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MOV Parent: Keep it real

I’ve had too many pixelated representations of real people lately. Zoom and FaceTime have come in really handy lately, but I’m ready to get back to normal. I’m sure most of you feel the same, but its going to be a new normal. In the mean time, sales of TVs, gaming consoles, and video games have skyrocketed. The rate of binge watching streaming video has massively increased during our pandemic lockdown. We’ve replaced the real for the virtual, like a baby takes a pacifier to replace the real thing. What happens when you take the baby’s pacifier? It’s not pretty.

I’ve read several “pandemic” articles about how binge-watching, social media, and gaming are great ways to escape the monotony and isolation we’ve been in lately. I disagree. There have been several studies over the past decade asserting that there are negative effects from excessive screen time; sleep problems, obesity, depression and an increase in anxiety to name a few. Those studies are still true. Excessive screen time has been defined as more than 2 hours a day. How many hours are you logging on all of your screens? I venture to guess that most of us are going way over the 2 hour recommended daily allowance.

In my work with individuals and families, the challenge of managing media always comes up. During the pandemic, this challenge has only increased. This is especially true for parents that are trying to keep their teens unplugged and in reality for at least part of their daily life. Teens are a population that therapists are especially concerned about during this pandemic time. This is because in lieu of reality, many teens are organizing their lives around the virtual. I’m talking about video gaming and social media becoming the priority daily activities.

The danger in organizing one’s life around gaming or social media is that the complexity of life is avoided. Video games, while challenging, are programmed for the player to win. The virtual world, while rich in visuals and sound, is still very simple when compared to reality. It’s like the difference between being good at “Guitar Hero” versus a real 6 stringed guitar. So in that regard, becoming a master gamer isn’t really that impressive unless the gamer is also able to master his emotions and operate effectively in the real world.

There is a similar concern with social media. We can stridently voice our feelings and opinions on our favorite social platform and receive complete acceptance and support in return. This is because we choose to accept followers and friends with whom we can readily agree and relate. This becomes an echo chamber in which nothing new or different is heard from what you already think and feel. Its socially one-dimensional, and makes you one-dimensional as well. Reality is three-dimensional. The truth is not all of our thoughts and feelings are valid. We all need friends that can speak truth into our lives by saying “I think you are wrong about that” or “I disagree with you”. This is uncomfortable, but keeps us in touch with reality.

So keep it real, and keep it real for your kids. Feel your feelings instead of avoiding them. Stay vulnerable to the real people in your real life. Organize your life around the real instead of the virtual.

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Patrick Ward, Ph.D. is a marriage and family therapist in Parkersburg. Visit his website at patrickwardphd.com

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