How Internet & Online Gaming Shape Us

By Ofer Zur, Ph.D.

Internet use by adolescents

Today’s kids grow up with tablets and smartphones. By middle school, they are texting nonstop and connecting on social media. Efforts to curb their interest are met with understandable resistance, and this can easily become a long-term power struggle.

What if we told you there is another way? Technology is changing all of us, for the worse and for the better. Understanding these changes, we can optimize the benefits and cull the downsides (like constant distraction). Kids who are bored in school and love gaming may be on to something. There is no reason to force kids to learn the way their ancestors did. Today’s learners are ready to explore, and it is our job as their caring adults to help make this happen.

Did you know?
  • There are many types of online games for children. Some are educational, others epistemic (learn a career through the game). First-person shooter games (which train out empathy) barely belong in the same category as math games.
  • While setting limitations are a parental responsibility, kids are not wrong for wanting to play with technology. They are growing up in an exciting era, and see the adults around them on smartphones and computers nearly every free minute.
  • Online gaming can help people learn mastery, cooperation, resource allocation, teamwork, and many other skills.
  • Young people who are bullied or ostracized offline can find friends online, outside the often-toxic social environment of school.
  • There is widespread disagreement about whether Internet Addiction is a valid diagnosis. Many people believe that obsession with the Internet or gaming is phasic, and self-corrects with time. Over-use of the Internet and gaming can be the result of depression, anxiety, or (in the case of children) simply what is modeled in the home.
  • Playing an online game focused on cooperation can have a positive effect on mental well-being, while a focus on competition can be quite harmful. The purpose of the game matters greatly.
  • Cyberspace allows for unique collaboration. We can work with people around the world, without ever meeting face-to-face. Non-speaking autistics can gain community and a voice. People of different levels of authority are equalized, judged by their contributions in the moment.
  • The pace of email conversation is highly subjective. Some use it as instant messaging, while others take days or weeks. The medium is flexible, and can be used both ways.

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