My son Rayan was always known to be a sweet boy with a dimpled smile and a twinkle in his eyes; and no this isn’t a loving mom talking, but the general sentiment of anyone who knows him. And then along came the cursed Xbox; a video gaming console. Mind you that I resisted. I wanted to be THE parent who will not succumb to peer pressure and my son will be that rare breed of the 21st century who will just play sports and read books. But with promises of playing with discipline and my own resolve that buying it doesn’t mean he will go crazy playing, I ended up bringing the demon home too. That’s the day I started losing my sweet boy to this kid who I don’t recognise half the time and at rare moments I am lucky to find my son in there.

Yes, I blame Xbox and more so these games like Call of duty and Fortnite. I definitely believe that it has impacted my son’s personality and the anger and agitation and frustration he displays every now and then, easily triggered by small things is an outcome of these games.

According to research on effects of videogames done by a Harvard study, “violent video game play, when combined with a provocation, may increase anger and hostility, thereby increasing the likelihood of subsequent aggressive behaviour.”

Our children are at a very vulnerable age, which is the teenage. Teenage in itself is a stage of life where young adults are struggling most with identity crises trying to make sense of who they are in the world. This is where they are integrating ideas of themselves and about what others think of them.

Coupled with that are self-esteem issues as their bodies are changing, hormonal changes, sexual maturity etc.

In this very sensitive time external stimuli like these aggressive games are the perfect recipe of stress and create conflict in their tender minds.

These games expose them to a world of competition and violence. Many argue that it’s a platform of social connectedness as these games are played with friends but virtual connection cannot replace in-person social experience.

Another important factor is the effect these games have on the nervous system and overall health. We are all familiar with the flight/fight mode of the nervous system to a threat. Now the brain cannot differentiate between an actual and non-real threat and so these games activate the body to a perceived threat. I have observed physical symptoms as my son plays, his face flushed, voice raised, looking so tense one would imagine him fighting the Indians on the border. That would have been better actually.

These games can instigate neuroticism, which would include symptoms of anger and depression, highly emotional, and easily upset state, disagreeableness, anti-social behaviour, and low levels of conscientiousness, which means acting without thinking, failing to deliver on promises, breaking rules. Other psychological symptoms include maladaptive coping mechanisms, low self-esteem, a preference for staying isolated, and poor school performance.

Another point of consideration is the money spent in this virtual world. On every good result Rayan has begged us to buy new skins in Fortnite, which are stylised weapons and outfits for their in-game avatars. Now more than asking to get him a new pair of shoes or clothing, he is interested in virtual clothes that he insists gives him the ‘look’ as he plays with his friends. Seriously?

Alas! Now that this devil has invaded our homes, a few things we can do as parents is managing it more effectively to avoid further potential harm. What parents can do is for starters, play these games once a while with children to better understand the content. Also place these consoles in common areas where they are not totally socially isolated or you will hardly see your son. Time limit is a must so their mind and bodies are not hyper aroused for such a long stretch. Making them get up between the games even for five minutes to say, do a few jumping jacks, will break the stress pattern.

Lastly if we want to take them away from their screens, we have to take time out of our busy lives and be involved in activities. Many of us including me are guilty of handing over these gadgets for our peace of mind. Just simply asking them to go out and play will not work. Be involved in outdoor activities that are enjoyable and rewarding but contribute to our children’s healthy mental development.

Who said parenting was easy! So buckle up and continue on this joy ride!