Gamer Rage & Child Abuse: A Growing Problem Deserving Our Attention

By Melanie Hempe, RN and Andrew Doan, MD PhD from Real Battle Ministries and Hooked on Games.

The dreaded case for an eye pathologist is to evaluate eyes for non-accidental trauma, also known as child abuse or “shaken baby syndrome”. TA Growing Problem Deserving Our Attentionhe hallmark signs for non-accidental trauma consists of intra-retinal hemorrhages in numerous retinal layers, hemorrhagic vitreous detachments, and bleeding into the optic nerve. As medical professionals, we screen for child abuse in our clinics and attempt to mitigate factors leading to child abuse in families. Unfortunately, there’s one growing cause for child abuse that is being overlooked by our society, rage associated with video gaming.

We compiled a collection of news reports illustrating the problem with gamer rage and childcare.

All parents can relate to the frustration associated with crying or fussy babies. The majority of parents have perspective to be calm and loving, even with the most demanding child. However, being under the influence of drugs or alcohol, caregivers’ judgment can be poor and potentially volatile because of poor perspective. Similarly, being under the influence of a video game obsession, or an outright addiction, and violent gaming are commonly ignored when investigating child abuse cases. There is increasing research supporting that playing violent video games lead to violent tendencies [7] and promote anti-social behavior. [8]

Gamers exhibit rage associated with violent games and online multi-player interaction because these games are simulators of violence. Gamers’ blood pressure may exceed 190/140 within 20 to 30 minutes of playing violent games, adrenaline levels rise preparing the gamer to fight-or-flight, and the brain is being stimulated for battle. While the body is preparing for epic battles, the release of this potential energy is expressed mainly through quick moving fingers and verbal angry outbursts, lacking true release for the rising fight-or-flight hormones. During real battles, this potential energy is helpful for survival, but during gaming this potential energy may manifest as outright, uncontrollable rage.

Kevin Roberts, the author of Cyber Junkie, states:

“These children participate in a subculture [violent online gaming] that encourages insults, bullying, and degradation. The goal seems to be to inflame other players, hoping to throw their game off balance, thus making them easier to kill. I had naively assumed that the headset would permit greater cooperation among teammates, but nothing of the kind took place. Far from encouraging team spirit and fair play, these headset-enabled online games often embitter those who play them. Many otherwise reasonable young men lose control. The kill-or-be-killed mindset and the endless verbal assaults create an overwhelming intensity that can spill over into real life. Mild-mannered Max played on the freshman football team, and did well in school. Yet, when he played Gears of War or Call of Duty for more than an hour a day, his behavior turned decidedly antisocial. The first incident occurred after Max had been playing for three hours. His mother had tried, unsuccessfully, to gently get him off the game. When she threatened to shut off the power, the fourteen-year old snapped: “You better ******* not!” He quickly and profusely apologized, but this was only the first episode. The last straw came when, after a four-hour gaming binge, he punched through the wall and broke his finger. At that point Max’s parents removed the Xbox from their home, and sought me out for counseling.” [9]

The above headlines illustrate stories of gaming rage and child abuse that made the news. What about abuse that did not result in death? What about all the near misses and real abuse that no one hears about? What about the secondary abuse of sibling witnessing rage on their siblings and marriage conflict over rage exhibited by their kids? Gaming rage results in lost opportunities for healthy family bonding, lack of healthy attachment in children, and in extreme cases, child abuse leading to non-accidental trauma.

Here is one story that did not make the news that Dr. Doan will share:

“Fourteen years ago, my daughter was only a few weeks old. I gladly volunteered to stay up all night to feed the baby, because I was a video game addict who stayed up all night playing 50-100 hours a week and was up anyways. While feeding her with a bottle, she had difficulty sucking on the bottle. I was extremely agitated because I had a crying, irritated baby. I was already sleep deprived from gaming through the night. At one point, out of frustration I shoved the bottle, extremely hard, in her two-week mouth. She was crying so hard she could barely breathe. I was on the brink of losing it because I wanted to go back to gaming as well as I was full of gaming rage. I tell this story to illustrate that I understand, as a gaming addict, as a father who’s been there, as a medical professional, and as a neuroscientist, the mental process that develops in the mind of a gaming addict and one who rages after playing games.”

The solution is to recognize that gaming rage and gaming addiction are serious problems in some individuals. As medical professionals, we should be thinking about the potential problems associated with problematic gaming and gaming rage in our medical practices, in our families, and in our communities. If you know gamers who are addicted or have problems with regulating their gaming, please seek professional help for them.

