When today’s kids don’t blink, are they just zoned out or are they mesmerized by mind-numbing games and addictive media?
In other words, are they being zombified?
Look around and see the busy fingers and mindless stares of pre-teens and teens of this generation--those who would rather look at an electronic screen than make eye contact with humans, even their own families.
These kids are always looking down, since they get their kicks from hand-held games, phone apps and action videos. At home, social interaction is stymied by supersize TV screens that feature inane game shows, plotless movies and mind-deadening comedies with canned laughter.
But due to social isolation imposed by their media addiction, the more sensitive kids may suffer from anxiety attacks. Some have begun to look to those same media sources to help them bug out from their own thoughts and minds.
The result is a market glutted with gadgets and electronic devices promising to give stressed-out and loner kids time out from reality.
Recently a teenager searching for distractions to help with his anxiety contacted a post site called ShouldIbuythisgame. “I’m looking for something repetitive, rewarding and mindless so I can decompress,” he wrote. “I just need something to really dull my brain right now.”
Laurie Holman, in a blog for Huffpost about media-stressed youth, called children and teens truly fixated on digital games and gizmos “a different kind of kid.” “Those who get mesmerized by action videos and TV can watch shows for hours, tied to the screen,” she observed.
“They tend to use the screen shows to avoid and procrastinate when they have work to do. It’s hard to get them to stop. But at the same time, this intense watching may relax them if their anxiety is high.”
The latest hullabaloo is about a new hand-held gadget that could help kids with anxiety called the Fidget Spinner. Hyped as the season’s hottest toy for every kid, it is also marketed as a way to alleviate hyperactivity, anxiety and autism.
Kids like it because when the ball bearings in the toy start to spin, the momentum of three whirling discs gives them a pleasant sensory experience that is calming.
According to a recent Associated Press article, the popularity of Spinners already has caused a stir in Russia, where there has been an aggressive promotion of the imported toys among children and teens. The article reported that Russia’s consumer protection agency, fearing that the toys might be an attempt to “zombify” people, has recently gotten into the act, announcing that it would investigate the addictive nature of the spinners.
Parents themselves may be dizzily wondering where all this technology came from and how their kids came to be captivated by it. Suddenly they are pondering where they they fit into the picture, other than digging into their pockets to pay for all the new digital devices kids are hooked on.
Even Christian parents see a widening gap between the generations as their offspring cave in to the allure of communication and non-communication via Facebook, texting, video games. While they may not have degrees in brain development or child psychology, most parents intuitively know that reading books encourage kids’ brains to be focused and imaginative, while browsing the Internet only encourages scanning information quickly.
Worried parents would do well to look to the wisdom of King Solomon who reminds them of the influence they have in shaping their children’s lives, especially for pre-schoolers. In these early years parents still have the power to dictate the child’s relationship with technology and how frequently it should be used.
“Train up a child in the way he should go, and when he is old, he will not depart from it.” Proverbs 22:6
The problem, counselors and psychiatrists point out, is that many parents are opting out of the training portion of the biblical mandate. Abandoning their roles as adult mentors, teachers and disciplinarians, they choose instead to be their children’s friends and play partners.
At the same time, when playtime gets too demanding, stressed parents tend to resort to an always available default parent: the family television set.
Left to their own devices in front of the TV, children eager for play and social interaction may find temporary relief by watching and imitating on-screen playmates. Thus begins the captivation of a whole generation that depends on electronic media for entertainment and stimulation.
As these kids grow older, parents are cautioned to watch for signs that they are becoming “digital zombies” who use technology and social media to the point that they substitute a false reality for the natural need for personal relationships. A Wikipedia site details some telltale indicators: difficulty looking people in the eye, carrying on healthy conversations and acting unaware of life happening around them.
“They may have limited people skills in the real world, even displaying signs of early onset dementia,” the site warns.
WebMD has gone so far as to call kids’ addiction to media and compulsive gaming as a “modern-day psychological disorder” that is becoming more and more widespread. The website described an addiction treatment center in the Netherlands where teenagers begin detox by admitting they are powerless over their addiction.
Dr. Douglas Gentile, considered a leading expert on adolescent media addiction, notes that there isn’t yet a good medical model for diagnosing the disorder, but he believes it can be measured like other psychological conditions. So if doctors note symptoms like dependence and withdrawal, a loss of control and harm to social or academic pursuits, treatment can follow a similar path to that of similar addictions.
Looking far into the future, the apostle Paul wrote about the days when a zombie-like generation would grow up to be self-absorbed, without natural affection and contemptuous of parents. He warned of “terrible times” in the last days:
“People will be lovers of themselves, lovers of money, boastful, proud, abusive, disobedient to their parents, ungrateful, unholy, without love, unforgiving, slanderous and lovers of pleasure rather than lovers of God.” II Timothy 4:2-4
A church youth pastor teaching on this scripture noted that these end-time youth, used to having what they want, will have a hard time controlling their desires and appetites.
“This passage is telling us that most of all, in the last days, young people will live for pleasure,” he said. “All they can think about is having fun and being entertained. If life isn’t full of thrills and excitement, they are bored, and will put themselves into dangerous situations just for the thrill of it.”
Looking around at youth today and considering the dark side of their captivation with digital media, we may wonder if we are getting close to the generation Paul describes. In fact, are we already there?
Actually, the growth of technology causing rapid changes in our culture was a topic addressed by Jesus thousands of years ago when he spoke to his disciples about signs of the end of the age. In Mark 13 he also prophesied about a time when children would rebel against their parents, even to the point of death.
His message ultimately was that God is Sovereign, giving warning to a future generation of the growth of knowledge and science yet to come. His Word promises he has everything under control, even to saving children who are seemingly captivated and bound by today’s booming culture and rapid-fire advances in technology.
“Can plunder be taken from warriors, or captives rescued from the fierce? Yes, captives will be taken from warriors, and plunder retrieved from the fierce; I will contend with those who contend with you, and your children I will save.” Isaiah 49: 24,25
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