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Video Games and Your Kids

with Kurt and Olivia Bruner | December 5, 2006

On the broadcast today, Dennis Rainey talks with former VP of Focus on the Family, Kurt Bruner, and his wife, Olivia, about the addictive nature of video games. Hear the alarming research being done that shows the harmful effects of gaming on the brain and central nervous system.

On the broadcast today, Dennis Rainey talks with former VP of Focus on the Family, Kurt Bruner, and his wife, Olivia, about the addictive nature of video games. Hear the alarming research being done that shows the harmful effects of gaming on the brain and central nervous system.

Video Games and Your Kids

With Kurt and Olivia Bruner
|
December 05, 2006
| Download Transcript PDF

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Bob: Kyle Bruner really loved his video game system, I mean, he loved it too much, so his parents decided it was time to put it up on the shelf.  Even then Kyle couldn't quit thinking about it.  Here's Kyle's mom, Olivia.

Olivia: I remember one time specifically he kept coming in in our bedroom at night; that's our time that he'll talk to us, and he would want to talk about it again – "Let's talk about it again," you know?  And I said to him, "Kyle, if you can promise me that you will not think about it when you're not playing it, then I'll bring it back."  And he looked at me and said, "You know I can't promise you that, Mom."

Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Tuesday, December 5th.  Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine.  How can you tell if your son likes video games or likes them too much?  Stay with us.

 And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.  I have to confess that I think there was a period of time when I may have been a Tetraholic.  Are you familiar with Tetraholism?

Dennis: You know, vaguely, but go ahead and inform our audience.

Bob: It was because I had the game "Tetris" on my computer.  Have you ever played "Tetris?"

Dennis: No.

Bob: "Tetris" is where these geometric shapes drop down from the sky, and you have to line them up and, if you do, they keep dropping faster and faster, and, anyway, it's kind of hard to explain, but I …

Dennis: You know what my take on a lot of these, Bob?  I have enough things dropping out of life …

Bob: … out of the sky, you don't need some geometric bits?

Dennis: I don't need another problem to solve.

Bob: Well, there was a point one night where I remember I was laying in bed trying to go to sleep, and in my mind …

Dennis: … you were playing the game?

Bob: I could see geometric shapes dropping out of the sky …

Dennis: Let's as our guests on …

Bob: … this has gone too far.

Dennis: … on FamilyLife Today if they have any comment on this.  Kurt and Olivia Bruner join us for a second day.  Kurt and Olivia, welcome back.

Olivia: Thank you.

Kurt: Thank you.  You know, Bob, I listen to your broadcast, and I knew you were fairly pathetic, but I had no idea …

[laughter]

 … just how bad it was.

Bob: Have you ever played "Tetris?"

Kurt: I have, and I know exactly what you're talking about.

Dennis: So you're pathetic, too.

Kurt: Well, yeah, it takes one to know one.

Bob: Right.

[laughter]

Dennis: Kurt and Olivia live in Colorado Springs with their family and have worked in a number of areas.  They are contributors to the Family Night Tool Chest series, which, by the way, I love that series.  It's a great, great series for helping parents of elementary-age children drive biblical principles into their heart – great work on that.  You guys have done a great job on that.

 You've also written a book called "Playstation Nation," which really is all about protecting children from a video game addiction, and one of the things that we didn't talk about earlier this week was the impact that these games have on the brain.  And you guys have done a lot of research in this area.  Explain to a mom and a dad – or, for that matter, we have a bunch of teens who listen to FamilyLife Today, and single people, who undoubtedly are involved in video games.  Explain what happens in the brain.

Kurt: Let me back up by explaining addiction itself and the process that occurs, because it was very helpful for us to understand this as we dealt with it with our own family.

 There is something called a process of habituation that occurs, in which – I guess it would be equivalent to digging a trench near a lake so that the water can run through that trench.  The brain – actually, what happens, over time, when you do something over and over and over, is a trench gets dug in the brain to where that's where the water flows, and in this case that's where the water of satisfaction, of contentment, of being at ease, relaxed, will flow, because that's what you've developed in the brain.

 So there's a process called "habituation" that occurs when young people play these video games, and it's particularly risky for early adolescents and teenagers, because this is when the brain is actually forming certain patterns that will last a lifetime.

