Epic Every Day: What Video Games and the Millenials Can Teach Us If We Let Them


The term millennial refers to the generation following mine, Generation X, who were born between the early 80s and 2001.  There certainly may be some differences in the millennial cohort in terms of race and social class, but in my experience working in both urban and suburban settings, technology use is not one of them.  In fact, technology has probably exacerbated some of the traits millennials are known and often criticized for.  Social media has made expression more democratic and amplified, and millennials cite self-expression as extremely important.  Growing up with the internet has also placed them in the same social and informational spheres as their parents more than previous generations, making them more civic-minded than rebellious, and having different, some would say overly dependent, attachments to their parents.

Common complaints about millennials include that they are entitled, tethered to their parents, unable to tolerate longterm goals, averse to sustained effort and require a constant stream of praise for the most minimal pieces of work.  The other side of this coin is worth noting, too:  Higher sense of self-expression has led to millennials’ higher acceptance of diversity in others; they are more comfortable with switching jobs or organizations they work with and working outside the box in general.  Yes, they may also have a higher tendency to blame external rather than internal things for their problems, but having come to self-awareness post-9/11, can we really blame them?

In my work, I often encounter children, adolescents and young adults who are failing in school for a variety of reasons.  These “millennials” avoid attending, and often the blame is placed on excessive video game use.  They are seen to be escaping from reality, and although I can understand this perspective, it also puzzles me in some ways.  Video games would in many ways seem to me to be going from the frying pan into the fire:  They are rife with failure; in fact the statistic Jane McGonigal gives us is that people are failing 85% of the time in playing video games.  MMOs often require even more collaboration, sharing and critical thinking between individuals than classrooms in any given 30 minute period.

Millennials are often criticized as post-academic workers as well, for having less job loyalty, a need for constant feedback, and expecting that feedback to be praise.  In more affluent school districts I often heard their parents described as helicopter parents, who would email school minutes after receiving the report card to begin to debate the grades and exert pressure on educators to change them.  This has led to such grade inflation in my experience that my graduate school students are hurt and insulted when they get a B+ on a paper, sometimes to the point of tears.  I can’t remember a class I had in college where I wasn’t listening to a lecture, millennials are constantly asking for more small group work.  I’ve even had a call on occasion from a parent about their child’s performance.  Did I mention that I taught in graduate school?

From the above criticisms you’d think I was down on millennials, and you’d be dead wrong.  Because I think for the most part the millennials are happy, tolerant, and more likely to help others voluntarily than other generations, and the Pew Research on them bears this out.  And I think that a major reason for this is that they play video games.

The video games of today and the past decade have morphed from Pong and Space Invaders to Halo and World of Warcraft.  They have set up myriad game worlds where survival and thriving requires critical thinking, social collaboration, and lots of trial and error for mastery.  These games have also been played by over 90% of the millennial population, and I would suggest that the result is that millennials have been conditioned to be more collaborative, expect feedback to be quick and positive, and be more connected to others through technology.

Then we send them to school,  and it is frustrating for a majority of them, a majority of teachers, and a majority of parents.  Rather than encourage them to be “lifelong learners,” education as it is currently structured aims to produce a very narrow form of educated person, one that Sir Ken Robinson describes in his TED talk as an “academic professor.”  In addition, we all start to become impatient with millennials to adopt our own often individualistic notions of what adulthood is.  They need to stand on their own two feet, work without constant reassurance, and memorize things that they could just as easily Google.  All to get into the right college, and all to get a good job.

We criticize the millennials’ work ethic for many of the same reasons:  They won’t take individual responsibility for projects, they have trouble working independently, and they expect an award merely for being present.  They need to take things more seriously and get their nose to the grindstone, no one has time to hold their hand anymore.  These are all complaints I have heard levied against adolescents and young adults in my work, and the implicit message is that it is time to grow up.

