September 2011 Newsletter

September 2011 Events

In the coming weeks we are hosting the following events - (click on the green wording for more detailed information on related website pages.)

Mens Group Tuesday September 6
Free Introductory Talk Monday September 12
Seminar on "The Dark Nature of the Cyber Playground” Monday September 19
Body Mind 1 Day Retreat Sunday September 25
Standing Tall Anti-Bullying Course (10 weeks) starts Monday October 10

Please feel free to contact us if you wish to enquire or book in for any of the above events.

The Internet Brain

Mankind has evolved continually in his/her journey on this planet.  This process continues today.  This is partly aided by the “plasticity” or adaptable natures we possess, and how our brains and nervous systems work with the body to help us to adjust to changing environments and experiences.

Mankind has taken control of many of the external environments we exist in, and the rise of technology has created the basis for new and novel stimulus and “realities” to flood our senses, particularly our visual senses. Our brain assists our human consciousness by translating subjectively what we take in through our senses in order to give meaning, and to make us safe, or responsive to that environment or stimulus.

Neuroscientists and psychologists are reporting an increasing body of evidence and clinical behaviours of clients which show how social media and the internet, is making profound changes in the brains, behaviours and realities of those who spend significant time on social media devices, the internet, and social media sites such as Facebook.

According to pharmacology professor Baroness Greenfield, of Oxford University, the emerging generations of adults who have grown up with the internet and its burgeoning array of sensually rich experiences, is reshaping the perceptions and processes by which some people form their identities.

The Baroness noted that repeated exposure to social networking internet sites is leaving an increasing number of users with an identity crisis. In some it is creating an impulsive and childish state of wanting and demanding attention that she summed up as “Look at me Mummy, I have done this!!”

Likewise these same sites are being linked to a generation who have created a form of Narcissism by being obsessed with themselves, co-joined with short attention spans, a need for constant feedback, and deteriorating ability to conduct themselves socially in real life environments and with real people.

The human brain processes incoming sense information from our eye, ear, taste and touch senses as being real. Virtual reality is processed as real reality to our brains, and in the face of new and novel stimulus the brain will morph or modify to adapt the person experiencing all this, to meet and adapt to this perceived new environmental reality.

This has been shown to result in real and physical brain changes that are not within our control as our inbuilt neuro-plasticity simply kicks in and does its thing. We evolve and adapt according to what we expose ourself to. It is a form of mutation at one level.

China is a society that has been an early adopter of internet and social media technologies. Many rural based people have gone from basic primitive no-technology lifestyles into technologically rich and stimulating homes, technologies and environments in the space of a decade. Chinese researchers are now reporting some disturbing side effects of this changed lifestyle.

Chinese researchers are concluding that excessive internet usage may cause parts of the brain to shrink or waste away. This form of atrophy has been reported by Western neuroscientists for some time in terms of how exercising the brain, like a muscle, can enlarge some neural circuits whilst other little-use circuits waste or are “pruned” by the brain itself. This is all part of the Neuroplasticity process.

However the excessive users of the internet under this plasticity of the brain may be producing long term negative effects that will not serve that person in the longer term. The Chinese scientists tracked the shrinkage or atrophy of the brain’s Hippocampus grey matter as continuing to get worse over time. The affected areas of the brain undergoing shrinkage are those areas that have a primary purpose of facilitating concentration, memory and the ability to make decisions and set goals.

They also noted that other areas of the brain that regulate inhibitions were being affected and that in the longer term there was risk of reduced inhibitions and a lack of control over impulses to inappropriate behaviour.  They suggested this effect could foster or create addictions in users.  The researched demographic was the brains of 18 to 19 year olds who spent between 8 to 13 hours online a day, 6 days per week. Internet gaming and social media usage was in the mix of behaviours that occurred in their usage time online.

Researchers have already noted the addictive nature of the internet and how a whole generation of new clients are presenting for counselling and therapy with internet and social media addictions. What then becomes concerning is that once people are “addictive” some will become “poly addicted” meaning they will move between various types of addictions over time to satisfy the cravings of their brains for novel stimulus and experience.

Where such an internet addict then starts to have a substance addiction such as various drugs or alcohol then a compounding effect of brain deterioration is likely to be the result. This comes from the fact that researchers have long noted chemical and brain changes that result from alcohol, marijuana, and party drugs usage in long term addictive ways. The long term effects of such a lifestyle may be to cripple the functional and emotional stability of that person. Evidence already exists for such outcomes.

We all need to be aware and conscious to the lifestyle, stimulus and environmental choices we make in our lives. We are literally adapting and changing in ways we may not understand or want based on those choices in the longer term.

