Growing up in the 70’s and 80’s a lot of us spent our time in arcades. Whether we were playing classic games like Galaga or a more modern game like Altered Beast, we were all to happy to feed quarters into machines until our pockets were empty. The goal was to keep your initials at the top of the scoreboard. Every weekend you would go back to the arcade and hope that they were still there. Usually they were, but occasionally you would be pushed down a slot or two. Sometimes even worse some nefarious, dastardly soul would unplug the machine to reset the scoreboard so he could claim the top spot with ease. That was not the only problem people had at the arcade. As it turns out there were a few, but you expect that with any social situation involving teens and preteens.
I will never forget some of the behavioral problems that other kids displayed while we were there. They would get so angry they would hit and kick machines, swearing was not uncommon either, neither was throwing drinks or food at the machines. Some of them would go so far they would be kicked out of the arcade because of how badly they were acting. I grew up with a brother who had some of these problems. He had other diagnosed mental illnesses as well. He would strive for that high score only limited by the quarters in his pockets and the time he had in the arcade. If he failed in his goal there was no telling what his reaction would be. His reaction though, was always limited to a few seconds long and never just loomed over him day after day. He might let a swear word slip out, or hit or kick the machine. I can’t say I ever remember him throwing anything at one though, but I definitely remember other kids doing that, or just going on an absolute tirade for several minutes at a time.
Things got a little worse when console systems entered our home but we were still limited to game play by ourselves or just between us in the same room. We were not in competition with random strangers so willing to throw out insults in a bullish way. My brother would get angry, and occasionally a controller would end up broken but things never really got out of hand, and no one ever directed their anger over a game towards another person. It was just anger and frustration in general.
Things are so different for our kids today. 24-hours-a-day, 7-days-a-week they are constantly presented with ways to score themselves and compare themselves to their peers. Through games and social media they have a never-ending supply of scoreboards to look at to either raise or lower their own self-worth all for free. Whether they carry the most kills on the leader-board in Call of Duty: Ghosts or have the most friends on Facebook, they are constantly seeing some type of scoring system online.
We used to go to the arcade for fun, food, and drinks. To hang out with friends, and socialize. The ambient noise itself was a unique experience in every arcade. There were groups of people hanging out, there were people there by themselves, but by in large everyone always ended up interacting with another person before they left. I think every arcade had the occasional bully who would come in, push you off of “his machine”, but that experience was never enough to traumatize you in any way. There was an entire social hierarchy to the way it all worked, but it all involved people interacting with people in person. No one person ever really seemed any better or worse than any other person.
Being attached to a device that is online constantly gives our children way too many opportunities to develop habits that can cause problems. There are far too many opportunities to be judged by others or to judge yourself.
Before we lost our daughter to suicide last September, she was hanging around these online groups designated to the practice of “cutting”. At first it seemed like a fad, or a “cool” thing to do. We placed her into therapy immediately when we found out about it. Then she joined the school marching band. While in the 7th grade, she was accepted into the high school marching band. Things seemed to be going great for her. We had no idea she was still frequenting “cutting” groups, and just doing a better job of hiding her cuts. We had no idea she had graduated to pages that talked about suicide on Facebook, Google+, and Tumblr… not suicide prevention… but suicide. She was using utilities and addons to hide her online activities. We were not “snooping” parents to begin with, we did not know she was hiding things until 10 months after she was gone and we noticed browser addons like “Delete All Facebook Messages”, among others. Then comes the trouble with online bullying. We simply do not know if Chaney was ever bullied online. We know she was bullied sometimes at school. We know she was once invited to a sleepover pretty much for the sole purpose of being the outcast for the other girls. I can only imagine that those things carried over to her online social life as well.
Online bullies often have completely disassociated themselves and their actions from their natural and taught moral and ethical code while interacting with people online. There is no person there, just a screen; any and all values they hold are thrown aside in the name of a good laugh. In their own minds, they could not possibly affect someone so negatively with the things they say so haphazardly, right? Unfortunately, for another child looking for validation or acceptance those words can be absolutely devastating.
I know too many kids now who spend too much time in their bedroom on their tablets, phones, and laptops — and almost no time with actual people even when it comes to family. Encouraging our kids to get up and get outside and off of the internet will do them a world of good. Get them involved in something, something they can work on and see the effects of and in the end be proud of. Don’t allow their “online life” to be their “only life”. My wife and I, and our young boys are involved through several churches in the area with HUD housing every Thursday evening. As often as we can, we go and help those churches that come together and cook out (or in if the weather is bad) and just feed people in the community. Not all of them are there out of necessity. There is no preaching, or recruiting being done. Everyone is there to offer friendship, and work together as a community. Our boys also try and do everything that they can with our nonprofit. They offer every idea that pops into their minds to try and raise funds for it, unfortunately they are only 8 and 10 and none of it would really work but their hearts are definitely in the right place.