Is Your Child Addicted?
About the Guest
Today on the broadcast, Kurt and Olivia Bruner, authors of the book Playstation Nation, share with Dennis Rainey a story of a woman who decided to literally throw her son's Playstation out the window after his playing became addictive.
Kurt and Olivia BrunerKurt and his wife, Olivia, have been married since 1985 and have four great kids. He serves as Pastor of Spiritual Formation at Lake Pointe Church and on adjunct faculty with Dallas Theological Seminary. A graduate of Talbot Seminary and former Vice President with Focus on the Family, Kurt led the teams creating films, magazines, books and the popular Adventures in Odyssey program. As President of HomePointe Inc. Kurt also helps local church leaders create a culture of intentional families. He h...more
Kurt and Olivia Bruner tell a story of a woman who threw her son’s Playstation out the window after his became addicted.
Is Your Child Addicted?
Bob: So what's wrong with coming home from work or from school, sitting down in front of the TV, turning on the videogame system and playing a few video games for a couple of hours? I mean, it's just a way to unwind, right? Kurt Bruner says there may be more to it.
Kurt: Many activities can be a distraction from life. Video games become a replacement for life because you're the character, and everything is dependent upon you, as one of the young men we interviewed said. So it's this issue of real life is being replaced by something artificial and some thing that, as the research is now telling us, is very unhealthy and drags us towards a propensity to other addictive patterns.
Bob: This is FamilyLife Today for Wednesday, December 6th. Our host is the president of FamilyLife, Dennis Rainey, and I'm Bob Lepine. What happens when gaming becomes consuming, and what do parents do about it?
And welcome to FamilyLife Today, thanks for joining us.
Dennis: We had several phone calls coming in, Bob, that were really offering help and support groups for you as a recovering addict from "Tetris."
Bob: We're also getting calls saying, "Who is the Grinch couple that you're introducing on FamilyLife Today this week?" Because, you know, Christmas has just been ruined in many families all across America because of Kurt and Olivia Grinch – uh – Bruner, who are back with us on our program today.
Dennis: Yeah, Kurt and Olivia, welcome back to FamilyLife Today.
Olivia: Thank you.
Kurt: Thank you.
Dennis: They've written a book called "Playstation Nation."
Bob: [sings] You're a mean one, Mr. Bruner.
Kurt: Roast beast these.
Dennis: Every kid in America is going, "My precious, I want my precious Playstation." We want to say at the outset of this broadcast, we are not saying that video games are wrong.
Kurt: That's correct. Or immoral or …
Dennis: Yeah, and we're not legalistically trying to paint every family into a corner, but we are warning that there is an addictive quality to video games for children that we need to pay attention to today. In fact, it can be so compelling that it causes drama after drama in homes across America.
In fact, you guys write about such a drama in your home with your son, Kyle. And what I'd like you to do, Kurt, is be Kyle.
Kyle: All right.
Dennis: And, Olivia, you be Mom.
Dennis: And, Kurt …
Bob: Are you in touch with your inner child at this moment?
Kurt: Yeah, that's right, that's right.
Dennis: You're going to be about, I don't know 8, 9, 10 years old.
Kurt: I've got some M&Ms.
Dennis: There you go, you're all set, and you're really picking up on, Kyle, really wanting to play Nintendo.
Bob: And this was the case in your home.
Bob: When Kyle was 8, 9, 10 years old, you'd brought one of these systems home, and he really fell in love with hit, didn't he?
Olivia: Yes, he did. He fell in love with it right away, and always pushed for more time and learned quickly how to push my buttons and get more of that.
Kurt: [as Kyle]. Can I play Nintendo, can I?
Bob: Give us an example of how the dialog might have gone. Is that how he would start?
Kurt: [as Kyle]. Can I play Nintendo, Mom?
Olivia: Well, have you finished your homework and practiced your piano?
Kurt: [as Kyle]. Can't I play first?
Olivia: You know the rules, Kyle.
Dennis: Motivated by the prospect of digital delights, Kyle hurriedly completes his tasks.
Kurt: [as Kyle]. I'm done, I'm done. Can I play now?
Dennis: Feeling pretty good that my reward system rationale is working, Mom approves referencing my second restriction.
Olivia: Okay, but you need to set the timer for 30 minutes so that you can take a bath before bed.
Dennis: Distracted by other duties and pleased that Kyle is occupied, Mom loses track of time. Suddenly, she notices that an hour has passed.
Olivia: Kyle, are you still playing Nintendo?
Kurt: [as Kyle]. Yes, Mom.
Olivia: It's been an hour. I told you to set the timer for 30 minutes.
Kurt: [as Kyle]. I did.