The following survey was published by a research study at the Iowa State University conducted by Douglas Gentile, PhD and is a useful screening tool to identify problematic gaming. [10]

  1. Over time, have you been spending much more time playing video games, learning about video game playing, or planning the next opportunity to play?
  2. Do you need to spend more time and money on video games in order to feel the same amount of excitement as other activities in your life?
  3. Have you tried to play video games for shorter durations of times but have been unsuccessful?
  4. Do you become restless or irritable when you attempt to cut down or stop playing video games?
  5. Have you played video games as a way to escape problems or negative feelings?
  6. Have you lied to family or friends about how much you play video games?
  7. Have you ever stolen a video game from a store or a friend, or stolen money to buy a video game?
  8. Do you sometimes skip household chores in order to play more video games?
  9. Do you sometimes skip homework or work in order to play more video games?
  10. Have you ever done poorly on a school assignment, test, or work assignment because you have spent so much time playing video games?
  11. Have you ever needed friends or family to give you extra money because you’ve spent too much of your own money on video games, software, or game Internet fees?

If individuals answered “yes” to six or more of these questions, then they most likely have an addiction to gaming. If “yes” is answered to five or less questions, then there may be a problem.

Many times, the first signs of gaming rage and addiction will be seen by the non-gaming parent or spouse. Moms and wives are generally the first to be exposed to game associated anger and rage in the home.  Teen boys can find themselves on unsteady ground as they don’t fully realize the roller coaster of brain chemicals that are released when they are playing. Yelling outbursts are common not only at other gamers during immersive game play but also if the gamer is interrupted by a sibling, a parent or even a loss of internet connectivity at a critical point in his online battle. Some teens surprise and shock themselves as well as others in their homes over their lack of verbal control. Moms may also notice that the younger siblings cry when the older gamer comes in the room as the young child has been yelled at for interrupting the game and fears the gamer. The gamer may threaten harm to the younger child if the young child is left alone with the older gamer and tries to get near or touch his game. Parents may find holes in the sheet rock or other destructive signs of broken objects, controllers or computer screens. A general loss of empathy and patience for others and normal life situations by the teen gamer is also noticed first by parents.

Profanity is common in the hard core gaming world, and the gamer may be more prone to carry this over to real life while gaming. For the teen and adult gamer, one early sign of loss of control may be the use of foul language with the parent or spouse as a sign of inability to control impulses and show respect. Often times, physical abuse begins with verbal abuse. Rage will escalate as the protective layers of verbal control are compromised and physical abuse can more easily occur.  After failure of the first few attempts to yell at the crying child, the gamer moves to the next stage of control which may include irrational bodily harm to the infant so he can get back to his drug of choice at the time: the game.

Because of the way the brain is wired, transitioning from the digital world to real world after prolonged play can be very difficult, hence, the loss of immediate rational solutions for common household conflicts. Successfully moving from the game world to ‘crying baby’ world is very difficult as the pull of the game is so strong. Oscillating back and forth between these two worlds is a very challenging task. The gamer must intentionally leave his game to tend to the infant’s needs and when that sacrifice is too great tempers will flare.  When coupled with a lack of sleep, exercise, and food and an increase in game stress, pressures from online friends, isolation, and fight-or-flight brain chemicals, the result can be disastrous.

Video games are not all negative. Video game-adept individuals develop visual-spatial acuity, coordination, and skills in computers and technology. Research has also shown benefits in laparoscopic surgery  and solving complex scientific problems.   The answer is moderation and playing games that promote pro-social behaviors. For those who insist on the indulgence of violent games, the key is to recognize that rage can be a serious issue. As with any problem, recognizing the issue is the beginning to discovering the solution. The next step is educating people to help them make positive changes in their lives. For some, recognition of the problem and more education is enough to encourage a real change of behavior. For others who have experienced more pain and conflict around this issue, removing the gaming completely may be the best solution for a positive outcome.


For more information on how gaming causing conflict in the home, please go to

Melanie Hempe, RN: Mother and nurse. Melanie has over 10 years of expertise in video game addiction. She has presented in seminars to parents and worked with families to help them achieve a game free home and to reduce conflict in their families. Melanie has passion to help families achieve less conflict and to thrive in the digital age. Melanie is married to Chris and is a mother of four.

[1] High Point dad accused of punching, killing baby won’t face death penalty. May 9, 2013. Accessed September 22, 2013.
[2] Man held in death of baby son. August 13, 2013. Accessed September 22, 2013.
[3] Jacob Hartley Killed Crying Son For Interrupting Video Game, Cops Say. April 4, 2012. Accessed September 22, 2013.
[4] Father killed his three-month-old daughter when her crying interrupted his video game. February 3, 2013. September 22, 2013.
[5] Mother: Father Killed Child Over Video Game. September 24, 2006. Accessed September 22, 2013.
[6] Police: Baby Killed with Video Game Controller. April 9, 2008. Accessed September 22, 2013.
[7] Anderson CA, Bushman BJ. Effects of violent video games on aggressive behavior, aggressive cognition, aggressive affect, physiological arousal, and prosocial behavior: a meta-analytic review of the scientific literature. Psychol Sci. 2001 Sep;12(5):353-9.
[8] Anderson CA, Sakamoto A, Gentile DA, Ihori N, Shibuya A, Yukawa S, Naito M, Kobayashi K. Longitudinal effects of violent video games on aggression in Japan and the United States. Pediatrics. 2008 Nov;122(5):e1067-72. doi: 10.1542/peds.2008-1425.
[9] Kevin Roberts. Rated X-Box. September 21, 2013. Accessed September 22, 2013.
[10] Gentile D. Pathological video-game use among youth ages 8 to 18: a national study. Psychol Sci. 2009 May;20(5):594-602. doi: 10.1111/j.1467-9280.2009.02340.x.