Olivia: As a matter of fact, Dr. Walsh, who is the president of National Institute on Media in the Family, they have done quite a bit of research in this area, and he has a quote that I just really clung to, because I thought if I would have known this was happening to my children's brain while they were playing the games, I would have made different decisions. 

 He says, "Advances in brain science show that children's experience during their brain growth spurts have a greater impact on their brain's wiring than at any other time in their lives.  The groundbreaking discoveries about the teenage brain reveal that the growth spurts continue throughout adolescence making teens more impressionable than we thought.  Teenagers are wiring the circuits for self-control, responsibility, and relationships they will carry with them into adulthood.  The latest brain research shows that violent video games activate the anger center of the teenage brain while dampening the brain's conscience."

Kurt: So at the very time their brain is developing lifelong patterns, these trenches that are being dug into the brain, they're dowsing themselves with this addictive reality of video games.  So, Dennis, last time you talked about the lack of relationships with young women – well, the skills learned and the pattern's developed, whether it be towards career ambition; whether it be towards relational skills, are occurring at the very season that their entire identity is tied to getting to the next level of this game.

Bob: We interviewed a dad recently who was talking about his son at age 11 wanting to become a good golfer.  He said my goal is to become a pro golfer.  And so the son was getting up at 5 in the morning and going out and playing golf, and after school he was going out and playing golf.  Now, here's my question – is he developing a golf addiction?  Is that dangerous in the same way that a video game would be dangerous?

Kurt: A good way to answer that – we observed – in fact, we summarize it in the book – an actual case where a doctor wired a young man who is a video game player to a system and demonstrated what was happening physiologically – what's happening to his body as he's playing the game.

Dennis: Right.

Kurt: His heart rate started at 85, within five minutes it was up 40 percent, after 20 minutes, it was up to 155, and I think it peaked at 190, which is classified as severe hypertension.  And he looked at the camera, this was on a television program – he looked at the camera and said, "This I would call severe hypertension, and this is unlike physical exercise where your heart rate increases in a health manner.  This is hypertension."  And if you know the difference between hypertension and exercise that leads to the release of endorphins and so forth, they are dramatically different.

Bob: This is stress-related?

Olivia: That's exactly right, it's stress-related.

Bob: Stress as opposed to being a good cardio workout.

Kurt: Exactly, exactly.

Olivia: Right, right.

Kurt: And so people make the comparison – you can get addicted to anything, that's true, but there is something about this that's unique and different than the many other things that – how many people do you know that end up failures in life because they're playing …

Olivia: … golf after school?

Kurt: Now, I am a failure at golf, and that's very different than golf causing me to be a failure in life or to move away from relationships or all the other effects.  So there is something different about this, and it has to do with what's happening.

  Another study showed that 20 minutes of video game play is the equivalent of taking an amphetamine.  Now, imagine doing that day after day, over and over and over.  You have a drug addiction, because the dopamine levels that are infused onto the brain from playing video games is unlike what occurs in other activities.

Dennis: I'm just thinking of these ditches that are getting dug in young people's lives, and I'm thinking of Columbine High School, and all these video games that are combat-oriented and shooting policemen or war games and are fueling young adolescent boys' minds about warfare at a time when they're angry, they don't have self-control, they don't have a good worldview, and if they're growing up in a troubled home, I'm wondering at this point, listening to you guys, thinking about the nation in which we live, why there aren't more of these incidents occurring today.

Kurt: One of the young men we interviewed in the book, and he tells his story, said when Columbine happened, he was in this state.  He had gone into very dark themes in the video games he was playing.  He was not a popular kid, and he, again, he found identity and success in this arena – a lot of anger, but he tells his story, thankfully, through the grace of God, there was an intervention there of the Gospel that changed his life, but he said, "I identified with those guys.  I thought very much like I read they thought, because of the process that overtook my heart and my life."

 So I think you're right.  Again, there's a percentage that are at risk.  We don't want to say this is going to happen to your child if you let them play Mario, but be aware and please, I beg parents, find out – inform yourselves on what the research is saying so that you can recognize these patterns early.  Because I will tell you this – our oldest son, though we stopped video games in his life, at least at home – now, we should say that we made the choice so if it's not going to be in our home, so that it's not perpetually there calling his name.