Olivia: Then why are you still playing?
Kurt: [ as Kyle]. I just wanted to finish this level real quickly.
Olivia: Shut it off right now and get up to the bath.
Dennis: Oh, come on, now, you wouldn't have said it like that. You would have said, "Shut it off now and get yourself ready for bed!"
Olivia: Okay, let me change – "Shut it off right now and get up to the bath!"
Dennis: There we go, that's more like it.
Kurt: [as Kyle]. I can't shut it off.
Olivia: What do you mean, you can't shut it off?
Dennis: Now Mom is really becoming angry.
Kurt: [as Kyle]. Because I have to save my game.
Olivia: Then save it!
Kurt: [as Kyle]. I can't.
Olivia: Why can't you?
Kurt: [as Kyle]. Because I have to finish this level before it will let me save.
Olivia: How long will that take?
Kurt: [as Kyle]. Just a few minutes.
Olivia: Well, hurry up and come upstairs.
Kurt: [as Kyle]. Okay, Mom.
Dennis: Fifteen minutes later, no Kyle. Again, Mom finds him in front of the game.
Olivia: Kyle, I told you to get upstairs.
Kurt: [as Kyle]. I haven't saved my game yet.
Olivia: You said it would only take a few minutes. Do it now!
Kurt: [as Kyle]. Okay, just a second.
Bob: We've moved from minutes to seconds now.
Dennis: Yeah, that's right.
Kurt: There is a time/space continuum thing that happens when it's time to shut off the video games that those of us who don't play don't understand, but there is something about saving at levels that keeps it going and going and going.
Bob: Real life just slows down at that moment, doesn't it?
Olivia: Yes, yes.
Dennis: There has to be a lot of moms right now and, for that matter, some dads who are recognizing the dialog, and they're going, "Man, that happened last night at our house."
Kurt: I tell you, I used to – it drove me nuts when I'd say "Shut it off," and they'd say, "I can't." "I can come down and shut it off," and if you went to touch that switch – "No, don't shut it off!"
Dennis: It's like you're shutting off the universe.
Kurt: That's right. It's like somebody's heart is going to stop beating.
Dennis: Now, what I want you to do, though, is share the eight questions that you put in your book that really help a parent determine whether what happened last night is just normal in terms of a run-in with the child, or whether their child really has the beginning of an addiction to this video game.
Olivia: Well, I'd like to start out with a quote from Dr. Mark Griffiths of Nottingham Trent University, because he's the one who came up with this list of questions, and then we actually added one more that we had actually seen in our home.
"The video games of the 21st century may, in some ways, be more psychologically rewarding than the games in the 1980s in that they require more complex skills, improved dexterity, and feature socially relevant topics and better graphics. If these games offer greater psychological rewards, players might be more at risk of developing and addiction."
Bob: I can tell you that "Pong" never provided a whole lot of psychological reward for me.
Kurt: Well, it went from bleep bleep to bleepbleepbleep, and that was really exciting.
Bob: That's about as good as it got, yeah.
Kurt: But what's interesting that he's referencing is, there was research as early as the '80s on those rudimentary video games showing these addictive patterns. I mean, it's exponentially more dramatic now in terms of the capabilities of the games and therefore the draw and the addictive.
Bob: Well, and I've plunked a lot of quarters into Ms. Pac-Man and into Gallaga, and into those – so you know the feeling that you get when you shoot down all those spaceships and you go, "Cool, I'm at level 7."
Dennis: Well, and when I was a kid, I plunked down nickels in a pinball machine.
Bob: You are really ancient, aren't you?
Dennis: Well, you know, and it rewarded you by winning a game. And I remember going to the barbershop as a kid, and I had this one pinball machine that I could really …
Bob: The master.
Dennis: Yeah, I could really win the games on it, and so I'd go in and spend a nickel and play for a couple of hours. But it wasn't available like Playstation is today. I mean, it's in our homes. It's accessible almost every waking hour.
Kurt: In that generation, when I was a kid, no good parent dropped their kids at the video arcade because it was a seedy place, it was associated with irresponsibility and so forth. Now every good parent brings it right into our own homes – we think, because we love our kids.
I want to say something before we read the list, Dennis, that I hope will make sense. I perceive that God designed real life always to have a point of excitement and culmination and rest. That's true in athletics – there's a winner and a loser, and the game is over. That's true in sexual relationships, in healthy sexual relationships in marriage to where you have the culmination and the thrill and the ecstasy and then a rest.
But you think about sexual addiction, it's an ever-increasing desire, as C.S. Lewis said, ever-increasing desire forever diminishing satisfaction. It's this ongoing process that never brings you to a point of rest.
