Do Video Games Cause Attention Problems? Can They Reduce Attention Problems?

Posted on August 4, 2012 at 8:00 am

nick gets an unsolicited backrub from a two year old fan while he plays video games - _MG_3371

Parents of children with attention deficit issues like distractibility often note that their children can become utterly absorbed in a computer game even though they have trouble maintaining focus in other environments.  According to the Child Mind Institute’s Caroline Miller:

First, “there is no evidence whatsoever that TV or video games cause ADHD,” explains Dr. Natalie Weder, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute who has treated many kids with the disorder.

That said, super-fast-paced TV shows and video games do have a special appeal for kids who have ADHD. “If you think about SpongeBob, or a video game, there’s never a second when there’s nothing happening on the screen,” Dr. Weder notes. “If you’re playing a video game, you have to immediately respond; otherwise you lose. You don’t have time to think. So kids with ADHD are very drawn to that, because it makes them have to pay attention. There are no gaps for them to start thinking about something else.”

Video games effectively hold the attention of kids who find it very challenging to concentrate in the rest of their lives. “In fact, a child’s ability to stay focused on a screen, though not anywhere else, is actually characteristic of attention deficit hyperactivity disorder,” writes Dr. Perri Klass, a pediatrician, in the New York Times. “There are complex behavioral and neurological connections linking screens and attention, and many experts believe that these children do spend more time playing video games and watching television than their peers.”

But what’s happening when kids are absorbed in video games isn’t the same thing as the kind of paying attention that other tasks require.

“Continuous activity doesn’t mean sustained attention,” points out Dr. Ron Steingard, a child and adolescent psychiatrist at the Child Mind Institute. “It looks like sustained attention, but the truth is that the task is changing so rapidly, short bursts of attention are all that’s involved. These games are constantly shifting focus, and there is instant gratification and reward.”

It makes sense the kids with ADHD would find games more compelling than the average person. “It’s the perfect fit of the medium with the pathology,” notes Dr. Steingard. “Nothing else in life moves that quickly and rewards that spontaneously. For a person who’s into delayed gratification and a slower pace, they don’t have as much appeal.”

The makers of some new video games are so confident that their products actually help kids to learn how to focus that they are seeking approval from the Food and Drug Administration to market their games as a treatment for ADD:

Akili Interactive Labs Inc. of Boston, Massachusetts, which was created by start-up-creating firm PureTech Ventures, andBrain Plasticity Inc. of San Francisco, California are seeking Food and Drug Administration (FDA) approval for a videogame treatment they hope physicians will recommend before prescribing medicines for ADHD.

The companies’ projects are based on research, which suggests that action videogames can sharpen players’ ability to concentrate, and may have other medical or health benefits. Last April, University of Toronto researchers reported that action videogame play causes improvement in “visual attention,” which is needed to drive a car or track changes on a computer display. In 2010, University of Rochester and University of Minnesota researchers found that action videogames can train individuals to make the right decisions faster.

If proven effective, physician-prescribed video games could treat neurological illnesses without exposing patients to the side effects seen with today’s medications such as Ritalin.

The fast pace and continual positive reinforcement can be especially appealing to kids who are not comfortable in school and social environments.  Miller notes that while the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends an hour per day of total media screen time (including computers and television/DVDs) for elementary school children, and two hours for kids in secondary school, the average is closer to six hours.  Parents should make sure that kids spend at least as much time exercising and playing with other children as they do interacting with media.

(Photo courtesy of photographer and copyright holder Sean Dreilinger.  All rights reserved)

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Doonesbury Passes the Torch to a New Generation

Posted on August 3, 2012 at 3:34 pm

Doonesbury was the voice of my generation.  Joanie Caucus and I started law school the same year.  As the Doonesbury characters were getting married and having children, and surviving the 70’s, 80’s, 90’s, and 00’s, my friends and I were, too.  Vietnam, Watergate, AIDS, the women’s movement, yuppies, gay rights, oil, scandals, dictators, Reagan, Bush, Clinton, Bush, love, loss, families, from the personal to political and back again — all were reflected, mocked, and illuminated in Garry Trudeau’s comic strip, in some papers placed on the editorial page instead of the comic page.  His insightful and sympathetic portrayal of wounded veterans has been exceptionally moving.

