Episode 13 – Mindful Monday: Healthy Gamer, Defining the Challenges


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Rebecca: I am delighted to be here today with Alok and Kruti Kanojia, who are the co-founders of Healthy Gamer. And Healthy Gamer is a digital platform supporting mental health for gamers. Dr. Kanojia, or Dr. K as gamers call him, is the world experts on gamer psychiatry. Kruti is the CEO and creates solution for parents of gamers to build healthy relationships and healthy gaming habits. So thank you both for being here today.

Dr K: Thanks for having us Rebecca it’s our pleasure.

Rebecca: Yeah, so I know that we found each other and we really are on the same page with the importance of the relationship and I think it’s so important when we’re talking about technology, which can be such a divisive topic in families. There are so many families that I can’t tell you how many times, how many sessions have been devoted to this topic, how many questions I’ve had from parents about this. So I’m really excited to be having this conversation that I think is so important not focusing on how can we get them to stop, how can we shame them out of it, how can we give them enough consequences or make them do what we want them to do and get away from the technology, but really recognizing the importance of that and their relationship and how we can shift our focus to that and support our families.

Dr. K: I think that’s a great goal I mean it’s we sort of share that goal 100% because what we find is that a lot of conflict around gaming actually damages the relationship between parent and child and if you really want to have an impact on your child’s gaming you have to start by repairing that relationship.

Rebecca: That’s right, so I thought this was a perfect thing for all relationships can heal. Let’s talk about that. So I want to talk a little bit about defining the challenge that families have around technology because gaming is one aspect, but of course it’s all the aspects of technology that get in the way and I want to just first say that we’re not saying that gaming and technology is bad. That’s not where we’re coming from. It’s a huge part of life, we’re not going to go and become Amish and esque all technology or you know go live on an island somewhere that there’s no cell service. Technology is a part of our lives. So, we do need to learn how to integrate that into our lives. So, let’s talk a little bit about what is the challenge that families are having.

Dr. K: Sure, so I think once again we agree with you and I think part of the reason we started Healthy Gamer is because as video game addiction becomes more of a real thing. So, 9.4% of people under the age of 18 are addicted to video games and as that becomes more of a problem, we’re sort of getting a lot of demonization of technology. It creates a lot of conflict between parents and kids and so it gets viewed as evil, but we believe in creating healthy gamers and healthy families. And our goal is to help parents facilitate that and its challenges because games and technology are evolving so rapidly that standard is changing very quickly. So, a big challenge that we see with parents is that, sure you can (restrict) the amount of hours that a child plays a game, but what do you do about like when they watch YouTube or when they’re reading about the video game. So, it’s kind of like a moving target we’re not even really sure what’s okay, what isn’t okay we get a lot of questions for parents about sort of hourly cut offs. So, they don’t even know what is the right way to approach it. Do we take it away completely? Do we let them do it on the weekends? Is there a certain amount that’s too much? So one of the biggest challenges is actually defining the challenge right because it’s so standard it’s so ubiquitous. Another challenge we see is that if you’re instituting let’s say particular regimen or restriction on your child that can be an uphill battle if other parents are not doing the same thing.

Dr. K: So, one of the biggest things that we’re recognizing is that you can’t just operate in a vacuum as crazy as this sounds. It’s not just about the relationship between you and your child, but also about what your child’s friend’s parents are doing. And we’re seeing more and more of an importance for  parents to actually talk together about instituting common limits so that your child because it can actually one of the worst things that can happen is that if you take a video game away and that’s a big part of social communities now. That’s a big part of you know how your child interacts with his peers his or her peers and so you have to be really careful about that because you don’t want to isolate him or her from his friend group.

And so we really find that that’s a big challenge in terms of like what of families are doing. I think the biggest challenge is that a lot of these things do have kind of addictive qualities and a lot of times actually what they can do is turn your child into someone that they’re usually not and how do you kind of deal with someone who is a little bit more irrational is a little bit more irritable. You know it’s hard to deal with your child when they stay up later than they should be because then they’re cranky the next day and if you’re trying to connect with them that can be really hard because their brain just isn’t functioning properly they’re exhausted so I think those are all challenges.

Rebecca: Yes, it’s challenging to parent right now. That’s as a parent myself. You know I’ve got a 15 and 20 year old, these are all conversations that we’ve been having for a long time.