Video games are designed to never end; to always have another level to go to; to never have winner/loser but rather a whole 'nother complex twist that keeps you consumed with going further and further and further, and that's not the way God designed us for real life, and that leads to the hypertension, that leads to the addictive patterns and, frankly, the lack and loss of joy and satisfaction in life, which is one of our greatest concerns – is that these young men and some young women are missing out on what life was made to be because of this consumption and this compulsion.
Olivia: Okay, I'll read them.
Number one, does your child play almost every day? Is it something that he's wanting to do on a daily basis?
Two, does your child often play for long periods, over three to four hours at a time? I would even back that up to an hour or two. I mean, that's a long period.
Kurt: Actually, one study showed that an hour or more per day is considered obsessive play, and most parents we talked to said, "Well, I only let him play an hour to two a day." But it starts to have serious effects at that level.
Bob: The brain canals that you've talked about this week are already starting to occur with that.
Dennis: A number of weeks ago, Bob and I interviewed a couple of experts who had done research in the brain, and they made it real clear that, as a culture, we're not giving our kids down time as they play, which is low brain activity. Instead, we're putting them in these hyper tense situations that don't allow them to come to that point of rest, as you described, Kurt.
Kurt: Never-ending stimuli, that's right.
Olivia: Well, the next one – does your child play for excitement? Is it what he needs to get excited? Do you see him not getting excited about many things but, boy, when he's there, he's up.
Kurt: And I tell you, in the point of comparison is what you see happening to these children when they're not playing. Do they look lethargic or agitated or, you know, do you find that when they're not playing that that's what they need to [inaudible].
Bob: Do they seem to kind of come alive with the game and then just …
Kurt: In fact, it seems to be the only time they come alive.
Olivia: The next one is, does your child get restless and irritable if he or she can't play? Does your child sacrifice social and sporting activities to play? Will they say no to a friend to get together because they want to keep playing, or "No, I don't want to be on a sports team because that's too much work, too hard, I'd rather just play video games?"
The last chapter of this book we spend just giving you all sorts of alternatives to video games that you can excite – get your child excited about.
Kurt: I'll tell you, one of the funniest things is when we talk about this, parents say, "Well, what else would they do?" And we think back to – "Well, you know, they haven't always been around," and we did other things.
Dennis: You know, you're putting your finger on something, though, and we talked about this earlier. I think sometimes parents lean on video games as a crutch to entertain their children like a babysitter so that we can have some time.
Olivia: I did.
Dennis: And what starts as maybe a crutch becomes the addiction that we're talking about here, and then the parent is finding he or she can't find a way to get a relationship with their child at that point.
Kurt: Now, Dennis, you've gone to meddlin', but you're absolutely right, that's the kind of mistake we were making.
Bob: Yeah, it's not immoral, and it's a convenient electronic babysitter. It keeps them safe and protected.
Kurt: That's right.
Dennis: We've renamed our broadcast, "Meddling Life Today."
Bob: With the Grinches as our guests.
Dennis: Go on, number 6.
Olivia: Okay. Does your child play instead of doing homework?
Bob: Well, duh.
Olivia: Duh, I think that one everyone can answer yes to.
Dennis: Of course.
Kurt: Now, if you have a child who says, "Oh, no, no, no, I really want to do my homework first," you probably don't have a thing to worry about.
Olivia: And 7, does your child try to cut down on his or her playing but can't? So, in other words, they say "I'm going to only play this amount of time," and they just can't. I remember recently Kyle said to me – I had him read a journal of a young man that we know that's writing his journal down of how he has stepped back from video games, and he's writing down …
Kurt: … the process.
Olivia: The process and how he's feeling. I had Kyle read it, and I said, "Kyle did you identify to his feelings," and he said, "Oh, yeah, Mom, and especially the one about not being able to stop and feeling guilty when you keep playing. He didn't even want to play anymore, but he could not stop himself.
Kurt: We interviewed a young man, and I asked him, point blank, "Did you find yourself playing when you weren't enjoying playing?" He says, "Oh, yeah, all the time," which is a classic sign of addictive behavior.
Bob: Of compulsive behavior.
Olivia: The last one that we actually added to Dr. Griffith's list, because I think those are very serious questions, and I think some kids wouldn't fall into as many of those even though they do have the compulsion, or they're on their way to an addiction. So we added the last one – does your child seem to be losing interest in real-life activities?
So does his interest seem to lie in video games only? And it's not that he won't do those other things or he's not necessarily irritated if he can't, but, boy, give him a choice, he's going gaming over everything else.