One of the greatest things we can learn from millennials is something that I think they learned from video games, and that is how to destigmatize, and even enjoy, failure.  The epitome of this for me is the Heron’ The Greatest Spelling Bee Fail/Epic Win of All Time—which was posted on YouTube originally by the millennial who flubbed it.  This ability to have a sense of observing ego and humor about oneself is something many of us in psychotherapy work with our patients for years to achieve, and yet as a generation millennials seem to have grasped it more easily.

Part of my work with gamers is often to explore this paradox:  Why is it fun or okay to fail in video games so much, and so intolerable in work or school?  Sure, part of it is that play is a magic circle according to Huizinga, which is marked apart from real life.  But games impact the same brain, the same emotions that exists inside and out of that circle.  And if that is the case, there must be some transferable skills.  We work on how to destigmatize failure

Innovation requires lots of trial and error, and lots of failures.  As educator Lucas Gillispie said at a recent education conference in Second Life, it makes little sense to penalize so harshly when students get 69%.  Rather than see it as having acquired more than half the knowledge assessed, we make it a source of embarrassment and usually require they repeat the entire exercise, class, or grade.  Millennials have grown up with a split view of failure.  On the one hand, video games have helped them understand that failure can be fun, even if you’re failing 85% of the time.  On the other, they are put in educational environments where the A is everything, and the goal of learning is to get high marks rather than enjoy the creativity and critical thinking.   In fact, A’s are so limiting!  Why not focus on a high score which can always be improved upon in school?  If the best you can do is an A, then you have to resort to accumulating the most A’s possible, which is less intrinsically rewarding and dynamic.

Many detractors will say that millennials need to get with the existing program, that what I am suggesting is dumbing down a curriculum, or that I am being too Pollyanna and that some jobs just aren’t capable of being fun.  But for over a decade companies like IBM have found success modeling work environments on MMOs, and schools which institute dance classes notice higher math scores. And the solution to our economic and occupational troubles may not be the return of a “work ethic” or more job, but the creation of new types of schools and jobs, work we can’t even imagine yet because it hasn’t been innovated or invented.  Can you imagine some 14th century youth telling his farmer dad, “I don’t want to work on the farm.  I’d like to create and use something that applies pressure and ink to paper to make reading and writing something we can all do.”

It probably isn’t a coincidence that the word “epic” has become ubiquitous over the past several years, with so many millennials and others playing video games like World of Warcraft.  And it has come under fire by many of my colleagues, who maintain that in a culture where everything is Epic, nothing truly is.  I’m not saying that everything is Epic, but I am saying that there can be some Epic every day.  It’s what they call teachable moments, flow, success, even the Epic fail that we can laugh off with colleagues before redoubling our efforts to nail it next time.  What we’re really learning here is how to tolerate frustration.

Millennials know that “epic” is a superlative, they’re not devaluing the currency of that word.  If anything, I think that this is a sign that Buddhist thinking is becoming more integrated into the 21st century:  It is Epic that we are here alive in this moment, that we want and fear so much, and the struggles that ensure from those things. There are a lot of levels left to unlock and problems to be vanquished in the world, and we need to cultivate optimism and positive psychology at school and in the workplace, not stomp on it.

Millennials often have that sense that there can be some Epic every day.  Video games offer worlds where there can be some Epic every day, too.  Let’s start noticing it.

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When Wallflowers Attack

Back in graduate school, my group therapy professor once said to me, “early risk-takers are often scapegoated by the group.”  This comment came on the heels of yours truly taking a risk in the group, a group of psychotherapists in training.  I learned two things in that group class on that day.  The first was that early risk-takers are often scapegoated.  The second was that we therapists can be just as cruel with our comments as anyone else.

This is something that many of my supervisees encounter when they start to put themselves out there, especially on the interwebs.  They are stunned when the blog post they write elicits comments that are sometimes shocking in their nastiness.  They are confused as to why this happens, and what to do about it.  If you are beginning to use social media to build your psychotherapy practice, write newsletters, prepare a public speaking campaign or just write a blog, this post is for you.

