Games and our Kids: Silence isn’t always Golden.

Knowing what our kids are playing and taking a second to think of the implications, now and later.

Well, I don’t know where to start on this because I don’t know where it would finish or even if it could finish without writing a novel.

‘It’s awesome! If you finish the level quick enough then you can kill the baby when its still sleeping and upgrade your gun!” This came out of the mouth of a six-year-old child I was seeing as a counsellor. I had been called into a school to help improve the behaviour of some challenging wee ones. To give a bit of context, I’d barely sat down and asked how the week had gone so far. The game is called Duck Hunt (search duck hunt horror – if you see the red eyed dog, you have found a version) and he put an impressive amount of energy behind reenacting how to move and shoot with speed and accuracy. Now, my generation will remember that game as one where you shot ducks as they flew across the screen. Its not that one! I didn’t believe what he was telling me at first, so I looked into it and quickly found what he was playing. He was right! It starts quite harmlessly as a basic shoot’em up (birds) game, before it quickly enters a room with a family all sat in a lounge. Depending on which family member you shoot will dictate which gun you upgrade to. The graphics are damned realistic too. This is just a game that this six-year-old fills a bit of time with and far from the worst he plays. The exception, absolutely not!

I am a counsellor working with kids from 5 upwards as well as the grown-up work I do. I have been doing this for over a decade and therefore believe I have a pretty fair reflection on what is going on purely from experience rather than from afar in a research paper. I have seen a direct correlation with behaviour challenges to the games used. I intentionally didn’t say technology as that isn’t the case at all. Demands on parents are increasing and work patterns have changed massively. On my way back from a run or the gym at about 6.30am day cares are already receiving their first drop offs.

With this increased busyness and kids that by the very fact that they are kids are a bundle of fun, energy and thirst for time and entertainment. Digital devices are gold for keeping young ones still and quiet. They are however, far from safe. Any parent will tell you noise (within reason) is the norm, but silence – that will get me jumping up to see if the boys have drawn on the wall or hand fishing in the toilet. It is kind of like that with kids and games, just because they are out of your hair for 5 mins don’t start celebrating until you know for sure what they are up to.

Firstly, I am completely pro technology and certainly see its abundant benefits. Having access to information is invaluable, especially when in academic land and completing research.

This post is raising a flag on how technology is used by our kids. It’s a bit of common sense really, but I get how life can result in a few blind spots.

  1. First, have a think on what your values and beliefs are.
  2. Explore what they may look, and sound like for you and then your kids.
  3. Then take a look at the games that they have, regardless of age. You pick what is appropriate for your kids not the games company or censorship committees. Google the highest-ranking games in the world right now- well keep tracking back over the last 10 years- it’s the same result. Every one of the top games is a shoot ‘em up and the graphics are bloody realistic.  Grand Theft Auto is a cracking example. Pull over, once you have evaded police, and then kill as many people as possible to get some money. You get even more money depending on how creative you are in your murder. Not to mention the rewards for killing female characters.  Then ask, how does this look compared to my image of the values and beliefs I thought of earlier. What is it normalising and desensitising our children to? As an ex police officer, I have seen my fair share of the dark side, murder and violence. Maybe that’s why I might be a tad ‘sensitive’ and ‘overprotective’, or maybe not.
  4. Take a second. You are at a barbeque with some friends. You see your wee angel playing with a few other wee angels. You listen and look a bit closer. One of the other kids pretends to shoot your angel in the head with a gun whilst shouting ‘take that biatch!’. In the meantime, the other kids want in on the action and pretend to kick the crap out of your little angel because they too can get some points if they inflict a bit of damage too. They then turn on one of the other kids shouting, “now you can be the police” we are gonna f.&k you up! Would you smile and nod to one of your friends and smile before sharing a “kids aye” moment? I think not.
  5. Fortnite– the latest global phenomena game- is not unheard of by any means with many of my young and old clients.

Social media and the role in the lives of our young ones is a beast in itself that I’m sure I’ll talk about at some point. When it comes to computer games, it is really simple. How does the game look compared to your own family values and beliefs? We all make our own decisions, and these are my thoughts. They are however thoughts based on working with young ones for nearly 20 years and the last 10 specifically with child and adolescent mental health. I absolutely see a direct correlation between behaviours and the types of games and amount of time spent playing them.

