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This is the second part of the interview I’ve translated from Hungarian about children’s development and the role of the media that was made with Gerald Hüther and published in Hungarian here (unfortunately, this site can no longer be accessed). This part is mainly directly about the effect of the media on the brain.

“So do you think children need tasks?”

For the brain the real challenges and adventures are of decisive importance. Going fishing with uncle, building a house into a tree, or climbing a mountain. The adventures have made us all strong. Nerve scientists can now prove the connection: children have to overcome as many challenges as possible during their lives so that the most important networks can be created. Therefore, children need a world in which interactivity plays a very large role. And that not in the context of virtuality, but of real life.

“Can children later develop this neuronal network in their brains?”

“If the critical period is over and the networks important for the regulation of the body are sparsely developed, the child does not have a good feeling about his/her body. However, the brain remains malleable throughout our whole life. An 8-, or 10-year-old child shall also benefit later from all the experience of his/her body that he/she acquires nowadays. However, the child will be differently motivated to train his/her body. The learning process no longer takes place intuitively and automatically. Children are ashamed of themselves, they are mocked at – and they learn with fear, which is not a good basis.

“Provided that at age 6 the important neuronal networks in the brain have already been established, are children protected by this time against all danger from the media?”

“Not necessarily, because many children are in the danger that they will get lost in the virtual worlds.”

“Are you referring to computer games?”

“Yes, among others. It is because it becomes dangerous if children use the digital media to meet their essential needs. Each person has two of those.

One is to belong somewhere. The other is to want to perform. The first need is expressed in the need for bonding, the second in the desire for freedom. Kids suffer in our society first of all from the fact that they only rarely have the opportunity to achieve something. They find no real tasks which may strengthen them in their development. That is because those would precisely be the tools to be used to build up children’s self-image, their identity.

It is obvious that a lot of parents have already forgotten what such a task would be like, the kind helping the development of a child. The child himself has to find this task nowadays, and it should indeed be challenging and long.

At the end of it, we will feel like when climbing a mountain: we only sit up there, and simply feel happy. This is a sign that the child has solved a real task, that in this case, there is no need for outside praise, he is happy with it on his own.

Today, primarily the boys find it to be their task to develop their proficiency to absolute perfection in computer games. In such competitions, they can show others how good they are. But those tasks are not suitable to assist them to find their way in real life.

“What kind of children are especially vulnerable?”

“Precisely 40% of German schoolchildren go to school feeling stressed. In particular, the boys are those who sit down in front of the computers immediately after school. They need at least one hour’s shooting games. The computer is, for them, a means of getting rid of their frustration. By doing a great job holding their ground among the adventures of the virtual worlds, butchering monsters and becoming victorious, they find a way out of their powerlessness and the mounting agression. They reduce their frustration with a peculiar achievement.

“So then, again, the system of rewards comes in action.”

“Exactly. As if the children had come by a wonderful life experience. This experience, however, applies to a world which does not exist in reality. Neurobiologically speaking, this is fatal: the child trains his mind for situations that only occur on screen. What is more, computers create the illusion of controllability too. When a child plays with another one, his experience is that, in reality, not everything can be controlled. Another person is not always doing what we want.

Besides, a lot of kids can no longer sense their bodies during a game. They no longer need sleep, they do not respond to signals of hunger or thirst. In South-Eastern Asia, the first cases have already appeared where computer-dependent youngsters starved to death or dried out sitting in front of the computer.

“You are talking about boys basically. But what do girls do with the computer?”

“They chat. Girls feel more need to belong somewhere and to build up relationships. And then, if this is not really successful, chatting can become a compensating substitute to some extent for the missing proximity and bonding. I do not have to prattle every five minutes with a friend in whom I can trust. That girls talk so much is rather a sign that they have in fact become uncertain, and they cannot trust the durability and strength of the connection. It is like when chicks call their mother.

“And do the real social relations wither away?”

“This must necessarily happen so. They can only keep real relationships with another if they are really together. All else is only virtual connections. Because in the virtual spaces, people are not present in their full reality. They have no fragrance, no smell, their movement and other manifestations are not life-like. In virtuality, features of encounters prevalent to life do not occur. While chatting, they only communicate in writing.

To be continued soon …

by P. S.