Kurt: People will make the comparison to television or, as I said earlier, books or whatever it may be. This is the difference – many activities can be a distraction from life. Video games become a replacement for life, because you're the character and everything is dependent upon you, as one of the young men we interviewed said.
So it's this issue of real life is being replaced by something artificial and something that, as the research is now telling us, is very unhealthy and drags us towards – frankly, towards a propensity to other addictive patterns, because you become more susceptible when you have one addiction to replacing it with other addictions.
Bob: You guys brought the Nintendo home when Kyle was 8 and pulled the plug when he was 14. If there is a mom or a dad listening going, you know, "I think we need to do something here. I think we need to have an intervention. I think we need to pull the plug and get this out of the home." How would you coach them to initiate that process with their children and then coach them for the weeks or months that lie ahead?
Kurt: A couple of things – that's why we wrote the book, is we wish we had this information so inform yourself, learn what the research is saying, read the stories of those who have gone through it to prepare yourself for what you are about to do.
The other thing we did, we felt, at the end of writing this book, we thought, "Boy, we've really got to give parents something, because we handled it a certain way, and we learned through it." But most parents are going to say, "I wouldn't even know what to say to my child."
So one of the things we've done is provided an open letter to those who love video games. It's a basic script to help parents – they could read it directly, or they could take from it – but to sit down and explain to the child, "We are about to make a decision that's going to be difficult, but you need to understand some things. You need to understand what the research is saying in terms of addictive pattern; you need to understand what effects we're seeing in your life; you need to understand why we're making this decision; and you need to expect what's about to happen because of this decision."
Dennis: You begin your book with a dramatic story of a mom who unplugged and then did something quite symbolic with – was it Nintendo?
Olivia: Her kids were older, so I think it might have been one of the newer systems. But, yes, we – I met with – one of the first ladies I met with. She said she woke up in the middle of the night, 2 in the morning, found her boys downstairs playing the game system, and they – at this point, she had begun limiting it to an hour a day, and they were not handling it well.
So when she'd asked them to turn it off, they were in the middle of something, of course, "I can't turn it off," so they paused it instead of turning it off, waited until Mom and Dad fell asleep, and then went back down to finish up their game.
When she went down there, she said she was livid. You know, she was so upset, she went upstairs to her bedroom, and she prayed. She said, "I prayed for 20 minutes. I paced the room, I asked God, 'Please give me wisdom on what to do here.' But I thought to myself, 'If I wait until tomorrow to ask, they will change my mind.'"
So she went back to that bedroom, boxed everything up in a box, went up to her top floor of her house …
Dennis: … with the kids watching.
Olivia: With the kids watching, and threw everything off the deck, three stories down.
Bob: Mom went berserk last night.
Kurt: She's lost her mind. And she – you know, the beautiful sound of smashing electronics that's on the ground, and the kids are living their nightmare.
Olivia: I wouldn't suggest that for everybody.
Dennis: Yeah, but, later, didn't one of those children say that was a key and symbolic moment in his life, because it made the point in his life that it had become far too important to him?
Olivia: Yes, exactly, and he watched – he had a group of buddies, about seven of them, and he watched all of them go to college, and four out of the seven ended up quitting school the first semester, coming home, getting part-time jobs, so they could have more video game playtime. And he saw that that compulsion for him was gone, so he was able to focus on the next stage of his life, and he really thanked his mom for that – later, later, not that night.
Kurt: That's another thing – in answer to your question, Bob, parents have to be ready. This is a tough thing to do. It's very tough. You have to be patient, you have to be firm, and you have to have resolve. That's why it's critical you understand what the research says so that it's not a passing whim, but you're convinced, as we were, you know what? This is going to be tough, but for the long term, happiness, joy, health of my child, I've got to make a difficult choice.
Olivia: And there are some games that are more addictive than others, and we do talk about that in the book. One of the suggestions I give in the book is treat it like a board game. Put it in a box, label it "Gamecube," and put it away so it doesn't scream at you, and then get it out for a Family Night, you know, you play Mario Card together, and then you put it back in the box, and you put it away, and you resolve to say, "You're not playing this alone, you're not playing it all the time, and we're only going to own the games that are non-addictive."
And that's only a few games, to tell you the truth, there's not very many.
Bob: But Mario Card is one of them?
Olivia: Mario Card is one of them.
Kurt: They're the ones nobody wants to play.
Dennis: Bob is looking a little too excited here.
Bob: How about Tetris, is Tetris okay?