 When he goes to a friend's house, he can play for an hour at a time over there, because we didn't want to totally disconnect him from being able to relate to his social network and so forth.  We would prefer he didn't, but we recognize that.  What I wanted to say is he will, for the rest of his life, have a difficult challenge with the draw to video games.  We worry about when he goes to college, we worry about will this affect his marriage, because during those critical development years, we were unaware of what was happening to his brain.

Dennis: The ditch had been dug.

Kurt: It had.

Dennis: You actually came up with a pet name, a nickname for your system.  I thought this was interesting.

Kurt: Well, we called our children – no, you're right, we called the system their "Precious.  I need you, Precious."

Olivia: Well, because, at that time, Kurt was writing a book called "Finding God in the Lord of the Rings," and the kids were reading the book, and then the movies came out, and so we would say, "You have to play your precious," and that's because that is really the way they acted, and I really don't think they could help it.

Bob: Does Kyle buy your book?  I mean, has he read and go, "Boy, Mom, Dad, I see what you're talking about.  Yeah, this is something I need to be aware of."

Olivia: You know, Kyle does buy it.  Is it hard still?  Yes, it is.  But he does buy it because he knows what it does to him.

Kurt: He's felt it.

Olivia: Right, he's felt it.  He understands the feeling of it, and when he was going through some of his withdrawal feelings, and one thing I would say to parents – if you decide to make a change in the video game world in your home, you're going to have to have a lot of patience with your kids.  You're going to have to replace it with time spent with you, fun activities.

 When we decided to make that change, we told Kyle, first of all, we will find fun things for you to replace that with.  When your friends come over, I will take you to a movie, I will take you to play laser tag, I will take you to play basketball, whatever it takes to get your mind off that and onto something else.

 I remember one time specifically he kept coming in in our bedroom at night; that's our time that he'll talk to us, and he would want to talk about it again – "Let's talk about it again," you know?  Are you sure?  I promise I'll do this and this and this, and he would lay it all out.  He's very analytical, and I said to him, "Kyle, if you can promise me that you will not think about it when you're not playing it, then I'll bring it back."  And he looked at me and said, "You know I can't promise you that, Mom."  And I said, "Okay, then, we're not bringing it back."

Kurt: It overtakes the mind, it overtakes the thoughts 24/7.

Bob: My precious.

Olivia: Right.

Kurt: My precious, it is. He's a very mature young man, we're so proud of him, and we actually couldn't have written this book had it not been for his maturity in this process.  But I remember one evening, it was maybe a month, six weeks, after we stopped having video games in the house.  We took it away entirely.

 He was having a rough day because a new system had just released, all his friends had bought it, they were all talking about it.  It was a rough night, and so I was talking to him, and it takes a lot of time talking these things through, but I was talking to him and making the comparison to nicotine addiction and so forth, and I said, "I understand how you're feeling, because you're going through some of the withdrawal process that would be natural for any addiction."  He says, "Yeah, Dad, but there's no patch for Nintendo.  There is nothing to ease the process of withdrawal." 

 So he understood from the beginning, this is …

Dennis: A support group, he needs a support group.  That's what a family is supposed to be.

Kurt: And there's a physiological withdrawal process that has to be endured.

Olivia: And there are support groups out there now for video game addicts, and just recently they opened a detox center in Amsterdam specifically for video game addicts.  It was just June of this year.

Bob: Olivia, why is it that boys are susceptible to this, and girls seem to be less susceptible?

Olivia: Well, you know, in the book we have a chapter called "The Lost Boys," and we compare it to Peter Pan and Never Neverland and that they want to stay these kids the rest of the their life where they don't have any responsibility, and they don't have any work that needs to be done.  And I think that's a big part of it, but I think it also – what I've noticed, is it fulfills – I began to see in Kyle, it fulfill in him really what God had made him to be, which was a young man.  It began to make him feel like, "Hey, I'm something.  I can do something with my life.  I can explore new worlds.  I can beat the game.  I can get the most points."

 All the things that God meant for good, it began to cover those and say, "I can get all those in a game at absolutely no risk to myself."

Kurt: You know, Bob, what men were made for, these games provide an artificial replacement without the risk, without the self-sacrifice.  We're called to heroic self-sacrifice, right, with a wife, with children, with whatever the Lord calls us to, and to accomplish things.  Those are God-given drives within the male psyche.

