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  • Writer's pictureMatthew Heake

A Dangerous Game: Unraveling the Connection Between Escapism and Emotional Regulation

Hello, dear readers!

Matthew here, coming to you from the heart of my home, where the worlds of family dynamics and therapeutic insights often blend into one.

As a work-from-home dad and primary caregiver, I've had the unique opportunity to observe my family's dynamics in a way that many might not. Recently, my wife fell ill, and while I was tending to her and our youngest, our eldest found herself with a surplus of free time. Enter the Nintendo Switch.


Now, before we get into the worries of a dystopian future of screen-addicted children, let me assure you, this was a temporary indulgence. We all need a break sometimes, right? But something curious happened after two days of extended gaming: our daughter became dysregulated, frustrated, and struggled to communicate her needs in ways that neither my wife nor I had seen before.

This observation led me down a path of reflection. Could there be a connection between her gaming sessions and her emotional state afterward? I think so and I think it comes down to unseen, untended needs of the human condition, silently neglected by the enraptured child, lost in Hyrule or whatever other virtual world they are playing in.


 

As a metaphorical thinker, I've long thought of our daily needs as humans as "batteries" that we must actively work to keep charged. Imagine each battery represents a different need: food, water, safety, power, connection, and so on. Throughout the day, we are always working (whether actively or passively) to keep these batteries charged. We eat when we're hungry, drink when we're thirsty, seek connection when we're lonely, and so on.

Video games, in their own unique way, can charge some of these batteries. They can provide a sense of power and creativity, and even a form of connection depending on the game. They enhance problem solving, reflexes, and eye hand coordination. I'm a staunch believer in the therapeutic benefits of gaming but am increasingly investigating the impact of sustained escapism. While our children are immersed in these digital worlds, their other essential needs or "batteries" may be slowly draining, unnoticed.

This was the case with our daughter. While she was engrossed in her game, her attention and connection batteries were slowly depleting. There was no warning, no indicator to tell her that these batteries were running low. And when she finally emerged from her digital world, she found herself in the deep end of emotional dysregulation, with no idea how she got there.



 

So, what can we do about this?


 

Limit screen time and encourage real-world interactions. This is about more than just reducing the time spent in front of a screen. It's about creating opportunities for our children to engage with the world around them. This could mean organizing family game nights, encouraging hobbies that don't involve screens, or simply spending time talking and connecting as a family. By doing this, we can help ensure that all of their "needs batteries" are being charged and balanced.

2. Teach them about their "needs batteries". Knowledge is power. By teaching our children about their various needs and how different activities can charge or drain these batteries, we can empower them to take control of their own emotional well-being. This could involve regular check-ins to discuss how they're feeling, and which batteries might need recharging. It could also involve teaching them strategies to recharge their batteries, such as deep breathing exercises for stress, or reaching out to a friend when they're feeling lonely.

Use moments of dysregulation as teaching opportunities. When our children become dysregulated, it's a clear sign that one or more of their batteries are running low. Instead of seeing these moments as problems, we can view them as opportunities to teach our children about self-regulation. This might involve helping them identify which battery is low (Are they hungry? Tired? In need of attention?), and then working together to find a solution.

Model healthy screen habits. Our children learn more from what we do than what we say. By demonstrating healthy screen habits ourselves, we can show our children that it's possible to enjoy digital media without letting it drain our batteries. This might involve setting aside specific times for screen use, taking regular breaks, and prioritizing real-world interactions.

Create a supportive environment. Finally, we can create an environment that supports our children's emotional well-being. This might involve setting up a quiet, comfortable space where they can relax and recharge, or establishing a routine that includes regular opportunities for connection and relaxation. By creating a supportive environment, we can help our children feel safe and secure, which can go a long way in helping them regulate their emotions.

Remember, every child is unique, and what works for one might not work for another. The key is to keep trying, keep communicating, and keep charging those batteries.


 

And there you have it, dear readers and friends. As we navigate the winding roads of mental health and technology, it's these shared experiences and insights that keep us connected. So, I invite you to join the conversation. Have you noticed a similar pattern in your own children? What about in yourself and what about with other technology? Our phones? Is this a thing, or just a fluke? Let me know in the comments, I truly love to read what you say and engage with the community.

 

If you've enjoyed this post, please consider subscribing to the blog. We're always exploring new ideas, and your insights are a valuable part of the conversation. Plus, you'll be the first to know when a new post goes live - it's like having a front-row seat to the parenting rollercoaster.

And remember, if you're a California resident and find yourself wishing for a life preserver in the sea of parenting challenges, I'm just a click away for one-on-one therapy sessions. Who knows, we might even find a way to turn those video game battles into bonding moments.

Until next time, remember: parenting is a journey, not a destination. And sometimes, that journey includes a detour through the Mushroom Kingdom. But don't worry, the princess is always in another castle - or in my case, the next room over, needing a snack.


Warmly,

Matthew

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