The internet has made it easier to be both impulsive and anonymous, and emboldened some people to hurl invectives.  I call these people the wallflowers.  These are the people in any given group who are afraid to take risks or stand out, and resent those who are brave enough to do so.  They are quietly resentful, and more often than not envious of people who are not quiet.  I’m not talking about introverts here, but rather a particular group who stand on the sidelines seething.

These are the people who send you a nasty email at 2:00 AM criticizing your post for a spelling error, or the folks who text really ugly comments to you after you post something on a listserv they don’t like.  They’re the people who make personal attacks on your workshop evaluation in the guise of constructive criticism, or bait you in discussion groups by deliberately misconstruing your words.  Yes, I’m not making this stuff up, all of these things and worse have come at me by email, Twitter, Facebook, blog comment, and text message.  The majority of the time it will be behind the scenes of whatever arena you’re in, so that you can see it and the larger group can’t.  Consciously or unconsciously, wallflowers are counting on you not passing these barbs on to the larger group.  Nobody likes a tattletale.

So what do you do about them?

First, take a second and calm down, and note that the intensity of your response is probably an indicator that this is out of the ordinary.  Next, try to find a trusted friend or family member that you feel comfortable sharing it with, and ask them what they make of it.  Supervisors are often really helpful here.  Often they will react more strongly then you did, which gives you another clue its a wallflower attack.  Your inclination may be to try to learn something from the comment.  I’m going to say something that may go against the therapist grain here–Dismiss the comment and the wallflower.  Don’t bother trying to make this into a growth opportunity, there are plenty of other growth opportunities out there for you.  Don’t give this your energy.

In my experience this is very hard to do, because therapist wallflowers have a lot of skills to hook you.  They bring their therapeutic arsenal and try to come at you as a therapist, by analyzing or interpreting you.  Don’t fall for it.  Just because you both speak the same language doesn’t mean you have to have a conversation with them.  Therapy is a specialized and voluntary form of conversation, and anyone who tries to inflict this on you unasked is using their Jedi therapy powers for ill.

This is your reminder.

This is the price you will have to pay for being an innovator and a risk taker.  Early risk takers are often scapegoated.  You didn’t do anything wrong, you were just putting yourself out there.  And every time you do that, you will run the risk of a wallflower attack.  Don’t overprocess it, move on.  And definitely don’t let it stop you.  Remind yourself that the reason they had anything to attack you about is because you’re doing something they wish they could, creating.  Anyone can ping off a blog post, or fire off a Tweet in reaction, but it will only be a reaction, not a standalone.

Remind yourself that your ideas are precious.  I’m not trying to sound New Agey here.  What I mean is that the fact that you had something to put out there is not to be taken for granted or underestimated.  You could have not had the inspiration for that workshop or podcast, but you had it.  All over the world there are people who have not given awareness to ideas, throughout history millions of good ideas have never been expressed or seen the light of day.  Not you.  You did it!  And if you stop taking risks the wallflowers win, and the prize is one less idea in the world.  Yippee.

I know this can be hard to do, trust me.  And the technology we have today has made it even easier for wallflowers to attack.  It’s sort of like that sense of invincibility drivers get when they are encased in the protection of their cars.  Shake it off.  Share it with someone you trust for perspective.  Dismiss it.  Stay focused.  You can take time to smell the roses, but don’t get distracted by the wallflowers.


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“On the Computer.”

You can often tell a lot about how people value (or don’t) something by a preposition.  It is very subtle, but I have come to find that “on” in particular is a problematic one.  People are on drugs, on parole, etc.

Often I hear parents or clinicians talk about how much time Janey spends “on” the computer, or on Xbox, Playstation, etc.  I also hear about how much time Eric is “on” Facebook, 4Chan, etc.  There is always a negative connotation to this.  I have never heard someone complain about how much time someone spends “on” the book, on the gym, on the dance, etc.

This may seem like a small detail, but why are the recent technologies, things that we are “on?”  Is it because the web and video games were seen as analagous to the phone and television in their early days?  I don’t think that is the whole story.  Maybe we view technology as still cold and alien so we don’t curl up “with” a video game like we would a good book.  I can’t quite put my finger on it, but there seems to be something perjorative about being on the computer or social media that just isn’t presented the same ways with the older more familiar literacies and arts in our culture.