As parents, but as adults and a society we really need to take as much responsibility of the safety and wellbeing of our children and future when they are sat in front of screens as we do when they are not. We can’t be too surprised or p’d off with the kids behaving in a way that is pretty out there. We need to step up first and then see what happens with behaviours and some very shaky wellbeing.

Counselling & Technology: More Than Just a Gimmick!

Does counselling work? Well, only if there is a client in the room, otherwise its just an awkward silence between me, myself and I.

Engaging with a client is one thing, nurturing and maintaining a therapeutic connection is where the ‘good stuff’ happens. So, it’s agreed, good counselling does work when the client turns up and better still comes back.

This wee post is about points of initial connection (PIC’s). It is not a trick or mind play, for me its simply a reflection of the details I consider to make the space and time as comfortable for the client as possible. My intention and hope is that they quickly shift from going to see the Counsellor, towards the realisation that they are in fact catching up with Tony.

room-new

Now, here is a picture of my office and you’ll notice a few bits and pieces from the Phrenology head to a picture of my son. With a quite intentional variety in between they will quite often acknowledge the thing that connects with them. These can offer a quick conversation where we both get to cautiously , yet confidently find the point of resonance where everybody is relaxed and ready to go.

Anyway, I do digress a bit. If you look again at the picture above you’ll see something that draws attention from every adolescent (and most adults) that step into my room. That is the Star Wars Force Trainer on my bookshelf. The idea of this device is you put a small headset on that measures brain waves (i’m not so sure about this, as I rather think it goes off your pulse), but the outcome is the same. The harder you concentrate, the stronger the fan and therefore the higher the ball floats within the tube. Not to mention you get Yoda in the background cheering you on. As with anything like this, it had to be imported as NZ haven’t quite accessed this field yet. It has been an incredible hit!

I have many examples of how this toy has proven invaluable in supporting positive change for some of my young clients. For example one 7 year old came to see me wyodaith a report of significant behaviour issues, both at home and school. He was very much on his last warning after no real change post a couple of Ed Psych visits. This young man was oozing character, personality and a heap of energy, which I could see wouldn’t make for Mr Popular with his teachers or peers. We had talked-and performed- the relationship between thoughts, feelings and behaviours (CBT). There was a deep narrative behind the status quo. The ‘Yoda’ machine, which he called it, made an appearance to highlight how the relationship between the thoughts and behaviours could be seen tangibly. With ongoing exploration of the feelings, we could monitor and celebrate progress. Now, it is a toy, a great one, but a toy none the less. So was it monitoring progress, not so much, but it was serving as a powerful anchor to maintain momentum with everything else we discussed. 8 Months on he continues to be a popular member of the class and has a better relationship with his teacher. Even if the only thing it could have offered was a genuine understanding of the interrelation between thoughts, feelings and behaviours, then i’ll take it. Better still, he had fun and therefore talked….alot.

It appears particularly powerful with students presenting with significant anger. anger-icebergAgain, it offers a tangible rationale for ‘whats the point?’ but equally an absolute focus and calmness that brings them absolutely into the space we are in, and therefore in a better state to explore the ‘anger iceberg’.

Is it a gimmick? not for me, and certainly not for my clients. It is another example of how technology can be used to facilitate the counselling process with young ones. As with everything in a counsellors toolkit, you introduce and offer it if and when appropriate and purposeful to the session.

 

 

 

 

 

 

Technology & Counselling (Virtual Reality)

This is a short intro into what I am up to in counsellor land. I have often felt that professionals in the field of mental health in NZ are a private pedigree and less than confident or willing to share ideas. I say ideas not best practice because its okay to have ideas, give them a go and embrace if they work and file away if not. Not to mention what works for one person may not work for another. I hope to share my experience and feedback of incorporating technology into my practice in the hope it raises questions, which can only be a good thing.

Firstly why? why not just do what I do and sit back on the masses of evidence that tells folk it works and makes a difference (counselling that is). Also, technology costs money and I want to reduce overheads for maximum profit margin. As the head of a large counselling department we can barely buy refill let alone a VR headset. I will certainly in future posts on this topic return to addressing and discussing challenges such as these.