 Well, in video games, all of those – the call to adventure, the call to accomplishment, are all satisfied with no risk.  One of the young men we spoke to and interviewed, we asked, "Well, what's the difference between this and reading a fantasy novel or watching television or movies like "Lord of the Rings" and so forth, because it's fantasy and adventure?

 He said, "I'll tell you the difference."  He said, "With television or with a book, you don't have a sense of obligation.  You do with video games.  It's up to me to save the princess, and if I'm not there – and it's even worse now with something called MMORPGs, massive – I can't – you know, that's – yeah, MMORPGs.

Olivia: Massive multi-online role-playing games are new on the Internet, and they are basically a video game times 10, where you play with people all over the world, and you join a clan, and you have to meet them at 3:00, and you all play together.

Bob: And there is a sub-culture that exists that we don't know about or see, probably, but it's men in their 20s and 30s, probably not married, who are working part-time jobs, and this is life for them, right?

Kurt: Absolutely, we're right now mentoring a young man named Aaron, who – we actually got into a relationship because his wife of a year called and said, "We're about to divorce if we don't deal with this video problem."

 But he had been living, until he was 28 years old, in this type of a sub-culture, and now marriage was a major adjustment, because responsibilities, being a real man rather than an artificial man, and so forth, and I won't get into all that story now but, yes, he said he knows of young men who are reducing their hours at work so that they can increase their hours on some of these online MMROPG games, and to him it makes complete sense because, in his mind – he even says, "work is a means to an end."  In other words, you only work to get enough money to enable the time for what it is you want to do, which is video games for many them.

Bob: And if you were talking to a young wife today, because we've heard from some of them who say, "This is how my husband is spending all of his time.  We have very little relationship.  I don't know what to do."  What would you tell her?

Olivia: Well, our tension was actually opposite.  That's what's so hard about our situation, is I was the one saying, "Let's let him do it," and Kurt, being the man, was the one saying, "No, we're not doing it."  But he didn't grow up playing games.

Kurt: Well, there was "Pong" and "Tetris."

Olivia: That's true.

[laughter]

 This generation has grown up playing games.  My hope is that – I don't think the discussion has ever been out there.  I don't think the word "video game" and "addiction" have been put together until the last few years.

Dennis: No, I would agree with you.

Olivia: So what I'm hoping is this book will be the beginning of a wave of people studying it and opening up the door for a wife to be able to say to her husband, "Honey, I think you're addicted to this," and I would love hear people – even gamers – be okay with hearing the word "video game addiction," because realizing that, yeah, maybe they can handle it, but there's a lot of people that can't.  And so to be compassionate to those who it gets out of control and understand that they're trying to deal with this real issue in their life.

Dennis: To the wife who is married to the man who is addicted – she needs to speak the truth in love, and if he doesn't listen, she needs to get his best buddy who, hopefully, isn't addicted as well, his best buddy from church who is respected by him and intervene in his life.  We would do the very thing if he was addicted …

Bob: … if he was an alcoholic.

Dennis: If he was an alcoholic.

Olivia: Right, exactly.

Kurt: I would, though, caution – because I completely agree – I would caution, please equip yourself first by understanding what the research says.  If you go into this with, "Oh, this is evil, this is wicked," or "This is destroying your life," they're going to look at you like you've gone over the edge – "What are you talking about?  I'm just having fun.  It's my hobby, for heaven's sakes." 

 And so you really need to understand the dynamics, and if you have a mature young man or an adult, they need to understand the research, also.  That's the beauty of what we've tried to do here is because we had to dig – and the research goes back to the early '90s.  There is a lot of research on this, but it's interesting how little it's known.  I don't think that the industry, which is now bigger than Hollywood, wants this research known.  In fact, there are now reports coming out where they are starting to proactively justify – "Well, this isn't as bad.  I think they know their day is coming; that people are recognizing the addictive pattern.  If they're opening clinics, they're going to come at us and say, 'There's going to be a lawsuit where someone's life has been ruined because of video games, and they're trying to prep for it.'"