Digital Dementia – Guidelines for educators regarding technology use in school settings

Girls using phonesMounting research indicates unrestricted use of technology (cell phones, internet, TV) by children is resulting in negative impact on physical and mental health, social wellbeing, and academic performance, suggesting a cautionary approach toward the use of technology in school settings.  As rates of technology addiction soar, children and youth are presenting with problematic behaviours and disorders that are not well understood by health and education professionals. Obesity, developmental delay, sleep deprivation, anxiety, depression, aggression, social phobia, and inability to pay attention or learn, are all associated with technology overuse bringing into question “Are the ways in which we are educating and raising children with technology sustainable”? This article will profile recent research on the impact of education technology on attention and learning, review technology evaluation and screening tools, and propose school-based technology guidelines and interventions to achieve Balanced Technology Management in education settings.

Recent Research

Both Canada and the US report declining academic performance in literacy, science and math. Why? South Korea recently coined the phrase “Digital Dementia” to describe what is becoming a worldwide phenomenon in youth, permanent memory loss and inability to focus, causally linked to technology overuse. Journal of Computers and Education recently reported that multitasking on a laptop poses a significant distraction to both users and fellow students and can be detrimental to comprehension of lecture content. Mounting research indicates eminent dangers of WiFi and cell phones on human health, as well as escalating rates of mental illnesses associated with technology overuse, such as adhd, autism, and technology addictions. Further studies demonstrate that children who have unrestricted technology use at home, often come to school sleep deprived impacting academic performance, yet research indicates that parents and teachers continue to favour unrestricted technology use.

Neuroanatomical Changes

Gary Small’s research showed pruning of neuronal tracks to frontal cortex in children who overuse videogames, bringing into question, what are the effects of unrestricted technology in the school setting? The brain triples in size in the 0-2 year old through synaptic connection formation, heavily influenced by environmental stimuli, or lack thereof. Prior to entering school, young children are wiring their brains to be stimulus/response mechanisms, devoid of empathy, impulse control, or executive function. Whether parents and teachers want to admit it or not, we are witnessing the de-evolution of the human species as a result of prevalent and unrestricted technology overuse, and both primary and secondary causal factors for technology addiction need to be considered in order to reverse technology’s destructive process.

Evaluation and Screening

Families with technology addictions are already seeking professional help, as soon will be whole schools. A study by Japan’s Ministry of Education has concluded that over half a million Japanese children aged 12-18 are addicted to internet activities, and consequently is seeking government funding assistance for interventions such as outdoor “fasting camps” and other strategies to reduce the use of cell phones, computers, and hand held gaming devices. Assigning qualified counsellors to treat group-based addictions will break our already strained health and education systems. Restricting family technology use cannot be regulated or legislated by government, although maybe school technology use can. Creating sustainable futures for our technology addicted culture needs to include broad sweeping initiatives which screen and address technology addictions, and build family and school capacity.   Despite this growing research showing the down-side of technology, many education professionals continue to escalate education technology use, while failing to evaluate the efficacy of technology programs toward achieving long term academic goals. Continued use of non-evidenced-based technologies in school settings could be considered an unprecedented experiment of epic proportion, one which may result in pervasive illiteracy in a whole generation of children. Teachers also fail to evaluate individual student appropriateness for specific technologies. Children who are high users of entertainment technologies, such as video games, pornography, Facebook, and texting, are already attention deficit, indicating the need for restricted technology usage in school. Schools fail to routinely screen children or youth for technology overuse, and consequently fail to provide necessary technology education and reduction strategies for students and their parents.

Guidelines and Interventions

Educational focus in the primary grades should be on achieving literacy, considered the foundation for learning. As technology prohibits attainment of literacy (computers don’t teach children to print), technology restrictions should be in place for grades K-3, and used judiciously for grades 4-7. Teaching children to print has proven to enhance literacy, as well as extend to enhanced performance in all subjects. Knowing how to produce letters and numbers subconsciously, allows the brain to focus on the specific academic tasks such as spelling and math. Yet, 5% of primary teachers don’t teach printing at all, and the rest spend an average of 14 minutes per day on printing instruction, which is insufficient to achieve printing skill. Children who can’t print demonstrate poor letter recognition for reading, and produce slower output for math, spelling, and sentence production. If teachers are expecting children to print, (90% of graded output in elementary settings is produced with a pencil), they better start teaching it.