And now, with the wedding of Mike’s daughter Alex to the Iraqi war veteran Toggle, the strip is shifting to make her and her generation the focus.  Alyssa Rosenberg has a lovely and touching  tribute to this generational shift on Think Progress.

Daily cartoon strips may not get as much credit as they ought to for shaping the cultural zeitgeist, but throughout her life, and mine, Alex Doonesbury’s been one of the best female characters, of any age, in any medium. She’s a child of divorced parents with a complicated relationship with her mother that made her mature and self-protective rather than the victim of cliche trauma, and loving, collaborative tie to her stepmother, a Vietnamese refugee adopted by American Jews. In addition to both of these women, Alex has a father who spars with her on politics, works with her on business projects, and treats her like a mature person with worthy ideas. She’s been a full member of the cast almost from her birth because she was that important in Mike’s life, and she became so in ours. Alex is a computer genius without falling into sexy hacker tropes, and her skills brought her closer to her parents and all the way to MIT, a point of pride so fierce that MIT students rigged the voting to win her as a fictional fellow student. And her love story with Toggle, a disabled veteran with less education and a decidedly different family background from Alex’s own, has been part of Doonesbury’s transition into a more expansive portrait of American life.

In walking her down the aisle to Toggle at her June wedding, Mike ceded pride of place in her heart to a new man, and informally deeded the strip to a new generation of characters.

 

Once again, Trudeau’s timing is impeccable, and I look forward to following Alex and Toggle — and watching how the original characters continue their own adventures as elder statesmen and emereti.

 

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Keeping Children Safe Online: Club Penguin

Posted on August 3, 2012 at 8:00 am

We warn our children not to talk to strangers, but how do we protect them when there are online resources set up specifically for them to make new friends?  Forbes has a thoughtful piece about Club Penguin, a social networking site for school-age children.

Successful sites like Club Penguin have made child safety a primary goal, and by most accounts, parents are comfortable letting their little Penguins roam about the Town. Penguins can “chat” with other penguins in two ways: by selecting pre-written phrases, especially useful for the spelling-challenged age group, or by upgrading to “Standard Safe Chat” which enables users to create their own messages but filters them to block inappropriate language or personal information.

Resources like the Family Online Safety Institute and Common Sense Media help families talk about rules to keep kids safe online.  Just like you talk to kids about rules for crossing the street and making sure they are neither a bully or bullied, it is essential that families discuss the difference between online and real friends and the importance of keeping private information private.

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Diary of a Wimpy Kid: Dog Days

Posted on August 2, 2012 at 6:09 pm

Lowest Recommended Age: 4th - 6th Grades
MPAA Rating: Rated PG for some rude humor

This is the third movie based on the wildly popular Diary of a Wimpy Kid series by Jeff Kinney. With each movie, the franchise becomes better at milking the formula that causes 4th graders to cringe with delight.  The story is always the same: Greg Heffley (Zachary Gordon) suffers through the traumas and indignities of a young boy growing up.  Tormented by his older brother, hounded by his younger brother, misunderstood by his parents and teachers, and haunted by Holly ( Peyton List), the unattainable pretty girl in his class, Greg muddles through one humiliating mishap after another, accompanied by his well-intentioned best friend Rowley (Robert Capron).

This episode, which is based on the fourth book in the Wimpy Kid series, begins at the close of the school year.  The last day is of course excruciating (Greg’s father accidentally gave the school a humiliating baby picture of Greg for the yearbook) but Greg is looking forward to a long and happy summer of computer games and time with Holly.  Alas, it is not to be.  Greg’s father insists that Greg get out of the house and do something worthwhile.  From this premise follows a summer full of catastrophes.  Greg’s parents think he might become more responsible if he takes care of a dog.  Then they try signing him up to learn outdoorsmanship with Wilderness Troop 133.  They consider enrolling him at a disciplinary prep school for irresponsible children.  Finally, Greg’s parents leave him alone when he tells them that he has found a summer job.  In reality, Greg has no job; he spends the summer sneaking into a country club where he tries to impress Holly.  This lie will not end well for Greg, yet like all of the Wimpy Kid movies, everything ends on a warm and upbeat note.