 And so you've got to recognize you're going into a situation – we feel very awkward when we talk to parents about this because they look at you like, "Are you one of those nut cases?"  And we simply say to them, "All we want to do is tell you what we wish we had known, because 25 or more percent of you have a gut feeling right now.  We want to give you permission to say maybe that gut feeling is correct."

Dennis: It's ultimately in competition with real life and real relationships, and I think as you enter into your husband's life or a child or even an adult child, I think it has to be presented in a way, as you've said, Kurt, with data, with the hard facts but also with the positive offering that you know what?  There is something better than this video game – called real life and real relationships.

 I also want to say to parents – we are called to protect the next generation.  That is a part of our assignment, and if we see something like this coming down the tracks – we referred to it earlier as a stranger being invited into your home to go upstairs in the bedroom and spend the next four to six hours with your son. 

 We, as parents, have to be very shrewd and wise in protecting the next generation, and that's why I think we need resources and tools that educate us and really arm us with the facts around this issue.

Bob: And you guys have provided that for us in the book, "Playstation Nation," which we have in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  I want to encourage our listeners, go online at FamilyLife.com and do a little more investigation on this.  There are some of you who have already got a game system in your home, and you're thinking, "Well, what do we do?"

 I think the book offers a strategy.  Some of you have thought about getting a game system for Christmas.  This is a book you ought to read before you make that final decision.  We're not saying that it's wrong for everybody, we're saying that you ought to be aware of potential issues, and I think you guys have covered it very fairly and very even-handedly in this book.

 Again, it's called "Playstation Nation."  It's in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  Go to our website, 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's more information about this book and other resources we have at FamilyLife.

 I'm thinking about the book that you and Barbara wrote, Dennis, that helps parents tackle a whole bunch of issues like this as we raise our preteens and our teens.  Issues like dating and drinking and part-time jobs and sports and all kinds of issues that children face as they move through adolescence.  The book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent," helps moms and dads get a handle on their own convictions on these issues and helps us decide how we should approach these with our children.

 Again, both of the books are in our FamilyLife Resource Center.  Go to our website, FamilyLife.com, click the red button that says "Go," and that will take you to a page where there is more information about Kurt and Olivia's book, Dennis and Barbara Rainey's book, and if you decided you wanted to get both of these books, we'll send along at no additional cost the CD audio of our conversation today with the Bruners, and you can either listen to it again or pass it along to someone you know who would benefit from hearing the conversation.

 Again, the website is FamilyLife.com.  You can also call us at 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 can make sure that you get these resources sent to you.

 You know, I don't know if other couples do this, but a lot of families will sit down at Christmastime, set aside a certain amount of money that they're going to use to buy Christmas gifts for the family, and they'll say, "This is the budget.  This is what we've got to spend on Christmas this year.  This is how much we're going to use for gifts," and then they go out and start doing their Christmas shopping.

 Well, what if somebody came along and said to you, "I'll tell you what, for every dollar you set aside for Christmas gift-giving, I will match that dollar-for-dollar, and maybe you can get something a little more special for your family this year.  I think all of us would be excited by an opportunity like that, and that is essentially what has happened to us here at FamilyLife this year.

 We've had some friends who have come to us and said they will match, on a dollar-for-dollar basis, any donation that we receive during the month of December and, frankly, December is typically the month of the year when we get more donations that any other month.  So they have said if you get a $20 donation in December, we'll match it with another $20 donation.  If it's a $50 donation, we'll match that; $100, we'll match that, and so on, up to a total of $500,000.

 Now, we are hoping that we'll hear from enough of our listeners between now and the end of December to take full advantage of this $500,000 matching gift, but we need to come to you to ask if you can help us out with a donation during December.  You can do that online at FamilyLife.com; you can call 1-800-FLTODAY and make a donation over the phone, whichever is easier, and let us just say thanks in advance not only for listening to FamilyLife Today and for praying for us but also for doing whatever you can do here in the month of December to help with our financial needs at the end of 2006.

 Well, tomorrow Kurt and Olivia Bruner are going to be back with us.  We're going to continue our conversation on the potential problems that can come from video game systems particularly among preteen and teenage boys, and I hope you can be with us for that.

 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 back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.

 FamilyLife Today is a production of FamilyLife of Little Rock, Arkansas, a ministry of Campus Crusade for Christ.

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