But my biggest problem with this preposition is that it allows important clinical data to hide in plain site of the clinician: Our patient telling us that they are on the computer at night tells us next to nothing about what they are doing with it.  The same goes for Facebook or Tumblr.  When someone tells you in your office that they spent several hours on Facebook, do you ask them what they are doing on it?

These question matter, because as technology has become more advanced and mainstream the computer can be used to access many things: information, play, sexual excitement, art, all these and more are a mere mouse-click away.  And when we are told someone is on the computer, I’d suggest we are only one question away from a panoramic window into their conscious and unconscious life.

So to with Facebook.  In 2012 being on Facebook can mean any or all of these: reading, status updating, letter-writing, IMing, game-playing, listening to music, political activism, remembering a birthday, seeing photos of grandchildren, searching content, RSVPing to a party, planning a party, and yes, even having a party.  Many relational things are happening on social media, real connections are beginning, middling and ending on it as you read this.

One good check for you is to pause and ask yourself what you think they are doing on Facebook.  I am often amazed at how disinterested therapists appear to be about that.  I have heard things at workshops like, “I don’t want to have anything to do with Facebook.”  End of subject.  Well, the statistics are accurate, more than half of the people in the US are “on” Facebook.  And I personally think when  half the population is involved in something, we can’t afford to be disinterested in it.  At best this dismissal of a patient’s interest is an empathic failure, at worst it is dangerous.

I believe more and more that we have an ethical duty to educate ourselves about social media sufficiently so that we can help our patients and our society move towards universal digital literacy.  We need to be able to help parents understand privacy settings, as well as challenge them not to think parenting has a privacy setting they can “park” their responsibility on.  We need to help schools help kids learn how to communicate online even as we educate them that cyberbullying is different than traditional bullying, and in fact often more indicative of a moral panic about technology rather than an “epidemic.”  We need to help extend our support of the individual’s reality testing to the online world, or as Howard Rheingold says, help them develop their “crap detector.”

Additionally, we need to become more nuanced in our understanding of what can be done or experienced “on” the computer, in order to understand how to keep psychology and social work relevant.  We need to include video games in play therapy, use Pinterest for DBT skills building, YouTube to provide transitional objects or guided imagery.  These do not have to dilute traditional psychotherapy, but our reluctance to use them does.  As a psychodynamic practitioner I note how we are falling behind our more behaviorally-oriented colleagues in using technology.  Technology has always had its place in psychoanalytic theory, as metaphor, analogy, and the technology of literacy to help us make sense of human experience.  Technology aids and abets the ego defenses, creates another arena for object relations to play out, and provides selfobject functions.

We are not just “on” the computer or Facebook, our relationship with them and their’s with us is much more complicated than that.  If by on we are talking about position, we’ve got the position all wrong.  “On” implies perching on top of something, like a precipice.  We are within experiences of the computer and social media, the plunge has been taken and we are swimming in it.  Now we need to begin to figure out what that means.


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Technology and Time Management: Some Simple Tips

Sometimes people get the impression from my presentations, book, or this blog that I think that there is no such thing as too much use of video games, social media & technology, so let me set the record straight.  I do think that there is such a thing as problem usage.  One of the first questions I get when I speak to therapists, educators or parents usually is, “how much time spent playing video games, texting, or using Facebook is too much?”  The concern is real and understandable, but the problem is the way the question is framed.

Other than sleep, and maybe meditation, I can’t think of any activity that is good to do for 8 hours straight on a regular basis.  Nothing, not gaming, sitting on an airplane, playing hopscotch, calisthenics, drinking alcohol or water, studying, or mowing the lawn, will be without adverse effects if you do it constantly for 8 hours straight.  What makes most things problematic is not the quantity of time, but the quality of your life as a result of the usage.  If you were to play hopscotch for any length of time such that it lost you your job, ruined your school performance, jeopardized your relationships with loved ones, or made you feel more negatively about yourself, those qualitative concerns are what would make it problematic.  That said, another qualitative factor in determining whether using technology has become problematic for you can be its impact on your time management skills.

