties. It’s not an obvious problem like drugs or alcohol but you could consider it a form of gambling. Getting past a challenging level is like a shot of dopamine, just like you get when you infrequently win at gambling.

Some people only play when they’re waiting in line, killing time. But then it can start taking over time when you should be productive, like writing blog posts! It is not something you can complete and once you finish a level, you’re prompted to go on to another level. The end goal is not attainable. I’m not sure how many levels there are but I suspect that if anyone actually comes close, the makers of a game will just add more levels. The payoff for them is when people spend money to keep going.

According to an article in The Observer that cites the author Adam Alter, author of Irresistible, there are 4 warning sites to look out for:

  • Is the game hurting someone financially or productively?
  • Is the game causing social problems when the person should be with friends or family?
  • Does the game make the person anxious?
  • Or is the game hurting physiologically (spending too long without moving)?

So are there any games that are preferable?

I like the following because of the educational value and it doesn’t require money to move ahead:

FreeRice – http://freerice.com/category – Donate rice to the World Food Program by answering trivia questions

Please let me know in the comments whatever games you like!

Parenting Supervision and Trust

Since this is primarily an education blog, I’m going to suggest for younger children, that parents check out the apps that their kids have installed on a smartphone. See what level they are at in a game and that will give you a clue to how long or how much their child has been playing. Note that depending on the age of your child and the contract that you have with them (kids will often have a verbal understanding that parents will check their phones), please be sensitive to their privacy needs as well. That’s why it’s good to iron out an understanding in advance when you let your child have a smartphone or other technology that hooks up to the web.

For older kids, teens and up, you’ll need to have a more nuanced approach. I personally would never read my kids’ diaries and usually trusted them to act reasonable responsibly on the internet. We all hit that ‘Send’ button to quickly, sometimes (including me, of course) but usually I want to give my kids the benefit of the doubt whenever I can. The other side of it is that as soon as they started using social media, they would add me. They would sometimes challenge me to reach levels in a game. Occasionally – actually rarely -I would chime in about being appropriate, not spreading unsubstantiated rumours or advice, reminders to be kind. I tried not to embarrass them too much or even comment on their platforms. And I almost always tried those platforms. You need to understand how something works to understand how they are using it.

A number of years ago I surveyed some teens for a course I was taking. The questions involved parental involvement in their use of social media. I was shocked at how little parents were involved or understood. Alternatively, I know parents who ask their kids to use alternative names (pseudonyms) and post minimally. The kids dip their feet in the waters slowly and under the watchful eye of a parent who has familiarized themselves with what’s out there.

This isn’t to say that my parenting and watchfulness is perfect. We all make mistakes, especially as the world changes constantly. It’s not easy to navigate all the digital ways of connecting and communicating. But it’s worth thinking about this aspect of parenting and at least having a conversation with your kids, no matter how old they are.

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