Kruti: I think it’s also very easy to get so caught up in the regulation and the monitoring and the roles of it and stop appreciating all the good things that technology is doing for us. One of things that we talk about is how games in particular can really stimulate intellectual challenge right if your kid is bored at school they can instantly level up in games. So, there’s more kind of quick response in there or if they’re very creative and don’t have a lot of outlets for that. Games can be a great place for that. Alok was talking about the social aspect if your kid is one of those kids that you know doesn’t really have a lot of friends for whatever reason in the classroom online can be a great place to form those relationships. I think a lot of what we can do in those instances is just to recognize there’s a lot of good that can come out of this as well.

Rebecca: Absolutely, because we’re not trying to vilify games or gaming or technology there are there some amazing things that kids learn. My son, my 15 year-old, has been playing Minecraft for a really long time and he builds these incredible worlds. For a couple years he was working on a Cruise ship. It is the most detail thing it makes me dizzy to try go down into portals and everything I mean, just what he created is incredible. And so you know and he love Legos and still you know was building things and then building things in his virtual world and then building things in person. And so there’s so much good and so and I think I would love to just segway a little bit into your story Dr. K because I know that gaming was a big part of your life and well it still is, it’s just in different forms. So, tell us a little bit about your own story.

Dr. K: Yes, so I think you know my story actually starts with I started school early and I never really understood this until far later, but I was younger than all of my peers which really meant that I didn’t do well at sports. So, I was like, I started I think you know first grade at the age of like four or five and I was competing against like six-year-olds. And so I sort of, from a young age, never felt like I was good at sports and I realized that was just fear because I was a year younger. And then so was got bullied a fair amount and got picked last for the team and those kinds of things because a lot of when I went to school it was a lot of your social standing had to do with your physical prowess and so I started playing games because that was kind of a place where I felt equal because I could play just as well as anyone else. And really kind of turned to games as kind of a coping mechanism in a lot of ways from bullying and things like that. And then really started to have problems around high school my grades started to suffer and then when I went to college really just didn’t do well. I was on academic probation was basically failing out of college had less than a 2.0 GPA because I was playing video games just like all day. And then thankfully and then that had created a lot of conflict between me my parents as well because they didn’t quite understand what was going on, they just knew that I wasn’t doing well in school. And even back then I didn’t have the words to explain to them that, you know I’m playing video games.  I knew that they would punish me basically if I was open with them about my problem, which is another big challenge that people face.

You know when they have a behavior that they know is ruining their life but when you kind of get punished for it. So there really wasn’t time the summer after my sophomore year my dad sat down and you know I’d been yelled at and things like that. But he said like this isn’t working and he actually took a really different approach and said, “You know this is not working. Do you agree?” It wasn’t me being yelled at it was like us problem-solving together and I was like yeah it’s not working he’s like so I think you should go to India. And so he sort of recommended that I go to an ashram which is like a monastery where people study yoga and meditation. And I said okay fine and two weeks later I was on a plane and then ended up staying in India for three months studying yoga and meditation and absolutely loved it.

I discovered a system that taught me like how I work. So you know I would learn mathematics and Spanish and history and things like that but no one teaches you like where do your desires come from, why is it that sometimes you can conquer than them and sometimes you can’t and that was a wonderful part of kind of his own journey that he had kind of done over the last decade that he kind of shared with me I actually decided to become a monk and then met Kruti.

Rebecca: Decided that wasn’t going to work for you.

Dr. K: That wasn’t going work, but spent years actually studying yoga and meditation and then decided to end up going to medical school and then did neuroscience research for a little while and then became a psychiatrist. And as a psychiatrist I started asking people and during that entire time by the way I was still playing video games. Just in a much more balanced way and also my parents and I you know we were on much better terms as I started to put my life together and things like that. So when I was training to become a psychiatrist I started asking people like what do you guys think about video game addiction? And I was lucky enough to train that some wonderful institutions and you know these are people that are at Harvard Medical School and so they’re like really experts in their field. And no one really knew anything and you know one person that I was working, one of my supervisors who’s just a brilliant psychoanalyst was kind of saying yeah I think it has something to do with why people get tattoo. And that really confused me and that’s when it struck me that leaders in the field of like psychology and psychiatry are in their 50s they’ve never played a video game.