I strongly suspect that people have had time management challenges for as long as there have been sundials.  And we do know from history that each introduction of a new technology is followed by an exponential increase in its use, which in turn creates feelings of overwhelm.  And these feelings of being overwhelmed are what necessarily precede our developing the mental, physical and technological skills to manage the new use.  The earliest known book indexes showed up about 150 years after the printing press, and were preceded by 50 years of increasing overwhelm as Europe’s book collection grew from approximately 30,000 to over 20 million.  (And no doubt, even as knowledge and the arts grew so rapidly, there were members of the population who had little interest in learning to read, and would have criticized time wasted reading that could have been put to better use, like tilling the fields or baking bread.)

So here we are again, with a proliferation of technology and the demonization, confusion, and yes, real problems that come with it.  Two years ago the average amount of time adults in the U.S. spent online was 13 hours excluding email, and with the advent of the iPad it has undoubtedly increased from there.  Fortunately, people are starting to talk about ways to reflect on the way we use technology, such as Howard Rheingold in his new book, Net Smart.  Which is important, because we’ve passed the point where using technology is optional, at least if you want to live and work in the U.S.  So here are a few tips I thought I’d pass on that I and people I work with have found helpful in learning to how to manage your time and tech use:


  1. First, figure out what thing is the most time suck for you, because it varies.  For some people it is going on Facebook, for others it’s gaming.  Personally, I don’t think I spend more than 30 minutes a week on Facebook, because it isn’t my “thing.”  On the other hand, I need to do something about the 2,500 unread emails in my box.
  2. Next, drill down into that technology and figure out what particular elements are taking up the most time.  Saying “I spend hours on Facebook or Google+” is pretty meaningless, because these platforms have such varied functionality.  Are you on FB chatting?  Reading updates? Playing Farmville?  Take a few minutes to reflect on what you do and how much time it tends to consume.
  3. Consider Chunking.  Remember how I said my email was my biggest time suck?  When I really feel overwhelmed, I begin setting aside a couple of 30 minute blocks to read carefully and respond thoughtfully to emails.
  4. If you’re a therapist, I suggest you take a lesson from your voicemail, and begin using an auto-responder.  They are pretty universally available through either your webmail settings or your software.  I do think we have a responsibility to our patients to let them know that their message has been received, and told that if this is an emergency they should not wait for a reply, but go to the ER or call 911.
  5. Peter Bregman, a blogger for the Harvard Business Review, makes the excellent suggestion of having two lists for your day.  The first one lists the things you need to pay attention to that day.  The second one is lists the things you need NOT to pay attention to.  Many of us have a really hard time making priorities.  We think that everything needs to be attended to, and sure, if you put something on the NOT list, you will miss out on something.  It doesn’t feel good or easy to set priorities, because that is the nature of prioritizing.
  6. To the above lists, I suggest that you apply my own (non-patented) Postit Rule.  Quite simply, the Postit Rule is that any list needs to fit legibly on a regular sized Postit, or be shortened.  If I cannot print the items on my list legibly on one side of a postit, then more things need to go on the “NOT attending to” list.  Experience has proven that if I don’t do this I won’t get everything done anyway, because even though “dither and complain about how busy I am” never shows up on either list, it somehow seems to consume a lot of time.
  7. For gamers who are having a hard time logging off, I suggest a PostIt that is taped up to the edge of your monitor saying something like “Just win?  Maybe now’s a good time to log off.”
  8. For gamers who are interested in doing some self-reflection, I suggest you do this experiment:  Keep a pad and pen near the place you’re playing.  Tell yourself (and others if you’re grouped) that you are going to log off the next fail, not as a rage quit, but as an exercise.  Then, when you lose, log off and spend 10-15 minutes writing down the thoughts, feelings, and impressions that come up immediately after a fail.  Does it feel infuriating to lose?  Urgent? Funny? A relief?  What thoughts do you catch running through your mind?  After you’ve reflected a minute, put it away, but take it out and reread it an hour later and a day later.  What do you think of it now?
    You may have noticed that the above strategies don’t depend for the most part on advanced technology, but rather putting tangible reminders in your field of vision during the day.
    That said, there are several apps and sites that may help you get a handle on your time as well:
  1. If you surf a lot, consider using a news aggregator.  One Howard Rheingold recommends is NetVibes, which is very customizeable.  I find it a little too overwhelming, and I surf mostly on my iPad rather than a desktop, so I use  the App Flipboard.  It has a nice intuitive interface and allows me to read and share material very easily from within it.  Or you can try Google’s Feedburner or FeedDemon.
  2. If you haven’t tried Evernote yet, especially on the latest iPhone, you are missing out on another good time-saver for non-confidential sorts of info.  Evernote stores your notes, lists, pictures, and webpages so you can access them on any computer.  It makes what you save searchable, and best of all IMHO in the latest iPhone you can dictate notes.  If you’re a student or work with students, I recommend StudyBlue as well.