The need for universal education regarding the negative impact of technology on attention and learning is imperative, and requires a collaborative approach by both education and health professionals.  Zone’in Programs Inc. offers both live workshops and recorded webinars by trained occupational therapists to help students, parents and educators better understand the negative impact of technology on child development and learning, These Foundation Series Workshops/Webinars also offer a variety of useful tools and techniques to evaluate and screen students for technology overuse. The Foundation Series Workshops/Webinars follow the Balanced Technology Management concept where adults manage balance between activities which promote optimal growth and success, with technology use. Examples of handouts are the Technology Guidelines for Teachers, Technology Screening Tool, Technology Schedule, Technology Diet, Technology Rx Pad, Unplug’in Parent Brochure, and Ten Steps to Unplug Children from Technology. Cris Rowan, CEO of Zone’in Programs Inc. has also recently published “Virtual Child – The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children” available on for health and education professionals. School media literacy programs are a good place to start with student technology education. Zone’in Programs Inc. offers schools the Live’in Resource Guide, as well as the Unplug’in Game as technology education tools for students. These two programs advocate for schools to participate in a one week unplug from all technology, and provide numerous innovative and fun ways for students to build skills and confidence in activities other than technology. One important consideration by schools is to enhance their existing playgrounds to entice students to play at recess and after school. Diverting funds from computers toward building play grounds with age appropriate equipment would improve motor development, reduce obesity, and enhance social skills. The majority of playgrounds challenge only the younger grades, indicating need for inclusion for the 7-18 year olds e.g. skateboard and bike parks, zip lines, large climbing structures. Community initiatives to counteract the effects of technology could focus on beaches and parks, including addition of benches, picnic tables, covered fire pits, and adult exercise equipment to attract the teens and parents. Destination nature trails of varying lengths with tree houses, covered fire pits, and spiritual centres at trail end would attract the more adventurous families. Free admission to recreation centres for 0-18 years would also entice children and youth off technology. These suggestions were provided during “Tech Talks” offered to grade 4-9 children and youth in First Nations communities (sponsored by Vancouver Coastal Health) when asked the question “What would make you put down the device and go outside”?

Cris Rowan is a pediatric occupational therapist, author, and educator on the impact of technology on child development, behavior and learning, and can be reached at Blog comments can be entered at Research references can be located on the Zone’in Fact Sheet found on

Babies and Technology – What we know, but refuse to accept

Babies With iPadsEvery parent on this planet knows technology is infinitely harmful to infants and toddlers, yet they continue to flock in droves to the latest technological device as if it were seemingly innocuous and benign. As a pediatric occupational therapist, I incessantly hear parents touting the latest new technology or program for their wee one exclaiming (miracle upon miracle) that their young babe can miraculously push Apps around on a screen. So can cats, but the difference between cats and babies is that cats quickly get bored and quit. Babies on the other hand, continue to mindlessly open frames, while they seemingly “watch” the colored lights and noise. Today’s parents so want their children to be advanced in every way, and consequently think technology is the way to success, when really it is mindless entertainment. Questions to consider are what is the cost to the developing child of detachment from humans and attachment to devices? What price will parents pay down the road when their children enter school with developmental delay, obesity, impaired cognition, impulsivity, and unintelligible speech as a result of technology overuse? What will be the costs to society when male adolescents drop out of high school, and isolate themselves in the basement, playing violent video games and watching endless pornography; or females immerse themselves in the soap opera of Facebook and texting? Have parents truly lost their way when it comes to knowing what is right and good for their children? This article will explore what we already know about the impact of technology on babies, and postulate about why parents are failing to recognize the harmful effects of technology overuse on their young children.

There has been an unprecedented explosion in baby Apps, despite research showing causal links to motor, cognitive and speech delays by school entry. In an article “It’s a Lifesaver” by Kate Silver from Parents Magazine, Silver writes “When Emily Butler takes her 2 1/2 -year-old daughter, Caroline, to restaurants near their home in Washington, D.C., there’s one thing she never leaves at home—her phone. That’s because she knows that it can serve as her lifeline if Caroline gets upset. She simply turns on one of her tried-and-true apps, like’s Trancit Lite Edition 1.3 , and the screen fills with swirling colors and images that never fail to engage her daughter through the meal. ‘At a restaurant it comes in handy if your baby is crying’, says Butler, 34. ‘They kind of zone out, staring at the lights. You (and everyone else) get to eat in peace and they get their colors on’.

