Wednesday, May 30, 2012

The Demise of Guys: How Video Games and Porn are Ruining a Generation

By Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan, Special to CNN

updated 9:51 AM EDT, Thu May 24, 2012

Editor's note: Psychologist Dr. Philip Zimbardo is a professor emeritus at Stanford University and is world-renowned for his 1971 research, the Stanford Prison Experiment. Zimbardo teamed up with artist and psychologist Nikita Duncan to write "The Demise of Guys: Why Boys Are Struggling and What We Can Do About It," released Wednesday by TED Books.

(CNN) -- Is the overuse of video games and pervasiveness of online porn causing the demise of guys?

Increasingly, researchers say yes, as young men become hooked on arousal, sacrificing their schoolwork and relationships in the pursuit of getting a tech-based buzz.

Every compulsive gambler, alcoholic or drug addict will tell you that they want increasingly more of a game or drink or drug in order to get the same quality of buzz.
Video game and porn addictions are different. They are "arousal addictions," where the attraction is in the novelty, the variety or the surprise factor of the content. Sameness is soon habituated; newness heightens excitement. In traditional drug arousal, conversely, addicts want more of the same cocaine or heroin or favorite food.
The consequences could be dramatic: The excessive use of video games and online porn in pursuit of the next thing is creating a generation of risk-averse guys who are unable (and unwilling) to navigate the complexities and risks inherent to real-life relationships, school and employment.

Stories about this degeneration are rampant: In 2005, Seungseob Lee, a South Korean man, went into cardiac arrest after playing "StarCraft" for nearly 50 continuous hours. In 2009, MTV's "True Life" highlighted the story of a man named Adam whose wife kicked him out of their home -- they have four kids together -- because he couldn't stop watching porn.

Norwegian mass murder suspect Anders Behring Breivik reported during his trial that he prepared his mind and body for his marksman-focused shooting of 77 people by playing "World of Warcraft" for a year and then "Call of Duty" for 16 hours a day.
Research into this area goes back a half-century.

In 1954, researchers Peter Milner and James Olds discovered the pleasure center of the brain. In their experiments, an electrical current was sent to the limbic system of a rat's brain whenever it moved to a certain area of its cage. The limbic sytem is a portion of the brain that controls things like emotion, behavior and memory. The researchers hypothesized that if the stimulation to the limbic system were unpleasant, the rats would stay away from that part of the cage.
Surprisingly, the rats returned to that portion of the cage again and again, despite the sensation.

In later experiments, when they were allowed to push a stimulation lever on their own accord, they self-stimulated hundreds of times per hour. Even when given the option to eat when hungry or to stimulate the pleasure center, the rats chose the stimulation until they were physically exhausted and on the brink of death.
This new kind of human addictive arousal traps users into an expanded present hedonistic time zone. Past and future are distant and remote as the present moment expands to dominate everything. That present scene is totally dynamic, with images changing constantly.

A recent study from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that "regular porn users are more likely to report depression and poor physical health than nonusers are. ... The reason is that porn may start a cycle of isolation. ... Porn may become a substitute for healthy face-to-face interactions, social or sexual."
Similarly, video games also go wrong when the person playing them is desensitized to reality and real-life interactions with others.

Violence in video games is often synonymous with success. Children with more of a propensity for aggression are more attracted to violent video media, but violent media, in turn, can also make them more aggressive. This could be related to the fact that most video games reward players for violent acts, often permitting them to move to the next level in a game.

Yet research reported in the Annual Review of Public Health suggests a link between violent video games and real-life aggression: Given the opportunity, both adults and children were more aggressive after playing violent games. And people who identify themselves with violent perpetrators in video games are able to take aggressive action while playing that role, reinforcing aggressive behavior.

Young men -- who play video games and use porn the most -- are being digitally rewired in a totally new way that demands constant stimulation. And those delicate, developing brains are being catered to by video games and porn-on-demand, with a click of the mouse, in endless variety.