These are just some of the things out there that can help you achieve more mindfulness and organization.  Because in my opinion the hours counting and addiction labeling is dodging the real issue, how to increase our own mental abilities to become self-reflective and intentional in our use of technology.  Notice what you are attending to, increase the space between thinking and doing, and I’ll bet you find yourself a better gamer, blogger, worker, student, or other user of technology.


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Harriet At Forty-Eight

If you never read the novel Harriet the Spy, I hope you will ASAP.    My hope is that most children, parents and therapists have had a chance to read it already, because it has a lot to teach us about digital citizenship.  You can get it on Amazon here.

Harriet spends a lot of time writing down things in her notebook.  Truthful things.  Unflattering things.  And one day the notebook falls into the hands of her classmates, who read these things, and respond to her with anger.  What I find interesting is the way Harriet’s friends, teachers, and parents respond.  Their initial response is to take, or try to take, Harriet’s notebook.  Of course Harriet gets another one.  That’s not the problem.

Harriet the Spy was published in 1964.  According to Wikipedia, at least one variation of the technology of the notebook had been around since 1888, and there are examples of its common usage in the early 1900s.  This technology was prevalent long before the 1960s.  No one says to Harriet that she has a “notebook addiction,” although her usage of it becomes problematic.  In fact, her redemption in the book also comes from the same technology of the written word.

One of my favorite moments in Harriet the Spy comes in Chapter 14, when Harriet has her initial appointment with a psychiatrist.  As they settle down to play a game, the psychiatrist takes out his analytic pad:

Harriet stared at the notebook.  “What’s that?”

“A notebook.”

“I KNOW that,” she shouted.

I just take a few notes now and then.  You don’t mind, do you?”

“Depends on what they are.”

“What do you mean?”

“Are they mean, nasty notes, or just ordinary notes?”


“Well, I just thought I’d warn you.  Nasty ones are pretty hard to get by these days.”

“Oh I see what you mean.  Thank you for the advice.  No, they’re quite ordinary notes.”

“Nobody ever takes it away from you, I bet, do they?”


This vignette illustrates how the clinician is not above or apart from technology.  Harriet’s psychiatrist uses it himself.  And his response to her struggle and worry about using technology is an approach I’ve come to see as key:  He doesn’t try to restrict her from using the technology, he engages her around its use and thinking about its use.  He actually gives her a notebook, and then respects her usage of it when he lets her leave the office without taking it back or asking to see it.

He then recommends that her parents talk to the school about allowing her to use technology to amplify her thoughts and expression there, via the school newspaper.  He also suggests that they use technology in the form of a letter written by Harriet’s old nanny to give her some advice and connection.  Many will say that Ole Golly’s letter is the pivot point for Harriet in the story, but I’d suggest that the pivotal moment comes when the mental health practitioner doesn’t demonize technology (the notebook) or pathologize its usage, but rather leans on technology as an avenue into the patient’s forward edge transference.

