Lost in Virtual Reality: A Parent’s First Step

Many adults and especially parents are worried that their child is trapped in their rooms immersed in video gaming.  This fear of modern technology is not new according to Bruno Bettelheim, a pioneering psychoanalyst famous for working with infantile autism or what has been called “feral children” thought to be raised by wolves.  Commenting in 1980 on children and television, he writes an essay describing how children in the 1950’s now had television as a way to feed their daydreams instead of the “dark castle” of the movie theatre.  He observes with amusement that now with just a flick of the nob, a child can have a whole new world created by television.

Imagine how he would describe the world of the modern Internet or video gamer with all the connectivity, graphics, and sound available with a tap of the finger.  Bettelheim further informs us that older generations have always feared new innovations.  He describes Plato’s ideal state as forbidding “imaginative entertainment” as a destabilizing force in an ideal society.

Daydreams are used by children in the course of normal development to help them deal with the stresses of life and the push and pulls of child development.  Symptoms and aggressive behavior can be avoided by using daydreams to work out psychological struggles.  The question is, how much is too much?

Modern families are faced with a fear of their children being kidnapped and held hostage in their rooms by the dark forces parents imagine are infecting their children’s minds.  Why did the child suddenly become disconnected from family and friends?  Children seem to lose their drive to achieve and seem to be wandering into useless and possibly dangerous activities online.

Most kids trapped in virtual reality begin innocently enough with after-school amusement that begins, as the child approaches puberty, to shift to a more committed activity that competes with everyday demands of school, peer relationships, and family cohesion.  The child appears to be existing on an island participating in a secret society.

Parents and therapists alike will try different approaches.  Punishment and removal of the Internet are examples of common initial moves by concerned parents.  Moderation is imposed by adults, adolescence rears its mighty oppositional head, and family drama and conflict typically unfold as the child hangs onto his or her connection to virtual reality.

The Internet has created a whole new arena for generational struggles.  Parents fighting to keep their children focused and productive.  Children are doing what children do at 12, they search for their own identities and ways to fit into society as their own individual separate from their parents.  So, what is the first step an adult can do when facing this problem?

Dealing with adolescent opposition requires adults to assume a paradoxical stance that avoids power struggles and punishment.  Parents are clearly and unquestionably correct in arguing for less immersion in an alternative reality!  This is not the main point.  The 3 most important elements to keep in mind when thinking about teenagers are: safety, safety, and safety.  Parents need to open their eyes and mind and close their mouths; kids are not listening.   Social isolation can indeed become lethal for vulnerable children locked in a world unpopulated by caring adults.  Understanding the virtual world is a good first step for parents and adults.

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