Such new brains are also totally out of sync in traditional school classes, which are analog, static and interactively passive. Academics are based on applying past lessons to future problems, on planning, on delaying gratifications, on work coming before play and on long-term goal-setting.

Guys are also totally out of sync in romantic relationships, which tend to build gradually and subtly, and require interaction, sharing, developing trust and suppression of lust at least until "the time is right."

Less extreme cases of arousal addiction may go unnoticed or be diagnosed as an attention or mood disorder. But we are in a national, and perhaps global, Guy Disaster Mode that needs to be noticed and solutions advanced to fix a totally novel phenomenon, which will only increase in intensity and breadth without the concerted efforts of educators, gamemakers, parents, guys and gals.

It's time to press play and get started reversing these trends.
The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely those of Dr. Philip G. Zimbardo and Nikita Duncan.

Monday, May 21, 2012

10 Simple Steps to Internet Safety

10 Simple Steps to Internet Safety
Get the parents' guide to Internet safety. We've covered everything you ever wanted to know but were afraid to ask!
by Caroline Knorr | May. 15, 2012 | Internet safety

Wondering how to keep the Internet safe and fun? Learn how to:
  • find the good stuff (and avoid the not-so-good) 
  • explain how to recognize ads 
  • teach responsible online behavior 
  • encourage digital citizenship 
Advice & Answers

All about Internet safety
What are the best "starter" websites?
What's the right age for my kids to go online?
What are kids' Web browsers -- and do I need one?
Should I let my kids play on company brand sites?
What are the essential Internet safety basics for kids?
How do I teach my kids to recognize online advertising?
What do I need to know about multiplayer games?
Should I let my kid get a Facebook page?
What are the rules of responsible online behavior?
There's a lot of talk about privacy. How do privacy issues affect my kids?

 All about Internet safety

Add "first time on the Internet" to the list of milestones every parent tracks for their kids these days. But once your kid starts going online, the "firsts" come fast and furious. Some firsts are good -- like the online game that taught your preschooler the ABCs. But some didn't go so well, like the time she got dissed by a rogue Club Penguin player.

Internet safety goes way beyond protecting kids from strangers or blocking inappropriate content. It's about helping your kids use the Internet productively and practice safe responsible online behavior even when you're not there to watch them.

The more time your kids spend online, the more they will see, watch, play, read, and interact. And the more those experiences will contribute to their worldview -- and maybe their own self-image. Getting involved in your kids' online life is the key to helping them reap the benefits while minimizing the negatives.

Here are answers to parents' most common concerns about keeping the Internet a safe, productive, positive experience.

What are the best "starter" websites?

Three things are important when evaluating websites for little ones: age-appropriate games and activities that won't frustrate your child, audio instructions for pre-readers, and little or no advertising.

Sites that emphasize early learning, positive social skills, and imagination are all great for little ones. Aggressive characters, flashing graphics, and ads for junk food and pricey toys aren't.Here are our favorite sites.

What's the right age for my kids to go online?

Whether boredom, curiosity, or a desire to learn has prompted your kids' online adventures, the age they begin is entirely up to you. These guidelines will give you a good start:
  • Always sit with little kids while they're online so you can explain things. 
  • Put a time limit on your sessions (habits get instilled early). 
  • Find age-appropriate sites with high learning potential
Time of day matters, too. Avoid just-before-bed computer time. It can be stimulating and interrupt sleep.

What are kids' Web browsers -- and do I need one?

Kids' Web browsers typically offer a selection of kid-friendly content including videos, games, and activities. Some provide a closed environment with no access to the wider Internet, while others use a search filter that will return only age-appropriate results. Most cost money.

For some families, they may be a good short-term investment -- like training wheels for the Internet. One downside is that kids can outgrow them quickly -- and determined kids can defeat them. And you still need to teach responsible Internet use even if your kids use their own browser.

