Originally published 12 June, 2018
Recent media articles have focused in on the psychopathology or ‘diagnoses’ of children using the internet or computer/console games. There is a current push to have a diagnostic criterion for the ‘addictions’ of 1) Internet gaming disorder which almost but not quite, (owing to a need of much more research in this area) appeared in the Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental health disorders number 5 (DSM-V) and more recently 2) gaming disorder in the International classification diagnostic manual (ICD-11) and this latter one will probably soon be a recognised disorder. Of mental health, which omits very important aspects which I will come to.
So apart from the very fact that I often end up bashing my head on the keyboard or falling over backwards in sheer frustration at these labels and diagnosis and the media spin on them I thought I would bring some aspects of this issue to the average media reader. I’m using some quotes and lines here from my second book, which I am frantically writing in the hope we can stop what I believe is nonsense in the face of remembering there is a human being at the very core of these diagnoses. I would rather that we looked at behaviours as having a root cause and understanding why these occur in the first instance rather than adding a label (which is for classification only, such as those that appear in taxonomy and on jars). After all, we are not our behaviours, they are a form of communication about something so let’s look at what I mean by that.
Ask a child what their motivations for playing a game are and they resemble the corporeal world: they want to hang out with their mates, they want to get to the next round (level), they want to improve their skills, they want to be part of a team and so on. We don’t say children are addicted to their friends and we do often say they are addicted to the activity. I’m not going to continue on here as this is in one of my previous blogs, I wanted to bring to you a little of my forthcoming book to give you a different look at this issue as the addiction framework is one I go into in-depth in the contents.
My second Book excerpts/quotes: each taken from a conversation within the text, these do not necessarily follow on directly from each other denoted by the breaks.
Are we addicted to smartphones or the internet?
Insert eye roll emoji or facepalm gif….
I don’t believe so in the true psychopathological sense, however, I think it would be helpful for the reader to understand the difference between a term used by psychiatrists used to diagnose/label or explain a behaviour and that of an everyday person using language to explain a behaviour.
I would ask what are those consequences and has anyone asked why the person engages in the behaviour in the first instance? What function does the behaviour serve? That is often the tell-tale motivator and to be quite frank I have often been informed by young people the internet is a place to ‘be’ or hang out with their friends and that they are in a household where they are bored/don’t communicate with parents/siblings and so they hang out with their friends online who may be geographically further away than is possible to go outside and play with. So, several things spring to mind here. How difficult it must be to live in a family where people don’t or can’t communicate with each other. This must feel very isolating, lonely and or neglectful? This must be very difficult for a child/adolescent to manage and perhaps they will feel that they have ‘done something wrong’ or ‘are bad/have a deficit in some way’. Given this line of thinking wouldn’t you want to hang out with other people?
In terms of the word addiction, I have often heard this used by parents/teachers when they want a child to engage in a particular behaviour and it seems the word addicted is then used when there is conflict. For example, the parent wants the child to put down the comic and put their shoes on for school. The child continues to walk across the room with the comic and the parent snatches it out of the child’s hands. (often telling them they are obsessed with these darn silly things). Perhaps a teen is using the house telephone and after 30 minutes of talking the parent wants to use it and suddenly the atmosphere changes, the parent waves at the child and performs an action akin to sign language and mouths get off the phone, increasingly the teen takes a few minutes to say goodbye and the parent becomes irate and the situation ends up with the parent getting rather angst and telling the child to ‘get off the darn phone!” I wonder if these situations are similar? Well indeed they are, however often I see or children/adolescents report parents snatching the smartphone/console away or turning them off mid-game/sentence and this results in the behaviour that’s often attributed to addiction. That reaction is anger from the child and hence this is where the everyday language has changed somewhat and now parents/teachers/professionals use the word addicted. We have created a system of blame and shame (more on this later) to appease the parents who want their children to conform/behave according to their agenda, wants and needs at the time and I wonder if the skills of parenting have become punitive rather than teaching, negotiation and compassion?
in terms of not engaging with people, doing chores, cleaning themselves or going out to get a job. Would we say this was a gaming addiction? Internet addiction? I think the answer could be yes in terms of the simple facts provided here without the contextual information. However, If I now elaborate with some more details or again another angle through the prism of human behaviour this perspective lends itself to looking like; withdrawal from face to face human connection which could be diagnosed as perhaps Autism or Depression? Both of these issues have all of the same ‘symptoms’ as above but a different ‘prognosis’ or treatment plan.
We could be ‘treating’ people for issues that we do not fully understand, would like to make money out of (more on this later) and most importantly for me are labelling children and young people with diagnoses that miss the person behind that label because we often don’t ask the questions that reveal why a person is doing this behaviour.
All behaviour is a form of communication. Understanding that communication means to understand the person. The human being at the end of the diagnoses.
These excerpts are taken from my book and are meant to introduce you to the complexities of this subject. As you read the media, how are you to know fully what a family’s life is really like and whether there are script/patterns of Internet use in that household? Furthermore, in relation to an article posted this week when a child uses a gaming platform to engage socially with friends (hint here its social) Twitch’ing can often provide other motivational factors, such as live streaming and increasing the ‘fanbase’ and being paid for it. I wonder what grown ups do to get paid and if we took their job away what their reaction might be? (sarcastic opinion I know but we do seem to have adult and child rules which often don’t make sense at times, particularly to children who can think for themselves.