Rebecca: Right they have no idea.

Dr. K: They really don’t they have kids who play video games and stuff like that but they’ve never really played video games. And so I saw a big need that gamers were and I reached out to friends of mine and just started talking to them so I would just talk to gamers from the internet. So like literally all over the world and just ask them, “Why do you play video games? Do you try to stop and why can’t you stop?” And that was about five years ago and so now as we’ve kind of evolved I started working with gamers and then as I started to kind of get some traction on social media or different kind of news outlets or articles or things like that. Then parents started reaching out and so we actually pivoted the first sort of really packaged product we made was actually for parents. Because what I saw is that the biggest lack of guidance is actually for parents. Parents are going to pediatricians and they’re asking them what’s okay and what’s not okay? Pediatricians don’t know.

Rebecca: They don’t know.

Kruti: Both of our moms are pediatricians by the way.

Rebecca: They don’t know.

Dr. K: And so technology has really taken over so much of our life it’s become so ubiquitous. I think you know the first smartphone came out like 15 years ago or something in such a small amount of time it dominates everything and parents just don’t know what to do. Games are becoming more addictive. You know YouTube is becoming more engaging it’s easier to spend more and more time. There are books and studies and dissertations being written about how to keep someone glued to a screen. And so parents are facing like harder and harder challenges as games become more engrossing.

Rebecca: Right by design.

Dr. K: By design.

Kruti: And then to level the playing field right the resources that they have the teachers pediatrician, psychiatrist even I think 60% of Psychiatrists in this country are over the age of 55. So, if you have this problem and you go through the insurance and you find somebody you get on the wait list you finally get into that appointment. You have a much higher chance than not of that person thinking it has something to do with tattoos right.

Rebecca: No, it has nothing to do with tattoos.

Kruti: When I there was an event around this time last year and they’re a bunch of talking heads on the news saying well it’s because of video games and Alok turned to me he said these people don’t have a clue. I said, “Wait a minute! Do you?” and he said, “I think I do. I’ve lived it, I’ve talked to about a hundred gamers at this point and trained with the best of the best. I think I know what I’m talking about.” And so we said okay, let’s talk about it and so he did this open forum on Reddit and about a hundred people reached out and said can you help me gamer right that recognized that it had gone too far and we said I don’t think we can we’re not licensed in your state there’s no way to reimburse it there’s too much liability like I don’t know how this could work. That’s a lot of why we created the solutions that we did is to just kind of nip it in the bud in the first place what is it that these people could have had growing up. I would have still let them play games still let them have all the beautiful things that have come out of. I met some of our friends at our wedding for the first time. So I think I mean it’s just the reason why we do kind of what we do is because there’s just this huge gap right now in knowledge.

Rebecca: Yeah, yeah and parents are in that gap they are in the gap going what do I do someone help me.

Dr. K: Yeah, I think that that’s the problem right is that parents you know I mean you just think about a parent and you go home and you have a 15 year old right. And so how do you know what is too much, when isn’t too much, does it impact their sleep?  How do you know as a parent if it’s a problem? How do you know if your kid is playing too much because everyone else is playing a lot you know? So I think a big challenge that we see with video gaming is that over time what tends to happen is it becomes child plus video game against parent. So, it evolved into this oppositional relationship where your child sees you as the enemy because you’re trying to take away the video game. They don’t feel understood, so I think one of the biggest challenges is actually is the relationship between parent and child. And as you have to restrict something that you think is or you know is impacting your child, how do you go about doing that without becoming the enemy?

Rebecca: Right and that’s what we’re going be talking about as we continue our conversation so thank you so much for this this starts and stay tuned for more tomorrow.

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Rebecca Thompson Hitt

Rebecca is the founder of The Consciously Parenting Project, LLC, and author of 3 books (Consciously Parenting: What it really Takes to Raise Emotionally Healthy Families, Creating Connection: Essential Tools for Growing Families through Conception, Birth and Beyond, and Nurturing Connection: What Parents Need to Know about Emotional Expression and Bonding), numerous classes and recordings, and the former co-host of a radio show, True North Parents.

Rebecca Thompson Hitt has 193 posts and counting. See all posts by Rebecca Thompson Hitt

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