Should I let my kids play on company brand sites?

Engagement -- getting kids to interact with brands online -- is the name of the game in today's marketing environment. Games, activities, contests, and Facebook pages are all ploys to increase engagement. And yes, kids are taking the bait. Here's a strategy to manage these requests: Ask your kids to write down the website address on a piece of paper (or keep a list). Tell them you'll visit the site and check it out for them. If you like it, bookmark it for them so they can go straight to the site with your permission.

What are the essential Internet safety basics for kids?

  • Ask your parents if you can use the Internet
  • Have basic social skills
  • Understand the site's rules and know how to flag other users for misbehavior
  • Recognize "red flags," like if someone asks you personal questions like your name and address
  • Go online without a parent's permission
  • Share passwords
  • Pretend to be someone else
  • Share personal details, like name and address
  • Be mean
How do I teach my kids to recognize online advertising?

It can be hard to tell, especially because many ads are disguised as games. Good websites will label any ad as such, and will notify users when they are leaving the site and going to an advertisement. Explain to your kids that ads can sometimes install bad things on your computer and that even though some may be fun to play, they are actually trying to get Mom and Dad to buy something. Here are some things that typically identify ads:
  • The word "ad" or "advertisement" 
  • Strobe effects, flashing graphics, "shaky" windows 
  • "Pop-ups" -- a window that appears on the screen suddenly 
  • A picture of a product they recognize (like a box of cereal) 
  • Prices or the word "free" 
  • Contests or the word "win" 
  • Automatic downloads or the words "download now" 
  • Adult-oriented material, such as sexually suggestive figures, alcohol, gambling, diet pills 
What do I need to know about multiplayer games?

Multiplayer games (technically called "massively multiplayer online games" or MMOGs or MMO for short) let kids play against their friends and other people they meet on the game network. Most of these sites allow for instant messaging and conversation through headsets. Players are supposed to be 13 to register for an account.

Some MMO's are free and some will need a credit card (yours, most likely) to play, so that's a good time to check the age-appropriateness. Also, look at the privacy settings the site offers, and talk to your kids about responsible online communication. Read through the site's "parent section" if it has one. Beyond that, the major issue with online gaming is the time they require -- be sure to set time limits.
Should I let my kid get a Facebook page?
You're supposed to be 13 to go on Facebook, but younger kids can -- and do -- register with a false birthdate. We advise kids to wait until they're 13 for both safety and privacy reasons. If your kids want to go on Facebook, stay involved and help them follow these five rules:
  • Think before you post. 
  • Be respectful. 
  • Call out cyberbullying if you see it. 
  • Know that anything you post online can be used in ways you never intended. 
  • Use privacy settings. 
What are the rules of responsible online behavior?

It really all boils down to respect. Respect for other people, respect for other people's work, and respect for yourself. The Internet is a community. Here's how to keep it a nice place to hang out:
Share, but don't overshare. Information spreads quickly to unknown audiences online.
Treat others kindly. Stand up for people who are targeted.
Respect creative work. Give proper attribution to any work you use -- whether for school reports, videos, or music remixes.

There's a lot of talk about privacy. How do privacy issues affect my kids?

Privacy means two things: Personal privacy refers to your own online reputation; consumer privacy refers to the data that companies can collect about you. Kids need to manage both kinds by being careful about what they post and by being aware of what kinds of data companies collect (often buried in fine print).

Strict privacy settings actually can help protect both personal and consumer privacy. But kids who are active online must understand that it is up to them to manage their own online reputation.

Things I've Learned Through the Years


First published in Mikey's Funnies, May 18,

~ I've learned that making a "living" is not the same thing as making a "life." 

~ I've learned that, regardless of your relationship with your parents, you'll miss them when they're gone from your life. 

~ I've learned that even when I have pains, I don't have to be one. 

~ I've learned that people will forget what you said... people will forget what you did... but people will never forget how you made them feel. 