iphone ToyIn an effort to make parent’s lives that much easier, there are also a host of mounting devices for iPhones and iPads, prevention necessary attachment formation and bonding?  As the device rapidly replaces the parent, and becomes the soother and opiate for our new millennium child, parents conveniently fail to take notice of the concurrent rise in child tantrums and behaviour disorders. Forgotten is the old world wisdom that parent: child co-regulation leads to self-regulation. An example is Fisher Price’s new Laugh and Learn Apptivity iPhone Case, where baby can teethe and drool while watching their favorite cartoon, giving Mom and Dad time to use their own devices to catch up on email, texting, video games, porn, and social networking.

ipottyOf course no young toddler could manage without the iPotty, which boasts a removable screen guard should the child get distracted while waiting for the “big event”iPad Toilet Paper Holder Stand and manage to pee on their parent’s iPad. Over the past five years, therapists report a marked increase in the number of children entering school who are not toilet trained, with parents stating they simply don’t have the time. For the parent, there is the iPad toilet paper holder for those who really need to be connected to their technology throughout their toileting procedure.

For the older child, there is the iPhone case that also acts as a Lego base. For the sports enthusiast, an iPhone clip for the bike, and then of course every family needs an iPhone mount for their car.

Lego iPhone Case     iPhone Bike Mount     iPhone Carmount

But back to babies. Children need their parents, and in the absence of a connected parent, children will attach to devices. What then? 1 in 11 children between the ages of 8 and 18 years already have technology addictions. Connecting to the virtual world appears to be more desirable than connecting to humans, with studies showing one in three parents prefer using technology to playing with their child.  Let’s face it, for years human relationships have proven complex, confusing, and down-right difficult, resulting in a myriad of self-help books, therapists and divorce.  What is unique about human relationships in the 21st century, is that the performance bar has now been set higher.  To get a little bit of love and human connection, parents and children are now required to compete with the seductive lure of technology, which is threatening the very fabric of family life as we used to know it.  While change and technological advancement can have a positive impact on society, it is unmanaged and unregulated, and the results are devastating.  Family, school, and workplace environments are now on the verge of what can be termed the “Triple Disconnect” – from self, others and nature. Identity and attachment formation can only happen in relationship to others, and is best facilitated in nature based settings, yet connection to technology is causing a disconnection from what we used to hold dear and close to our hearts.

Secondary effects of technology overuse by infants and toddlers can be life threatening. Child accident rates have risen 40% in the past five years, linked to parental neglect from technology obsession. Small infants are increasingly placed for long periods in a variety of potentially harmful devices to provide parents with more time for tech use. Jean MacKenzie, Manager for Powell River Family Place writes “Over the years I have become more and more concerned about the over use of infant swings and strollers. Regarding swings, I am concerned about the speed of swinging and the length of time infants are in the swings, and wonder how this affects an infant’s brain and body development, as well as their ability to self-soothe over time. People say their children like them however, has anyone really looked at the infants’ expressions to determine if that is really true; does the rapid swinging put them into an altered state that looks like pleasure?… and what would they normally be doing e.g. what is the effect of swinging without the human contact element? Regarding the over use of strollers; I see many older children (3-5’s) who rarely move on their own and spend many hours strapped into strollers; are they receiving enough stimulus through their feet, building sufficient muscle strength, and are they building up a residual level of frustration that must find release in other ways?” In response to Jean’s questions constant swinging or bouncing can cause overstimulation to the infant’s vestibular system causing sympathetic nervous system overload of fright or flight. Strollers and swing overuse restricts toddlers and children from essential movement, touch, human connection, and exploration in nature, all critical factors for optimizing child development.

Separating the developing infant and toddler from human contact through technology overuse is threatening the very sustainability of the 21st century child. Human attachment is a biological need, without which, children will die.  For hundreds of years, human beings have lived in family “packs”, with established intrinsic roles, and a life full of meaning and purpose.  While technology was designed for human efficiency, it has also had the effect of distancing humans from each other, diminishing engagement as a family “pack”.  Can human beings adapt to this growing sense of isolation from each other, and what will be the impact on young infants and children who have little or no contact with their parents?
John Bowlby, a British psychoanalyst in the 40’s and 50’s identified that developing children require a “secure base” from which they can move out into the world, yet return to when they feel threatened or scared. Bowlby also describes a second role of the parents, to “launch” their child out into the world for self exploration, self-regulation, and eventual independence from the parent. So the job of the parent is two-fold, to provide their developing child with a “secure base” and also a “launch”. Bowlby goes on to define attachment as an emotional bond between parent and child, which is essential for survival as the attachment bond allows the child to get their needs met (security and launch). Mary Ainsworth, a developmental psychologist in the 50’s and 60’s designed a method to test Bowlby’s theory and discovered three distinct attachment behavior patterns which were categorized as follows:

Type A – avoidant attachment where the parent rejects, neglects or ridicules the child.  Type A children minimize emotion when distressed, repress their feelings, and become overly reliant on self to get their needs met.  Type A children recognize the parent’s need to NOT be needed.
Type B – secure attachment where the parent is consistent, predictable with the child, and the child learns they can get their needs met simply by expressing their needs.
Type C – ambivalent attachment where the parent is unpredictable and inconsistent with the child.  Type C children show extreme negative emotion when distressed, excessively express their feelings, and become overly reliant on others to get their needs met.  Type C children recognize the parent’s need to BE needed, as they give up “me” to be with “you”.

