In the first two parts of this series, we looked at how children (and us?) are getting addicted to digital devices. To conclude this series, we look at some ways to wean children and families away from this addiction and its dangerous consequences. You don’t serve drugs on your dining table, so why let digital devices (which is a behavioural addiction) enter your child’s life and take control?
Children (and adults) who are addicted to their devices are at risk because of the nature of the highly stimulating games and programs that are part of video gaming. Often graphically violent, or sexual in nature, video games trigger high levels of cortisol and adrenaline in the body. The intensity of the games lead to high levels of stimulation that quickly turn to agitation, and an inability to be still and quiet. That is why young children – without a device – will shout, “I’m bored!!” A single teacher in a classroom is no match for this high level stimulation; hence, kids are not able to pay attention in class. Perhaps that’s why they can’t engage in a conversation with you either! Studies show that children’s brains are under-developing in areas that have to do with self-control and emotional regulation; therefore, the need to move back to some slower media, and moderation in usage of digital devices.
Wonder why some children often seem hostile, isolated, refusing to engage with parents, siblings, and other children? Watching violent digital images over time is related to soft forms of relational violence, which includes bullying, tough behavior, sarcasm and lying. So, don’t let digital devices take the central part of your child’s life or become their best friend (or yours for that matter!). Encourage children to play with other forms of less intensely stimulating games such as scrabble, carom board, and other board games. Keep these games open on the dining table, where all family members can play an ongoing game or start spontaneously.
Many parents think of their child’s digital device as an educational tool. While this is true, it should not become the only media used. Remember books? Reading hard copy books reduces the blue-light exposure from devices, and fosters a pace of reading that encourages reflection and learning to focus. Many of us start with reading a book on a device, and then in a few seconds surf to something else on Internet. Encourage children to read books (not digital copies) and if need be, have special reading time slots.
Discourage use of devices where screens are not in view of all members! Children are getting hooked onto porn at younger and younger ages. It’s not a question of if your children will get exposed; it’s only a matter of when. Porn filters are of not much help, because they will have a friend who will share it with them on their device. Have conversations around the dangers of porn and how they can avoid getting hooked on to it. Don’t provide 24/7 Wi-Fi access to children!
Play dates and sleepovers should be device free – plan lots of non-digital fun things to do! Restrict Wi-Fi access in the nighttime or do not allow devices to be carried into children’s bedroom.
Have family time in which no devices (not even yours!) are permitted. Many families today sit around together – each with their own device or ear buds. Children will imitate the relationship they see you have with your own digital device, so incorporate times when you are device free! Walks, talks, reading, meals, board game time are great opportunities for device free time. Encourage time slots where there is no need for constant stimulation (and this includes listening to music continually via ear buds). This continual stimulation is dramatically reducing children’s (and ours) ability to focus and regulate emotions.
Instant gratification is part of the digital world (how about your instant online shopping binges?) and it’s reducing children’s ability to deal life events where things don’t go their own way immediately. Learn to say NO to them (and to yourself) – buy time between request and fulfilment. Don’t say yes out of guilt, social pressure or clever manipulation. (First learn to say NO to your own need for instant gratification…)
Go out for a meal without anyone carrying a device! Surely, you’d have done this when you were younger – you survived! So, why do you believe that NOW you will collapse in two hours without your device?
I’m not suggesting that children should be technology illiterates, nor that devices are completely useless and of no value. That’s not true. It’s just that as parents, the balance has skewed completely. Moderation is called for not addiction. But, remember that children will mirror you! So, if you want to reduce digital addiction for your children, you will need to start working on your own addiction first.
If you feel that you / your family is already in trouble on this, perhaps some coaching might help. Feel free to connect with us on firstname.lastname@example.org and start your journey to recovery from digital addiction.
Reference: Notes taken from Master Class Lecture by Dr. Doreen Dodgen-Magee on ‘Therapy in an age of Digital Attachment’, given on 3/20/15 at California Southern University, School of Behavioral Studies.