~ I've learned that you can tell a lot about a person by the way he/she handles three things:  a rainy day, lost luggage, and tangled Christmas tree lights.

~ I've learned that life is like a roll of toilet paper. The closer it gets to the end, the faster it goes.

~ I've learned that we should be glad God doesn't give us everything we ask for.

~ I've learned that money doesn't buy class.

~ I've learned that under someone's hard shell is someone who wants to be appreciated and loved.

~ I've learned that the Lord didn't do it all in one day. What makes me think I can?

~ I've learned that to ignore the facts does not change the facts.

~ I've learned that the easiest way for me to grow as a person is to surround myself with people smarter than I am.

~ I've learned that no one is perfect until you fall in love with them.

~ I've learned that one should keep his words both soft and tender, because tomorrow he may 
have to eat them.

~ I've learned that a smile is an inexpensive way to improve your looks.

~ I've learned that it is best to give advice in only two circumstances; when it is requested and when it is a life threatening situation.

~ I've learned that I still have a lot to learn. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2012

Dad, Can You Put Away the Laptop

David Mangan works on his laptop while hanging out with his children, Aidan and Keira. Sometimes he asks them to “give me 10 more minutes,’’ he says.

(Michele McDonald for The Boston Globe)
David Mangan works on his laptop while hanging out with his children, Aidan and Keira. Sometimes he asks them to “give me 10 more minutes,’’ he says.

Globe Staff / March 8, 2012
Forever, the screen-time battles between parents and children have gone decidedly in one direction, with the mothers and fathers nagging and threatening, and the kids fighting to stay connected to their digital devices.

But guess which family members are disgusted now?

“You can’t get my mom off that phone,’’ said Lucas Finzi, 7, a Brookline second-grader. He and his brother have tried shaking their mother’s iPhone from her hands, and turning it off while she’s mid-correspondence, to no avail. “We’ll be at the dog park and she’ll just start texting someone,’’ said Miles 10.

In Natick, little Aidan and Keira Mangan have the same problem with their father. The 4- and 3-year-old pound on David Mangan’s laptop’s keyboard to get his attention, stick their heads between him and the screen, and even fabricate potty-training accidents.

“Sometimes I bargain with them,’’ David said, sounding more like a middle schooler pleading to finish one more drive on the Madden NFL 12 game than the professional pharmacist he is. “Just give me 10 more minutes.’’

Kids have always fought household rivals for their parents’ attention, of course. But competing against a phone attached to a kitchen wall or a newspaper is nothing compared with going head-to-head with Facebook or Angry Birds. No one has calculated the number of iPhone (or tablet or laptop) orphans. But children who dream of talking to or playing with their parents without mom or dad stealing a glance at a screen may find it increasingly difficult.

Almost half of Americans - 46 percent - now own smart phones, up from 35 percent last May, according to the Pew Research Center’s Internet & American Life Project. With the growing mobile connectivity has come increasing expectations from employers - and also from friends and family - that e-mails, texts, and tweets will be responded to immediately.

Toss in the siren call of ESPN’s ScoreCenter and it’s no wonder the kids are starting to push back, said Michael Rich, director of Children’s Hospital Boston’s Center on Media and Child Health.

He sees patients, particularly adolescents, who throw their parents own digital addiction right back at them. “Why should I disconnect when you don’t?’’ they ask.

On the other end of the spectrum, Rich said, he’s starting to see kids who are cutting back on screen time after witnessing their parents’ behavior. “Some of the kids are saying, ‘I don’t want this for myself.’ ’’

But pity the parents, too. Many find themselves pulled between work and family, unable to disconnect from their jobs, but unwilling to miss time with their children, even if it means texting while junior is kicking the winning goal.

“If I didn’t have [a smart phone] I wouldn’t be able to do both, and that would be stressful and sad,’’ said Amy Kershaw, an assistant commissioner of the state’s Department of Children and Families - and the mother of Lucas and Miles Finzi.