The impact of technology on primary attachment formation has not received adequate research attention.  What researchers do understand is that fear of intimacy is an underlying causal factor for addictions in adults, and this fear has its origin in failed primary attachment. Researchers have also documented that attachment to technologies such as TV’s, movies, internet, video games, pornography, cell phones and iPads are resulting in a “detachment” from all that is human. Human detachment resulting from technology overuse is occurring at such a rapid pace, it’s difficult to determine what would be the immediate, much less long term effects. One only has to reflect on current child health and academic statistics to know that something is seriously wrong with how we are raising and educating our children. 30% of children are obese, 30% developmentally delayed, 14.3% diagnosed with mental health disorders, 20-30% of children experience learning difficulties, and 1 in 11 now have technology addictions.  All of aforementioned problems are associated with overuse of technology. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends 1-2 hours per day technology use, yet children 8-18 years use a staggering 7.5 hours per day.

With all this connection to technology, primary relationships are disconnecting, or worse, not even forming at all. Human attachment profoundly influences every aspect of human development: mind, body, emotions, social ability, values and productivity. We know that securely attached infants, toddlers and children have better self-esteem, independence, self-regulation, autonomy, enduring friendships, trust and intimacy, impulse control, empathy and compassion, and resilience. What will happen when Type A and C attachment styles dominate society? What will Type A and Type C parents be like, and what type of third generation detached children will they produce? Relatedness will truly be a character trait of the past, as human beings grow ever more isolated, yet at the same time, ever more needy.

This article was written by Cris Rowan, a pediatric occupational therapist, visionary, and author of “Virtual Child – The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children”.  You can find out more about Cris’s work and her Foundation Series Workshops the Zone’in website, or email Cris at Cris’s book is available on, and her confidence and skill building game Unplug’in is available on her website. Research references can be found on the Zone’in Fact Sheet.

Death of the DSM – What does this mean for child mental illness diagnosis?

DSMI had the opportunity to meet with a wise and sage pediatric neurologist Dr. Fred Baughman at a conference in New York who enlightened me on the historical origins of mental illness. Dr. Baughman revealed that up to the mid-1940’s, neurologists treated both physical and mental illness. Due to the absence of any biochemical, anatomical or genetic evidence for mental illness at that time, neurologists split off from treating mental illness, and psychiatry was born. Fast forward to today, nothing has really changed. After millions of dollars spent in research, there is still no evidence that mental illness has physical underpinnings. This statement is supported by the recent decision of the National Institute for Mental Health’s (NIMH) to pull their support for the new Diagnostic and Statistical Manual for Psychiatry Fifth Edition (DSMV). Thomas R. Insel, M.D., Director of the NIMH, made clear the agency would no longer fund research projects that rely exclusively on DSM criteria, so in essence, the DSMV is dead. Insel goes on to state “The weakness (of the DSMV) is its lack of validity. Unlike our definitions of ischemic heart disease, lymphoma, or AIDS, the DSM diagnoses are based on a consensus about clusters of clinical symptoms, not any objective laboratory measure”. Of particular concern to the pediatric health professional community has been the escalating trend to diagnose and medicate problematic behaviors in children, many as young as two years of age. NIMH recently launched the Research Domain Criteria to transform diagnosis by incorporating genetics, imaging, cognitive science, and other levels of information to lay the foundation for a new classification system. So the search for the origins of child mental illness continues, and millions more will be spent looking for the elusive cause as to why so many children are so unhappy. This article challenges traditional diagnostic and medication procedures for children with “mental illness”, and explores reasons why so many children are so unhappy and offers proven alternative treatment options.