The Dangers in the Cyber Playground

One of the sad aspects of modern day is that you often do not see many children outside playing anymore. Our streets, parks and playgrounds are largely empty of children at play, and instead we see adults out and about and typically adults watching over children when they are in these settings.

Part of this recent phenomenon has been attributed to the perceived dangers that children may be exposed to if left outside at play in the physical world. This is the “stranger danger” concept.  Adults have tried to protect their children from harm by limiting their access to the outside world where children need to explore and play in order to developmentally evolve into socially adjusted and emotionally wired healthy adults.

The second cause is the time being increasingly spent by children on the internet and on its related types of gaming, social media, and interactive chat-rooms. Many children have lost the desire to step outside into the real world in their free time, unless it’s to go shopping for a new console game or DVD!!  Many parents support this hermetic in-house lifestyle of playing in the “Cyber Playground” as it means that physically the child is easy to keep an eye on, and are distracted and seemingly fulfilled by their leisure pursuits on the internet.

It is unhealthy for a parent to promote a sedentary couch potato lifestyle for children via playing inside on the Cyber Playground, and likewise also unhealthy not to promote physical activity and play/exploration in children in the outside world. However you also may be shocked to know that the Cyber Playground contains far more potential serious risks to your children’s mental, emotional and physical health than does your average neighbourhood playground.

If you have read my earlier entry above titled “THE INTERNET BRAIN” then you will now be aware that sustained and intense internet usage can be a causal factor of physical and functional brain changes that may lead to unintended and negative consequences for the child or teenager over time. This is bad enough but not the full story of choosing an internet based leisure lifestyle.

If you ask the average parent if they know what is in a physical playground and the types of dangers that exist in and around physical playground usage, you would probably get a good and intelligent response. If you asked the same parent to name what is in the Cyber Playground their kids play in, and what and who are the dangers to your children in that environment, you sort of see their eyes glaze over as they struggle to articulate what their kids do online, where they go there, and who they associate with.

It gets worse. If I ask a reasonable parent nowadays what their thoughts are to the idea that they let children wander on down to their local physical playground whenever they want, with strangers, and on equipment they may not be equipped to properly use, I would get a response that either “the parents are negligent or abusive”, or “how could anyone let such a thing happen!!”. If I point out that is what is happening every day under their own roof with their children they are confused, offended, horrified, or go into denial. Yet this is exactly true for many households in society today.

We are at a stage in society where many parents are ignorant or in denial about what goes on in their children’s interactions on the internet. Our children are going out each day into the internet cyber playground without parental accompaniment or parental awareness of what dangers lay out there. We may have safely cocooned our children indoors, but we have collectively at the same time let many of them into a much darker, more dangerous playground for which we cannot ourselves as adults enter and understand.

In our technological age we as parents have a responsibility and duty of care to our children to know what they are getting up to, with who, and where. This is for their own safety and so this general consideration has not changed from previous generations, it has just changed context from the physical to the virtual. The real dangers to day lie in and on the internet in forms that previous generations have not had to consider.

From my last newsletter we touched on the problem of cyber-bullying and its psychological impact on victims. If you couple the issues of cyber-bullying, internet paedophiles, internet pornography, the obsessive and addictive nature of internet gaming and pornography, amongst other issues of identity fraud and theft, you have a dark cocktail of considerations that would see most parent ban children from entering, if it was a physical location or place.

The Energetics Institute recognises this dilemma for us who are parents grappling with internet based environments which we coin the Cyber Playground. Parents need to educate themselves about the risks, and then go further by learning how to access and enter the virtual worlds of the key internet applications and environments that children and teenagers typically seek out.

We are proud to announce that we are joining forces with Robyn Rishani of Your Kids Online, who is a professional trainer and teacher of internet cyber playground risks. Robyn educates and trains parents in how to become internet and application savvy so they can follow and track their children in the Cyber Playground and so overcome the ignorance and lack of skills that many parents face when it comes to the internet in general, and the Cyber Playground in particular.

Richard and Robyn will jointly present this month’s Seminar on "The Dark Nature of the Cyber Playground" on September 19.  Richard will be taking in the next intake for the “Standing Tall” Anti-Bullying/Cyber-Bullying programme on October 10 where the dangers will again be explained. Robyn will be shortly announcing the details of her Cyber Playground training programme for parents, in which Richard will provide some support and education for parents on the neuroscience and bullying aspects of the Cyber Playground.

If you are a parent you need to inform yourself of this serious issue that affects all of our children and teenagers. We each need to educate ourself and be ever aware and vigilant regarding the internet, just as most are already when it comes to our physical environments and playgrounds.

Please contact us if you are interested in finding out more about our events.

Have a great month,

Richard Boyd

Director, Energetics Institute

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