“They can’t really appreciate that if I spend 15 seconds to respond to an e-mail then no one’s waiting for anything from me, and that means I can be at the school play or concert,’’ Kershaw said. “Hopefully some day they’ll understand.’’

What’s happened to parents? A very small percentage of Americans - under 10 percent - are clinically addicted to technology, said David Greenfield, a psychologist who directs the West Hartford, Conn.-based Center for Internet and Technology Addiction. But about 65 percent of people definitely abuse it, he said.

“We’ve created portable slot machines [in the form of smart phones and tablets],’’ he said. “What we know about slot machines is that a reward comes to you in an unpredictable fashion. Similarly, when you go on a digital device, you don’t know what you’re going to find. And every time it leads to something pleasurable, you get a hit of dopamine.’’

Those intermittent rewards - in the form of a juicy text or a great deal on Tory Burch flats - keep people coming back for more, said Greenfield, author of “Virtual Addiction.’’ “But they don’t realize it because they are being controlled by the technology.’’

Some kids, it must be noted, are more than happy to see their parents in the grip of technology. As Nancy Roosa, a Medford mother of two teenagers, and a psychologist, put it: “My kids unfortunately don’t tell me to step away, they are happy just to pick up their own screen and have me ignore them!’’ And some kids simply want their parents to put down their phones so they can use them.

But many kid cops are sincerely bothered by their parents’ screen habits. When Paula Touliopoulos’s 9-year-old daughter “caught’’ her typing an hour past when the Boston mom promised to stop working, the little girl admonished her. “What are you doing?’’ Arianna asked, appalled. “Texting?’’ “Never mind that you can’t text from a computer,’’ Touliopoulos said, her daughter was spitting out the worst word she could conjure.

Reports of such shaming are not uncommon. Barb Stein, an architect in Boston, recalled the day one of her daughters and a pal decided to pretend they were moms at the playground. “They both started pushing the swing with one hand and held the other hand up to their ear as if talking on the phone,’’ she said.

Sheri Gurock’s daughter Audrey took a more direct approach. Her parents own the Magic Beans chain of toy stores, and frequently worked during dinner.

“They’d have a few bites of food and then open their phones,’’ said Audrey, a fourth-grader at Sudbury Valley School in Framingham. “I told them they shouldn’t always be on their phones because we barely get to see each other. I only really see them in the morning, when we’re rushing to get to school, and at dinner. I felt kind of ignored.’’

Incredibly, her parents looked up from their phones, listened, and made a conscious effort to cut back on their digital habits. “I’m really proud of them,’’ the 9-year-old said.

Monday, May 7, 2012

OMG: Want to Reach Millennials? You Have to, Like, Speak Their Language

-- Broadcasting & Cable, 3/2/2012 2:22:28 PM

A recently released study conducted with a panel of 100 millennials by MTV advises that if marketers take the time to understand the everyday language of their target audience, they can speak to them more effectively.

Fluency in the particular language cues of the current generation, the study says, could serve as a valuable tool for marketers to package relatable messages to a millennial audience in their ad campaigns.

The study also says marketers should draw on what millennial lingo reveals about them, namely:

  1. The desire to be seen as smart and funny; and appreciation for clever and quick wit
  2. Originality and authenticity
  3. A heightened sense of drama about their own lives
  4. Optimism over rebellion

The MTV study -- titled "What Millennials Are Just Sayin'" -- adds that throughout the 2000s, millennials have ushered in their own vernacular reflective of digital culture and gaming influences. In it, MTV takes a look at the everyday jargon of 18-24 year-olds.

Here are the findings.