Dr. Baughman also enlightened me on the role of medication in supporting child mental illness, and how health professionals developed somewhat “backward thinking” in this area. When a child demonstrates problematic behaviors that are not acceptable to their family, teacher or society in general, these children are increasingly prescribed psychotropic (mind altering) medication e.g. antidepressants, antipsychotics, antianxiety, stimulants, and sedatives. When considering use of psychotropic medication with young children, understanding the impact of long term use on the child’s neurochemistry is imperative.  Psychotropic medication acts to alter the brain’s own biochemicals, termed neurotransmitters. When given psychotropic medication, children generally exhibit improved functional outcomes e.g. less disruptive behavior, which consequently supports the assumption that the child must have a “chemical imbalance”, a popular belief still held by many health professionals today. Long term effects of chronic use of psychotropic medications on a child’s brain is to “down-regulate” the production of its own biochemicals, or neurotransmitters. This down regulation of neurotransmitters occurs largely because the brain perceives they are no longer needed. This receptor down-regulation causes permanent changes in the child’s biochemistry, and eventually can result in an exacerbation of the child’s problematic behavior, and/or causes new disorders, which are readily diagnosed as yet another “mental illness” and also medicated. Hence begins the birth of co-morbid diagnoses and polypharmacy, or the assigning of multiple diagnoses and use of multiple medications to treat the original “mental illness”. Prescribing young children one or many psychotropic medications does not have the support of reliable and replicable research, and could prove to be harmful in both the short and long term. Great Britain and Australia prohibit use of psychotropic medication with children younger than 17 years of age, yet North America uses 95% of the world’s psychotropic medication.

So why do health professionals continue to pursue child mental illness diagnosis and use of psychotropic medication, instead of actively exploring treatment alternatives such as working with the family unit? When research abounds showing the positive benefits of physical exercise, nutrition, family counselling, nature, touch, and human connection on child mental health, why wouldn’t health professionals utilize these modalities as primary treatment options prior to the diagnostic and medication model? Possibly because the diagnosis and medication model is quick and familiar, and is the way it has always been done, albeit unproven and potentially harmful. Or maybe health professionals aren’t knowledgeable about mental health support services in their own community, or how to refer children to these services. Possibly the referral source (parents and teachers) are pushing the health professionals for the drugs, looking for a “quick fix” to problematic behaviors that they are finding just too difficult to deal with. Worth consideration is the power of the pharmaceutical industry, now the most lucrative industry in North America, to sway both consumer and health professionals alike. Investigations have uncovered, time and time again, flagrant conflict of interest at university and government levels showing financial remuneration to researchers for hiding studies which don’t support use of psychotropic medications.

When considering the recent school shootings, health and education professionals might consider taking into account that all shooters are proven video gamers (but not all video gamers are shooters). Prescribing psychotropic medication to an already unhappy and disconnected child or youth, who is also addicted to video games and has access to guns, could create a very dangerous situation where this child or youth now has the propensity to become violent and/or suicidal.  Symptoms of psychotropic medication toxicity are violence and suicide, and therefore medication toxicity must be understood and readily identified by health and education professionals in order to provide ethical and effective intervention, as well as provision of alternative treatments.

It makes sense, in light of recent initiatives by NIMH, to explore proven alternatives to diagnostic and medication procedures for human unhappiness, especially when treating children. As a pediatric occupational therapist, I have witnessed the relationship between thousands of child : parent and child : teacher dyads, the quality of which appears to greatly affect the happiness (or unhappiness) of the child. My clinical observation about the child : parent/teacher relationship is receiving increased support in the research literature, leading me to the conclusion that children possibly aren’t born mentally ill or unhappy, but that parents, teachers, and society make them that way. I want to clarify that organic brain damage sustained from neurological injury or exposure to toxins, is not termed mental illnesses by health professionals, but is instead considered to be brain damage, and therefore does not have causality in the environmental structure of parenting and societal influence. In light of current research showing the power of the parents and teachers to influence child mental illness and addiction, effort toward empowering and supporting these two primary groups could prove to be effective treatment for child mental illness. Education and information dissemination regarding attachment building strategies, and community support networking, could be very beneficial initiatives toward building family and classroom capacity to better support child mental health.

The move toward immersion in technology has coincided with escalation child mental health disorders, as disconnected parents fail to connect with and attach to their young children. In the absence of parental attachment, children are detaching from humanity and attaching to devices in droves. Children need the loving and consistent attention of their parents, and when deprived, will seek “feel good” stimulation elsewhere. Research now indicates 1 in 11 children between the ages of 8 and 18 years have an addiction to technology, some as early as 4 years, primarily to video games and pornography. We have never in the history of human kind witnessed children with addictions. Research shows that family interventions that successfully build child: parent connection and attachment bonding, reduce the child’s reliance on and use of technology. As health and education professionals of the future, we will all need extensive skill and knowledge in assessing and treating family disconnection and technology addition, and the sooner the better.

Building Foundations Virtual Futures

This article was written by Cris Rowan, a pediatric occupational therapist, visionary, and author of “Virtual Child – The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children” available on  You can find out more about Cris and her programs, Foundation Series Workshops, and consultative services on the Zone’in website, or email Cris at Research references used in this article can be located on the Zone’in Fact Sheet on

Video Game Design – Criteria to Enhance Child Development and Learning

As concerns mount regarding the impact of technology on children, visionary focus on changing the design of video games comes to the forefrontBTM Champion Status Seal. Through strategic design, can a video game actually enhance child development and learning? I was recently approached by game designer to work collaboratively with his team in creation of a video game that is engaging, but not harmful to children. We developed a list of criteria for video games which promote child development and learning. These criteria will serve to guide future video game designers toward managing balance between critical factors for child development and learning, with video game use. Designers who meet the Video Game Criteria for Child Development and Learning, will receive the Zone’in Programs Inc. Balanced Technology Management Champion Status seal of approval on their video game. The BTM Champion Status seal of approval will assure parents the video game will enhance their child’s development and learning, and could also be used by government in regulating the gaming industry.