Dennis: It may be time to reinstitute Bob's support group. You know, one quality that you guys have embodied, and I just want to thank you for your work here – is courage. There are a lot of parents who let their kids rule in the home today, and, Olivia, Kurt, I just appreciate you guys and how you have been courageous in serving families around the world, first at Focus on the Family and now this new assignment that you have, and, as you've been talking here, I've been thinking about just a spiritual answer for our children as they replace their Gameboy with submission to the real man, Jesus Christ.
Matthew 6:24, Jesus said, "No one can serve two masters, or either he will hate the one and love the other, or he will hold to one and despise the other." You cannot serve God and Mammon, speaking of money.
Now, the context of that is The Sermon on the Mount, and Jesus is speaking about the love of money, but you know what? It's that same addictive quality that Jesus Christ came to break, and I think what we need to challenge our sons and daughters with in terms of a replacement for Gameboy is submission to Jesus Christ and His Lordship of their lives. That's the real life God came to offer them, and I know that's what you're trying to do with your sons.
Kurt: And the Scripture that we go to is – because, again, it's a difficult issue because most games are not immoral, but the Apostle Paul wrote to the church at Corinth, "Everything is permissible to me but not everything is beneficial. Everything is permissible for me, but I will not be mastered by anything." And this is exactly what's occurring.
No, it's not immoral, but it is mastering the life of your child. Please intervene, please inform yourself, and please play a redemptive role in their future.
Bob: And I really appreciate the fact that you guys have addressed this subject not from a whacko, reactionary, you know, parents need to raise up – I mean – the book really is …
Dennis: There are a lot of kids, Bob, that are right now thinking, "This is pretty" …
Bob: It sounds pretty whacko and reactionary to me. But I think parents are going to find that this is a balanced approach that you guys are not just going off on some deep end. You're saying, be alert, be informed, be aware, and be prayerful as you handle this whole issue, as you decide about having a game system in your home, about how often you'll allow the kids to use it, how you monitor all of that. I just think it's a very helpful book.
It's called Playstation Nation. It's in our FamilyLife Resource Center. You can go to our website, FamilyLife.com, and you'll see in the middle of the screen a red button that says "Go," and if you click that button, it will take you right to a page where there is more information about Kurt and Olivia's book. There is also a link to the website that you guys have set up on this issue. That's on our website at FamilyLife.com as well.
There's information about the book that you and Barbara wrote, Dennis, called "Parenting Today's Adolescent," because, frankly, this issue we've been talking about is just one of a myriad of issues that parents are going to face as children move through the preteen years and into the teenage years, and we need to have our convictions settled before our kids move through those years.
We need to be thinking ahead about the issues they're going to be facing and play offense rather than play defense, and that's what your book, "Parenting Today's Adolescent," helps us do. Again, information on all of these resources on our website at FamilyLife.com. Click the red button that says "Go," and any of our listeners who are interested in getting copies of both the book "Playstation Nation" and "Parenting Today's Adolescent," we'll send along at no additional cost the CD audio of our conversation this week with Kurt and Olivia Bruner.
You can review it again or pass it along to someone who might benefit from hearing this interaction. Again, our website is FamilyLife.com. You can also call us at 1-800-358-6329, that's 1-800-F-as-in-family, L-as-in-life, and then the word TODAY, and we'll make arrangements to have the resources that you need sent out to you.
You know, I've been encouraged this week. We have been hearing from some of our listeners who have already contacted us during the month of December, who have heard about the matching gift opportunity that has been made available to us, and they have already gotten in touch with us to say that they want to be a part of helping us take full advantage of this matching gift opportunity.
We've had some friends of the ministry who got together and said they will match every donation that comes into FamilyLife during December on a dollar-for-dollar basis up to a total of $500,000. So whenever somebody give us a gift of $50, that gets matched with another $50 gift from these folks, and the same with $100 and so on.
It's been encouraging to hear from folks already who are calling or going online and saying we want to partner with you. We want to make sure that you are able to take full advantage of this matching gift and reach the goal of $500,000 in matched funds.
So if you can help with a donation of any amount this month, it's a great time to do it. You can go to our website at FamilyLife.com and make a donation online, or call 1-800-FLTODAY, make your donation over the phone, and we look forward to hearing from you. We want to say thanks in advance for whatever you can do to help us with this matching gift opportunity here during the month of December.
Well, tomorrow I hope you can be back with us. We're going to introduce you to Michael and Haley Demarco, and we're going to hear about a challenge that Michael faced back before he and Haley ever met. He became a compulsive gambler, and it landed him in jail. We'll hear his story about how gambling grabbed hold of his heart, and I hope you can be with us for that.
I want to thank our engineer today, Keith Lynch, and our entire broadcast production team. On behalf of our host, Dennis Rainey, I'm Bob Lepine. We'll see you back tomorrow for another edition of FamilyLife Today.
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