Below are some wise words from my friend Rich Melheim at Faith Inkubators. If you are a Christ Church Parent, Grandparent, or wanna be parent – please read, and let’s talk how we can hold your families together in a world that is tearing them apart. – Gene
“Over the last 20 years in America, we have created a situation where little boys begin “killing” monsters and demons and aliens by the thousands on handheld games, X-boxes and online. By the time the adolescent brain begins to rewire into an adult brain – from the beginning of puberty until 25 or 26 – the cutsey little innocuous games give was to blood and guts. These young Sparans graduate to extremely realistic videogames as they run through combat zones, shooting and killing by the tens of thousands, hundreds of thousands, then millions. Their brains are wired to ‘play’ and shoot and kill. The score, the gore, and the explicit ante goes up higher, ever higher, along with their kill scores. Mom and dad don’t pay much attention. It is a game. It is only a game. Right?
Wrong. It rewires the brain. It creates grooved pathways where hands and eyes and movement and squeezing the trigger become rote and remote. The adreneline and dopamine adds to the addictive rush, and to brain craves more and more. It’s becomes all about scoring more and more and more. Getting more kills.
To the adolescent brain, anything that gives a rush is attractive. Anything that gives a regular rush on demand is even more so. But the virtual kills really don’t matter. There is no consequence. No one is really hurt. No real blood is spilled. It’s all a game. A training game. And the mounting scores give the pride, along with the skills that can be leveraged by a government. They are wired to kill but not wired to feel. Exactly what an army wants.
Then they go into real war. Real dark alleys. Real dusty villages. Real crowded city streets with real enemies and really eyes staring at them. Is that hate I see? How can it be? I’m a good guy. Is that child coming at me strapped to a bomb? How can that be. They should be in school. Is that car heading my way filled with explosives. Raise your weapon. Its him or you.
Then, the first time they see their buddy who was joking next to them a moment ago blown away, something switches in their brains. It’s not supposed to be like this. It never was before. It’s not supposed to hurt. To matter. To wound.
Then, the first time they make their first real kill, there’s a deeper cognitive dissonance that the brain just doesn’t know how to handle. It’s not supposed – blanking – to matter. It’s not supposed to be like this. It’s not supposed to hurt. This is not how it ends. I’m used to shooting, killing, blowing things up and going out to Taco Bell three five minutes. I just killed someone. A real someone. Pulled the trigger. Watched him die. I’ve trained all my life for this virtually. It never mattered.
But now it does. I’m a killer.
And then the lucky ones come home and walk back into a world that is exactly the same as it was when they left and yet, somehow altogether different. And after a party and a welcome home, they’re supposed to go on as if nothing happened. But it did. It (blanking) did. And it always will.
Most of them are altered in some way, shape or form. And some of them bear wounds that no one will ever see. The guy with the missing leg is maybe the lucky one. He knows what he’s dealing with. So does his family. His friends. His church. There are wounds that show no scars. And those are the most dangerous kind.
The wounds that no one see are often not even fully understood by the soldier. The victim who was the perpetrator. But those wounds linger and fester below the surface. Sometimes below the conscious awareness of the most mighty and brave and true. Those wounds begin eating the gamer up from the inside. They hunger and they scar and they scare deep in the psyche and soul like a monster, a demon, an alien eating them out from the inside.
How do you kill a monster inside you without killing yourself? How do you exorcise a demon that may actually be you? How do you cut away the alien in your chest and in your brain and in your very soul without cutting yourself?
And the pain? It will eventually go somewhere. Pain always does. And the confusion? It may lead to lashing out or lashing in. Confusion often does. And the monsters and demons and aliens? What can a lifelong gamer who has killed millions before do to erase them from the screen? Deal with one and ten pop up. Deal with ten and there’s a thousands waiting for you in the wings. In the night. In your dreams. But this time there is no scalpal, no video game console, no M-16 that can stop even one of them.
Who will be there for the wounds that show no scars? Who can do such prognosis, let alone soul surgery?
Can the church? Will the church? Can you? Can I? Not unless they let us into their pain.
It is hard to love someone who won’t let you into their pain. We can try to play catch-up with this generation of soldiers who are committing suicide at a record level. Or we can start on the other end of the problem, and train up children who know how to share both highs and love. Children who have done them every night of their lives with parents, grandparents, guests and others who have wandered into their homes and hearts.
Just as the violent video games create grooved pathways in the brain that become their default mechanism, the healthy habit of sharing, reading, talking, praying and blessing can create a grooved pathway towards health. Towards healing. Towards cleaning out the garbage. Toward wholeness. Toward life.
Don’t think your nightly home huddle is a small matter. Don’t think of sharing highs AND lows as a gimmick that can be jettisoned the first time they turn hormonal and say, “Mom, Dad, I don’t need this anymore.”
Adolescence is the absolute WORST time to stop communicating with your child before sleep. It is the absolute WORST time to abandon them to their devises and their other adolescent mentors. The brain is beginning a reformatting process, and it will rewire from the back (motor skills) to the middle (emotions) to the front (adult judgment center) over the next 10 years. They’ll have their fully developed pre-frontal cortex when they’re 25-26. Not 18 when they ship out. Not 21 when they come home. A decade after they start looking like an adult and order you to treat them like one.
We can’t abandon our children to the killing games and the school cafeterias and then the killing fields without a steady, regular, pervasive, intentional faith practice that wires their brains for communicating their joys and their fears, their highs and their lows, their superficial and their deep-seated angst. There is too much at stake.
Your child may never go to war, but they will surely at war on many fronts and in many ways from 12 to 26. Their brains will wire most profoundly in the areas where they have the most practice. Gaming. Shooting. Killing. Porn. Shopping. Bowing to ten thousand idols in a technological temple to another god that demands blood. Or sharing. Reading. Talking. Praying. Blessing.
Take your pick. Something is going to wire their brains and prepare them for a thousand battles, a thousand wounds, a thousand dark nights of the soul.
Reconsider the grooved pathways you want your child to imbed. Reconsider a few minutes a night – every night – to practice healthy caring conversations. Reconsider something like FAITH5 (share, read, talk, pray, bless) as the default to every night they are living under your roof and under your care. Make it as normal and natural and expected as brushing your teeth before bedtime.
Psychologically, sociologically, neurologically and theologically, “rejoicing with those who rejoice and weeping with those who weep, then bringing it all to God in prayer and blessing each night creates a powerful grooved pathway in the brain and grows a child into an adult who knows who they are, whose they are. Into an adult who can recognize the monsters and demons and aliens and name them out loud in the company of people who listen and care. If they grow up with this, they will seek it out when they need it. They will come home. They will come back.
You can’t come back to a place you’ve never been.
Begin tonight, recommit tonight. If you don’t have ten minutes for one another as a family, what is it that you have 2 hours for television, 2 hours for internet, 2 hours for video games? Get your priorities straight and get your time together on the calendar tonight. Every night.
You will grow a young adult into a resilient person who knows where they can go when the wounds that show no scars begin to bleed internally.”