21st Century Questions

Following are just a few questions being asked by parents, teachers, health professionals, government, researchers, and technology production corporations not only in North America, but on a world stage.

Safe technology: should technology production corporations be required to ensure their technology is “safe” for child use; if so, how?

Consumer education: should technology production corporations be required to educate consumers regarding possible harm from product use?

Negligence: should technology production corporations be held legally responsible, if they have neglected to inform the consumers of harmful effects from product use?

Due diligence: what type of consumer education would be sufficient to achieve “due diligence” necessary to release technology production corporations from legal responsibility?

Risk management: what is the role of technology production corporations in the area of risk management?

Video game design: should video game designers be required to adhere to a list of criteria that enhance, not harm, child development and learning?

The first step is for technology production corporations to understand the impact of inevitable misuse of their products, especially by children who stand the chance of sustaining long term effects. The next step is for technology production corporations to enact their own management initiatives to ensure children balance participation in activities that help them grow and succeed, with technology use, a new concept termed Balanced Technology Management. Being proactive in the area of safe video game design, could place technology production corporations as leaders of the forefront of necessary change to enhance child development and learning.

Problems Associated with Video Game Use

In order to determine specific video game components which promote child development and learning, it is imperative to look to existing research profiling the negative impact of gaming (see Zone’in Fact Sheet). Research indicates that children who overuse technology are sedentary, isolated, neglected, and overstimulated, and video games in particular, are violent and competitive. Summarized results of overuse of video games by children are as follows:

  1. Sedentary behavior causes developmental delay and obesity, with consequent illiteracy, cardiovascular disease and diabetes.
  2. Isolation correlates with social disorders, depression, addiction, agoraphobia, and anxiety.
  3. Neglect causes brain damage, with consequent mental and physical health disorders.
  4. Overstimulation causes ADHD and visual/auditory sensory hypersensitivity.
  5. Number of kills and competition in video games, correlate with aggression and violence.

Solutions – Balanced Technology Management

The ways in which society is presently raising and educating children with technology are not sustainable, as the 21st century is now witness to a whole generation of children many of whom will not outlive their parents. Managing balance between healthy activity and technology use, termed Balanced Technology Management (BTM), creates sustainable futures for generations of children to come. Working toward designing video games which enhance child development and learning is one of many BTM strategies. Please view Balanced Technology Management slide show for additional BTM strategies in six target sectors: parents, educators, health professionals, government, researchers, technology production corporations.

Virtual FuturesBuilding Foundations

Video Game Criteria for Child Development and Learning

  1. Product information literature detailing possible risk and harm from use of product.
  2. Product modifications to manage balance between technology use and critical factors for child development and learning, through increased engagement in the following four developmental component areas:
    1. Movement: increased proprioceptive, vestibular and cardiovascular activity.
    2. Touch: increased rough and tumble play.
    3. Human connection: increased face to face social interaction.
    4. Nature: increased outdoor play.
  3. Violence restricted to one kill per minute, and switch to cooperative from competitive theme to reduce violence and aggression.
  4. Utilize strategy themes to slow pace of screen changes to once every 11 seconds to reduce overstimulation.
  5. Remove reward-based incentives to reduce addiction.
  6. Community involvement initiatives to support community-based alternate activities e.g. funding of swimming pool/recreation centre passes, playgrounds, or school camping trips.
  7. Online help networks for prevention and treatment of addictions.

Balanced Technology Management Champion Status

Participating technology production corporations will receive the Balanced Technology Management “seal of approval” which notifies parents, teachers and health professionals that their product meets BTM criteria of enhancing child physical, mental, social and academic health. The BTM Champion Status ensures that technology production corporations are practicing within child health guidelines to minimize risk to sustainability of not only children, but the corporation as well.

Author Contact Information

Cris Rowan is a pediatric occupational therapist passionate about changing the ways in which children use technology. Author of “Virtual Child – The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children”, Rowan provides workshops, programs, training and consultation to enhance child development and learning.

Cris Rowan, OT (Reg), BScOT, BScBi, SIPT, Approved Provider for ACTBC, AOTA and CAOT CEO
Zone’in Programs Inc. and Sunshine Coast Occupational Therapy Inc.
6840 Seaview Rd. Sechelt BC V0N3A4
604-885-0986 O, 604-740-2264 C, 604-885-0389 F,,