Technology, as Howard Rheingold reminds us, is a mind amplifier.  It can be used to amplify our memory in the form of notes, for example.  It can also be a voice amplifier, for better or for worse.

If Harriet was around today, I imagine she would be on LiveJournal, perhaps with her settings on private, but on LiveJournal nevertheless.  In fact, her LiveJournal notebook would probably be more secure than a notebook carried around on her person without encryption.  But maybe she’d also be on Facebook, Twitter, and Tumblr.  And unless she had parents or teachers who talked to her about digital literacy, she might not know or care about privacy settings or mindful use of technology.

Every day, on Facebook or Twitter or other social media, people young and old post, and “drop their notebook” to be read by hundreds or thousands of people, who can amplify the notebook even further by liking, pasting, sharing or tweeting it.  By comparison, Harriet’s class of 10-15 students seems paltry.  When an adolescent complains about her ADHD medication on her status, or when a parent tweets how proud he is of his Asperger’s child, these nuggets of information, of expression, of identity formation are sent out into the world and amplified.  Our work as therapists needs to be to help our patients understand the significance of what they are about to do to themselves and others when that happens.  And to do that we need to understand the technology ourselves.

Few of us would consider giving Harriet a notebook as “feeding her addiction,” or giving her a hair of the dog that bit her.  Yet, we level such technophobic claims on the social media and technology of our time, trying to focus on technology as an addictive substance rather than as a tool, and pathologizing its use far too quickly and easily.  And we often join technophobia with adultism, when we try to intrude or control the use of technology by children and adolescents (note that I said “often,” not “always”)

When you look at some of the stories Harriet prints in the school newspaper, you have to marvel at the bravery of the educators in that school!  How many of school administrators would allow entries like “JACK PETERS (LAURA PETER’S FATHER) WAS STONED OUT OF HIS MIND AT THE PETERS’ PARTY LAST SATURDAY NIGHT.  MILLY ANDREWS (CARRIE ANDREWS’ MOTHER) JUST SMILED AT HIM LIKE AN IDIOT.”  Can you imagine the parental phone calls, even though the parents were both the behavioral and quoted source for this story?  Can you imagine kids being allowed to experience communication and learning with this minimal form of adult curation?  But also, can you imagine parents saying that the problem is allowing access to the technology of writing a newspaper, and that the idea of a school paper should be abolished?

When you think about it, we live in an amazing era of the amplification of human thought and expression.  Our children will need to learn how to manage that amplification in a way we still struggle to understand ourselves.  I remember one notebook I dropped, when I was managing a staff of guidance counselors.  I was very frustrated with the response of one of them to something, and wanted to share that with my supervisor.  I thought it would be important to share my emotional response to this with someone I understood to have the role of helping me sort this stuff out, and I was being impulsive and cranky.  I ended up sending the email to the staff instead.  Boy, did that torpedo those relationships.  But I did learn a lot about how to pay more attention to the power of technology, and that part of being a good digital citizen requires thoughtful use of ampliying your words and ideas!

Most of us probably have a notebook-we-dropped story we’d rather forget, but we need to remember them and share those stories with the up and coming generations as cautionary tales, and examples of good and poor digital citizenship.  Ole Golly tells us, “Remember that writing is to put love in the world, not to use against your friends.”  Writing, a technology we have come to understand a bit better since Gutenberg, can be used for good or ill; but we don’t ban it.  Now we are all learning, albeit uncomfortably at times, how to handle the newer technologies of social media, digital communication, and video games.  It may be a bit utopian to suggest that texting/tweeting/gaming/Facebook/blogging is to put love in the world.  But the alternative seems to be that while some of us ignore, avoid or fear it, other people, governments and corporations will learn how to use it against our friends.

Embedded in Harriet the Spy is a quote from Lewis Carroll, which aptly describes where we find ourselves in the 21st century of social media: “‘The time has come,’ the Walrus said,/’To talk of many things:”  Indeed, the chatter can be deafening, impulsive, hurtful and confusing.  But the solution is to choose our words carefully, not to stop talking altogether.

