I recently watched a film entitled “Web Junkies”, a film about gaming addiction in China among teenagers. Addiction among Chinese teens has become such a problem that the Chinese government has established 400 “Chinese Teenager Mental Growth Centers” throughout the country. Stays are involuntary and can be anywhere from 3 months or longer. The Centers are run like a boot camp, complete with enforced routine, exercise, and even bars on the windows. Nonetheless, one night 7 of the teens escaped through a window; did they flee for home? Nope, they went into the nearest town and spent 6 hours at an internet café playing video games until they were forcibly returned to the Center by Staff.
How do kids wind up there? Some parents trick them by telling them they are taking a trip somewhere else, only to end up being committed into the Center. Some parents drug their kid and bring him to the Center, where he wakes up completely disoriented. Sometimes, Staff from the Center are sent to drug and retrieve the teen. This might sound a bit over-the-top but these are teens who are locked into an addiction to gaming so extreme that they often spend hours, and even days, so involved in video games that they don’t eat, don’t go to school, don’t sleep, and are even willing to wear adult diapers so that they don’t lose game-time by having to leave the game to use the bathroom. One kid boasted that he had played for 40 days straight!! Video games are the equivalent of crack for these teens who become addicted to the empowerment that they feel as they climb level after level. The problem is that when they eventually turn the computer off they return to a real world in which they perceive themselves to be powerless as parents, school and society make demands upon them that they don’t like. The more they avoid what they don’t like the less able they are to deal with it when finally forced, and out of this flow more bad decisions. When one parent forced his teen to turn of the computer, thereby losing the next level, the boy became so distraught that he tried to jump out of the living-room window, being saved at the last moment only by his mother’s grabbing him around the waist.
But are we so different, we who are well beyond our teenage years? While not going to such extremes as the Chinese teens, many of us also embrace avoidance: We refuse to deal with someone, we ignore bills demanding payment, we procrastinate. And why? Mainly because we don’t “feel” like complying with reality’s demands upon us, somehow having convinced ourselves that reality is optional. And then, down the road, when reality insists that bill be paid or jail awaits, when all that our procrastination accomplished was to fend off the compliance which reality will eventually extract from us, we feel that we have been treated unfairly. Really? Why do we think that our desires cause the planets to stay in orbit? Despite our conviction that we and our desires are the center of the universe reality keeps reminding us that we are a guest in its house, a guest who is expected to behave correctly… or else! And in that regard Reality is our “Mental Growth Center” where our innate narcissism is slowly taught to grow up. Not liking that we have to grow up does not even enter the equation.
So what are you avoiding? How much time and energy is that avoidance costing you? How many bad choices have been birthed in your life by avoidance? As Dr. Phil would say: “So how’s that working out for you?”