Learning from Teens - An Enthusiastic Overview of the conversations between Reckful and Dr. K
A big part of A Little Alaska is getting teens together for adventures and explorations. We love where we live, we love showing it to people, and love watching newbies experience the awe that is Alaska and the visceral feelings it inspires. We also really appreciate the world of teens and love learning from them. We feel so lucky to be part of their world and have learned much from them, directly and indirectly. The learning happens naturally, we don’t say “okay teens, teach us, tell us what you know, enlighten us.” Because Eww, and we all know that doesn’t work. At A Little Alaska we let teens be teens, keep our ears open, try our best not to foist ourselves and our agenda on them while keeping them safe and imparting knowledge to enhance and guide their time with us in Alaska.
Here’s one example of how learning from teens arises. This year on Christmas day, my 15 year old son opened his present from my parents. It was the book Siddhartha, by Herman Hesse. He saw the photo on the cover, a classic depiction of Buddha, and started telling my husband and me about this guy that way back when was a prince and had everything he could want but walked away from it all. Then my son started talking about various breathing techniques, demonstrated alternate nostril breathing and described how to move your breathing from your dominate nostril to the other nostril. I didn’t know we had a dominate nostril!
I was aware my son knew a little about the Buddha but I had no idea he knew about the Buddha in the detail he explained to us and was very surprised he knew the breathing techniques he showed us. I asked where he learned all this. From a Harvard psychologist who helps gamers with stress, he told me. My son couldn’t remember the psychologist’s name. He said he saw this person on Reckful’s Twitch stream and that if I searched for Reckful’s conversation with a Harvard psychologist I would find the name.
Due to my ignorance, and much to my son’s chagrin, I initially referred to Reckful as The Reckful and Rexful. Thanks to my son, Wikipedia, and Reckful’s youtube recording, I learned that Reckful, aka Byron Bernstein, is a popular Twitch streamer and a former professional esports player. I already had a vague understanding of Twitch (thanks again to my son), a live streaming platform used primarily by gamers. You tune in to a streamer’s channel to watch them play a video game and listen to their commentary. Or they might be talking to someone else, or chatting about a variety of topics to everyone who is tuned in. It’s live and anyone watching can type comments which appear alongside the video feed for all to read. Many Twitch streamers have a youtube channel where they post recordings of their stream. If you missed the live play, you can watch it later.
My quick “Reckful and Harvard psychologist” search led me to the name of the psychologist, Dr. Kanojia. I then searched Dr. Kanojia and learned he is not a psychologist but a psychiatrist who trained at Harvard. He has a website called healthygamer.gg. It’s a mental health platform for gamers, by gamers. Among other things on the website is a video series for gamers that consists of 15 episodes ranging from 6 to 18 minutes in length. I grabbed my knitting project and started watching the series.
I found the series fascinating! I learned so much!
Dr. Alok Kanji, or Dr. K as the Twitch community calls him, has a private practice in Boston, is an instructor in psychiatry at Harvard, and is a gamer himself. In fact, he gamed so much that he neglected his studies at the University of Texas in Austin and after two years had a less than 2.0 average and was on the verge of failing out. His parents were very concerned and thought time in India at an ashram might help. So Dr. K, of Indian heritage, went. There he learned about meditation, yoga, Ayurvedic medicine and other eastern practices and philosophies. He continued with college, graduated and eventually went to medical school and received a degree in psychiatry. He incorporates eastern approaches, methods and philosophies into his psychiatry practice.
Dr. K knows a lot about the brain. In the gamer video series I watched he talks about how your brain works while playing video games, what brain circuitry is being strengthened by gaming, what circuitry is neglected or decreased, how gaming affects dopamine reward circuitry and learning circuitry, open ended versus close ended problem solving and authentic relationships through gaming. And dharma! One of the episodes is on dharma as it is viewed in Hinduism. Like I said, I was fascinated and learned a lot both as the mother of a gamer and as a person navigating the world we live in and all the emotions that come with it.
Because he’s a gamer, Dr. K gets it. His website, Twitch stream and video series really are by gamers and for gamers. You won’t find him demonizing gaming and arbitrarily proclaiming that four hours a day of gaming is too much. He says it depends on the person. He has a friend who games 30 hours a week. Dr. K doesn’t consider it an issue in this particular person’s life because it’s not negatively affecting him. Dr. K isn't fear based and although he talks about dealing with video game addiction, you won’t find any scare tactics or calls for abstinence from video gaming. Instead, as the website states, he’s developing a “movement to help gamers use in-game skills to succeed in real life.”
What Dr. K provides is knowledge and information about neuroscience and how human brains work. He relates that information to the world of a gamer. He says he hears a lot of gamers say they are lazy but Dr. K doesn’t see it that way and goes into detail about why. He also talks about what makes a relationship authentic and explains that one of his best friends is someone he met online when he was fifteen. Years later he invited this guy to his wedding even though they had never met in real life. Dr. K says the non-gamers in is life couldn’t understand why he’d invite someone he hadn't met in person. He goes into a detailed explanation about how and why the people you meet online can be some of the most authentic friends you have.
After watching the healthy gamer series I was hungry for more so both my husband and I watched the two hour conversation between Reckful and Dr. K and the hour and twenty minute conversation they had a few days after the first one. These are the ones my son watched, where Dr. K talks about the various breathing techniques and talked Reckful, and everyone who was watching, through the techniques. Parts of their conversation were very moving and dealt with real life issues and real emotions complete with tears.
I was, and continue to be, blown away and excited that my 15 year old son was exposed to all this. So much of what went down in Reckful’s conversations with Dr. Kanojia did not enter my world until I was much older and certainly wasn’t presented to me in one fell swoop via Twitch and Youtube. It’s only recently that lay people of all ages can witness the kinds of conversations that in the past have happened in pieces in therapy type closed door settings, in textbooks and classes about psychology and in staged, overdone bits in movies and instructional videos. I’m delighted my 15 year old was able to witness this emotional, intelligent, in depth, authentic two hour long conversation and an additional hour and a half. Both Dr. K and Reckful are articulate, thoughtful people and I am so grateful they shared this conversation. And so thankful that my son brought it up so I could find it and watch it.
As a side note, learning about Reckful and Dr. K's conversations reinforced what I already knew. My gamer son isn't always on his computer gaming. Often he is watching youtube and streams like the ones he shared with me and others about science and additional interests he has.
This is just one example of many of the things I have been exposed to and have learned from the teens in my life. I know spending time with the teens that participate in A Little Alaska will expose me to even more. It’s agenda free learning so I don’t know what I’ll learn but I’m excited and say bring it on!
I hope you spot joy in your day. Sparkle on!
Molly Mulvaney is an unschooling mom with a part time law practice. She, her husband and teen son live in Cordova, Alaska. Their venture, a little alaska...BIG FUN! is a unique opportunity for small groups of teens to stay, play and grow with them in an eclectic town on the edge of the wilderness. Teens have fun, trust themselves, grow their confidence and increase their independence. You are invited to join us for epic adventures and respectful appreciation of the natural world and our place in it.
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