Why? I want to access and engage with clients that wouldn’t ordinarily access counselling. I want to make it more interesting and challenging for my client and yes for me too. I want to fill my tool box with as many strategies and resources as possible that can support me in my work and my clients in their process. Technology is here and now and I would like my work as a counsellor to keep up with the needs, expectations and opportunities that come with innovation. Most importantly I want to continue to ask questions of myself and how I work so I continue to evolve, whether this means technology is a welcome addition, or whether it is an unhelpful gimmick. I want to make that decision from the coal face rather than being directed by those that may have their own agenda or insecurities about such change or ideas.

663275 Google Expeditions_03

To begin with I’d like to introduce:

Virtual Reality (Samsung VR Gear $199 NZD)

good vr

This device works with a Samsung S6 upwards and I use it with my S7. You upload the Oculus app via the app store and once done you connect your phone behind the front protective fascia and adjust so its nice and tight to your head. It takes only a few minutes to get used to it and how you select something from the menu, focus, volume and the ‘go back’ button. Pretty straight forward.

samsung vr

Context: I have used these in two roles. In my private practice with adults around social anxiety, anger and stress. Also in my role as a school counsellor (Age group 11-18 years). You will certainly see students requesting appointments that you may not have previously seen.

How do I use it?

Mindfulness. There are a couple of free apps that are ‘OK’, but the graphics aren’t as good as they could or should be. What you can do is take your pulse pre and post session to monitor its effectiveness using the phone as a senser. I have found it works and my clients, adults, adolescents and children love it.

Apps: Both would get a 7/10, however the future scenes for Guided Meditation VR would take it to an 8/10 and make it the better of the two.

guided med vr                                exvreience

 

Anxiety. There are again a few apps for public speaking, fear of flying etc. Really not many right now but they are coming through quite quickly. The main distinction is previously VR has meant a programmed virtual reality, so quite grainy computer generated simulation. The cameras now however mean the content is using real images and footage and in HD. This is far better. Again, I have used it for students with a fear of public speaking at my school. I simply recorded our hall with no spectators, 10 spectators, 20 and then 35. Time was limited and students so I plan to sepnd a bit of time on this concept building towards a full assembly. This is great for both students and staff. I turn the sound down and through desensitization we gradually build the scene up with the student reading their presentation. Again we look at anchors in the room and capture the sensations of a successful delivery.

heights

Sports Counselling. Visualisation can be anchored in real-time and specific to the individual and their sport and needs. For example in Rugby, a kicker would be recorded completing a successful kick. This recording is then utilised to replay and rehearse the conditions and enable you both to explore anchors whether on the field, physically or verbally. This principle is used in most golf shops nowadays to improve your swing without having to wade through rivers or apologise to the next green to retrieve your ball.

How do I intend to use it?

Behaviour Modification. I hope to simply record scenarios that cover the gambit of student challenges. Conflict resolution and bullying for example. Recording scenarios that we can use to explore the A B C’s of behaviours and also the opportunity to apply what we discuss in a safe but realistic environment -role play.

I hope to utilise a specific camera to increase the quality and availability of footage and content that is specific to my client base, community and presenting issues, so NZ rather than courtesy of The States. The fly 360 (below) seems like the best ‘normal folk’ or no commercial grade device retailing at about $950 NZD. However there are others in your local store such as the Samsung Gear 360 ($650 NZD). However, if you want to keep it even more low-budget then use your 360 option on most of the newer phones.

fly360

It’s very new and specific reviews of apps and uses will grow in time through future blogs. Early signs are extremely positive, my clients love it and it can really fit in nicely as part of a wider session making a great additional resource to work with clients.

For more info etc. check out:

http://www.vrs.org.uk/virtual-reality-healthcare/therapies.html

Virtual Reality Therapy: Treating The Global Mental Health Crisis

http://www.apa.org/research/action/speaking-of-psychology/virtual-reality.aspx

http://www.wsj.com/articles/virtual-reality-as-a-therapy-tool-1443260202

(These articles offer further reading, they are not necessarily my thoughts and opinions)