Like this post? If you are interested in joining my upcoming online supervision group for therapists, please email me.  There’s more where that came from, for only $2.99 you can buy my book. I can rant in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info.

But Not Your Thoughts: Social Media & Children


Like this post? There’s more where that came from, for only $2.99 you can buy my book. I can rant in person too, check out the Press Kit for Public Speaking info.


No Time To Lose

Photo by Matt Metts, on Makezine.com

In the past year we have seen the power of technology to impact human lives in sad and brutal ways. More cases of cyberbullying, live camera feeds in dorm rooms, Facebook page harassment. We have seen young people take their lives, go to jail, shun their peers. We have read about a grown woman setting up a MySpace account,  pretend to be a teen’s peer and persecute her. Every day people experience emotional assault, risk of job loss, conflict, infidelity, insult and cruelty online, ingame, via email and social media.

And still my colleagues often talk about how they can’t possibly learn to use Facebook. Or lack the skills to go on Second Life or WoW; or have never heard of blogging; or think “Tweeting is for the birds.”

I’ve said it to you before, and I’m saying it again: You cannot afford to remain ignorant of these things. I’ll say it more strongly: It is hurting your patients. It is driving referrals from your waiting room–People who need to talk with you desperately about how their life struggles and hurt play out in the virtual and digital environment. I’m not even talking about the business you are losing, I am telling you as clearly and as forcefully as I can, that you are practicing suboptimal treatment.

The days in which the laptop was the exception rather than the rule have ended. The majority of people now use technology on a daily basis. And they use it for psychological reasons, emotional reasons, personal reasons. In the above tragic stories, technology was not the problem; it was the arena the problem played out in, maybe even the weapon used. But the problem is the emotional distress and violence.  The people using technology as a weapon and expression of hatred are people. We are STILL talking about human relationships here.

It’s high time we stopped confusing technology with pathology and tools with abusers. And it’s high time we stop being complicit in the problem. Every therapist I know has a continuing education requirement each year, yet how many of us fulfill part of that requirement by taking a webinar on social networking, or a workshop on online therapy, or listen to podcasts on gaming? Very few, if the patients I have heard from over the past 10 years are to be believed. I’ve heard tales of colleagues judging their patients about how much time they spend on the computer, without having the least understanding about what their patients may be doing there. I’ve seen how people have been “trained” by prior therapies about what they are allowed to talk about, and Web 2.0 is not on the allowed list. This is what we call in the business an “empathic failure.”

You may think by the above tirade that I am exempting myself from this, but I am not. I still catch myself shying away from talking about online gaming because I worry we won’t talk about the “serious stuff.” I still struggle to refrain from interpreting that conversation about blogging as avoidance. I still send dozens of nonverbal cues that shape the expectations about what can and cannot be considered important in the therapy room. I do it too, and this is a work in progress.

You may also think that I’d be happy as a businessman to have found a niche that few of my colleagues are tapping into.

I’m not.

I used to be, but now my practice is mostly full, and when I have a request to take on a patient who wants a gamer-affirmative therapist, or a therapist who does not view blogging as social phobia, or a therapist who takes virtual affairs in Second Life seriously, I don’t know who to refer them to. I have many names to offer for EMDR, IFS, CBT, DBT, psychoanalysis.  I have many trusted colleagues who have years of dealing with mood disorders, anxiety, trauma and bereavement. But I have only a handful of peers who I can refer to and trust that technology talk will not be taboo or overlooked.

I need your help, and I need you to care enough to learn. People are dying, or living alone in pain, because not enough of us are staying in learning mode. People are flunking out of school, losing jobs, ending good relationships and beginning bad ones, and they don’t have time to explain to you and I what Twitter is on their dime. Please begin to push yourself. Download a new iPhone App for the DSM IV ($.99,) , or surf over to Technorati (free) and read a few blogs, or create a free character in Second Life.

This is continuing your professional education:  This is important.