Greg describes his baby brother’s security blanket as “a couple of pieces of yarn held together by raisins and boogers.”  One could describe the plot of this movie the same way.  There is very little plot to hold together a string of contrived and embarrassing anecdotes.  When Greg jumps off the high dive board in front of everyone at the country club, his swim trunks improbably catch on the diving board and come off.  He is trapped in the pool naked until an even more embarrassing alternative presents itself: Greg slips on a girl’s bathing suit labeled “princess” across the butt, and hurries out of the pool while people laugh at him and call him “loser.” These episodes are all painful but consistent with the brand of Wimpy Kids, the film always turns away just before the situation becomes truly awful.
The children in the theater all seemed to enjoy being grossed out by Greg’s misadventures.  They simultaneously laughed out loud and yelled “Eeewwwwwww.”  But those who are old enough to have come to terms with normal bodily functions may be less intrigued.

(more…)

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Total Recall

Posted on August 2, 2012 at 6:00 pm

B+
Lowest Recommended Age: High School
MPAA Rating: Rated PG-13 for intense sequences of sci-fi violence and action, some sexual content, brief nudity, and language
Profanity: Some strong language (for example, s-words, one f-word)
Alcohol/ Drugs: Drinking
Violence/ Scariness: Intense and sustained sci-fi action and violence, shooting, explosions, characters injured and killed
Diversity Issues: Diverse characters
Date Released to Theaters: August 3, 2012
Amazon.com ASIN: B005LAII3A

Will the 2012 version of the story inspired by Philip K. Dick’s “We Can Remember it for You Wholesale” erase the memory of the Arnold Schwarzenegger sci-fi classic from 1990?  Dick’s story is about a time in the future when a company named Rekal (Rekall in the films) implants false memories to order — vacations, heroic missions, romances  –and a man who tries to buy a memory only to find that his own real-life memories have been imperfectly erased and he is neither what nor who he thought he was.  Both movie versions are very loose adaptations, but both, like the story, are about heroes who have no memory of their previous lives as spies and assassins until an attempt to insert a happy memory of a vacation trip inadvertently jars loose some imperfectly erased memories of another life.

The original film is fondly remembered but even its fans admit that it is cheesy, with special effects that look like cardboard compared to today’s digital enhancements.  The new version has vastly better effects and a vastly better actor with Colin Farrell as Quaid (Quail in the story).  He is a factory worker (jackhammer operator in the earlier film) whose dreams seem more real to him than his waking life with a beautiful, affectionate, and sympathetic wife (Kate Beckinsale as Lori, memorably played in the original by Sharon Stone).

Director Len Wiseman (the “Underworld” movies and “Life Free or Die Hard”) and production designer Patrick Tatopoulos create a dazzlingly dystopic world.  If it draws heavily on the brilliant work of Syd Mead in “Blade Runner,” at least it pays homage to the best and, after all, that was also based on a Dick story about a dark future and the exploitation of imperfect memory.  As in “Blade Runner,” the setting combines the decay of edifices contemporary to our time that we still think of as impressive and useful with the imposition of harshly impersonal spaces and some mind-boggling technology that is matter-of-factly ordinary for the characters who use it.  The hover car and the literally hand-held phone are great fun.  There are some major logical inconsistencies in the story but it works as a popcorn pleasure.

Some people have strong attachments to the original movie and embrace the cheesiness and for them this re-imagined version is unlikely to replace that memory.  While it honors the earlier version, sometimes directly, sometimes with a cheeky twist, this version works just fine on its own, with well-staged chases and confrontations and even a bit of existential rumination about memory, identity, and redemption.  Beckinsale’s character is more prominent than Stone’s (yes, she is married to the director, with whom she worked in the vampiric “Underworld” series as well, but it works).  Bryan Cranston, Bill Nighy, and Bokeem Woodbine contribute solid performances that keep things grounded.  No Mars, no turban, no “consider this a div-ausss,” but it is an entertaining, visually striking adventure with a main character you will not want to forget.

Parents should know that this film includes a great deal of intense and sometimes graphic sci-fi action, peril, and violence, with many shoot-outs and many characters injured and killed.  There are some disturbing images of mutants.  Characters use some strong language (mostly s-words and one f-word), drink, and get drunk.  There are some sexual references and a non-explicit situation and brief nudity (a woman with three breasts).

Family discussion: How did Quaid decide who to believe?  If you had a chance to buy a memory from Rekall, would you?  What would it be?

If you like this, try: “Blade Runner,” also based on a story by Philip K. Dick, and the original “Total Recall” with Arnold Schwarzenegger.

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