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A Sad Reminder of the Influence of Video Games


Here in Canada where I live, a story began unfolding on Canada's Thanksgiving Day weekend on October 12, 2008.


In the province of Ontario, 15-year-old Brandon Crisp was handed the ultimate judgment from his frustrated and loving father when his treasured Xbox was taken away. It seems Brandon had become totally immersed in playing a particular game -- Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare -- during which he interacted with other on-line players over the Internet.


Watching his son become further and further pulled into the game's universe, and even waking up during the middle of the night to hear his boy playing the game (an account recorded by Brandon's mom in an October 22, 2008 follow-up article), Brandon's father Steve finally took the game away.


In response, Brandon did what so many of us parents have watched our own kids do -- he ran away.


"I fully expected him to be home the next day or evening at worse, with his tail between his legs," said his distraught father on October 27, 2008 in yet another article reporting that the boy still had not been located.


On November 5, 2008, police and volunteers found a body of a young boy near the Crisp's home after weeks of massive search efforts. Later autopsy reports indicate he died from injuries to his chest that likely happened after falling from a tree.


In the October 27 interview, Steve Crisp said, "[The game] has become [Brandon's] identity, and I didn't realize how in-depth this was until I took his Xbox away... That's like cutting his legs off. This is such an issue that hits every parent out there, with video games that are starting to control our kids' lives."


Here in Canada, this story has become a national reminder as to how necessary it is for parents to monitor and hold a regular dialogue with their children about what they are doing on the Internet, what kinds of video games they play, and many other aspects of media use that may be affecting their mental health.


Coincidentally, just last month Toronto's Centre for Addiction and Mental Heath began Canada's first clinic specifically designed to help young people who are struggling with Internet and video game addictions. Called the Adolescent Clinical Education Service (ACES), the program also deals with gambling -- another draw for adolescents who are chronic Internet users.


Dr. Bruce Ballon, head of the new clinic, says the idea is in response to "tons of calls" from parents complaining about their children's Internet use. He says addictive on-line behavior is usually "another manifestation or coping mechanism or strategy to deal with other issues."


Currently Ballon, a child psychiatrist, along with another psychologist and researcher, are seeing patients between the ages of 16 and 24, however he says he wants to include teens as young as 14.


If it's at all surprising that children as young as 14 are having serious game playing issues, you may also be interested to know some 40-year-olds are in similar straits. This article details stories of two men, one 40 the other 37, who also battled with game playing addictions -- along with other often related behaviors.


With the holiday season upon us, these tragic tales of a recreational activity gone wrong are an important reminder of how technology often creeps past its intended boundaries. Whether a spouse, child or other significant loved one, if you notice tendencies toward unexplained drops in school or work performance, missing money, mysterious credit card charges, or changing sleep habits, you may want to investigate the cause of such changes.


Also, make use of the latest operating systems' features on personal computers and video game consoles to limit Internet use and time spent on particular games or even on the computer itself. And keep your home computer and video game system in a prominent place where people can see who is using it and what they are doing. Avoid allowing computers and games to be used in bedrooms or other private places -- and if possible try and model this behavior yourself.


Today (November 14, 2008) Brandon's parents are attending the funeral for their son. It turns out Brandon loved playing hockey, but was deemed to be too small to continue on his team. That's when he began his obsession with video games.


As a parent of four (and a guy who was also often relegated to sitting on the sidelines because I was horrible at competitive sports) my heart goes out to them completely. They tried so hard to allow their son to have what he wanted, and at the same time they did what they thought was best to guide his actions. May all of us, parents and children, determine not to let this happen again.


Rod Gustafson

Besides writing this column for the Parents Television Council, Rod Gustafson authors Parent Previews - a newspaper and Internet column (published in association with movies.com) that reviews movies from a parent's perspective. He's also the film critic for a major Canadian TV station, various radio stations and serves on the executive of the Alberta Association for Media Awareness. Finally, his most important role is being the father to four wonderful children and husband to his beautiful wife (and co-worker) Donna.

Parenting and the Media by Rod Gustafson

The Parents Television Council - www.parentstv.org

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