Pop culture, movies and television have always had a profound impact on youth slang. Millennial slang draws on all these, plus a rapidly evolving digital landscape and a slew of other sources that include:

  • Gaming: Millennials view life as a multi-player game, and have found ways to integrate "gamer speak" into everyday life. Examples include: epic, win, fail.
  • Texting: "Text-speak" is used nearly as much offline as it is on digital platforms, giving millennials a way to codify their lingo and turn it into a secret language for those in-the-know. Examples include: smhtfm.
  • Smart & Funny Icons: Millennials' desire to be seen as smart and funny in social media like "Twit-wit" star Mindy Kaling has spawned a whole set of lingo and symbols that help make Facebook posts or Tweets just a hint more clever. Examples include: just sayin', really, smh, #.
  • Tabloid Culture and Reality TV: Reality culture offers a heightened sense of drama, making millennials think of their own lives in a more dramatic sense. Examples include: fml, drama, epic.
  • Social Networking: The limitless ability to post feedback on Facebook, Twitter and other social networking tools has spurred new ways to like or dislike what others post. Examples include: lmao, hahahaha.

In the digital space, millennials use abbreviations liberally. Song lyrics also play a role in how millennials express themselves online.

  • Abbreviations: Millennials often abbreviate words and sayings as an added layer to fuel the wit in what they are saying, using shorthand such as lolomgfmlttylwtfsmh.
  • Lyric-speak: In the same way that abbreviating phrases is cool and witty, song lyrics can catch on and play the same role of self-expression, adding an extra layer of in-the-know wit. Examples include: u fancy huh, hey yo, crunk, going hard, swag, deuces.
  • Authenticity: One word that stands out is "legit," meaning credible and not fake. This go-to word reflects just how much this generation values authenticity.

The words "awesome," "love" and "cool" seem timeless among young people and continue to be go-to favorites. But millennials have also come up with some synonyms for "cool," taking it to another level.

  • Hyper-speak: Given how much content millennials are exposed to, in order for something to stand out, it has to be disruptive and different. This is evident in what they say their favorite words are.
  • Things aren't just cool, they are "awesome," "amazing," "fantastic," "epic" and "crazy."
  • Happy-speak: As a whole, millennials are generally thought of as a positive and optimistic generation, especially compared to the rebellious spirit associated with Gen-Xers in their youth.
  • This optimism is reflected in their language: "wonderful," "smile," "happy," "beautiful" and "special" top their list of favorite words.

 Analyzing millennial slang reveals their desire to be seen as "smart and funny," the theme of reinvention tension, and their tendency toward drama.

  • Smart + Funny is the new rock ‘n' roll: Being "smart" is social currency with millennials, and social media is the place to display clever wit as well as hint at intellectual superiority. Humor is fast paced, un-PC, reference-laden, mashed-up, Facebook-able and disposable.
  • [Epic] fail: originally a gamer term, now mainstreamed to mean a failure so pathetic that it's funny.
  • Really?: subtle way to demonstrate smarts by knocking down what is unintelligent or obvious
  • Just sayin': way to show you disagree or disapprove, but with a hint of humor.
  • Frenemy: friend + enemy

Gaga-ism: The quest to be interesting, original and self-reinventing is amplified by an unlimited digital landscape for content discovery and Facebook material.

  • Random: quirky and disconnected; what no one else has imagined, i.e. a YouTube video of Abe Lincoln and Chuck Norris rapping together
  • Generic: way too obvious to be interesting, like a Chinese symbol tattoo
  • Cheesy: obvious, lacking in nuance or layers
  • Typical: doesn't spark the interest of clever people; often used as a smug remark after the fact (i.e. "that's so typical")

The Me Show: While teens have always been known for overdramatic tendencies, reality TV, mega-budget films like Avatar and epic games like Halo 3 heighten Millennials' sense of drama. Many believe their drama-filled lives are reality TV-worthy, or at the very least, Facebook worthy.

  • Drama: someone who unnecessarily overreacts ("she's too much drama") or a way to brag about your exciting life
  • Ridiculous: a person or situation that is crazy, unbelievable or out-of-control
  • Fml: my life is so full of drama, I need to emphatically ensure that everyone is aware