Many parents are uncertain about whether their children are showing signs of being addicted to technology or simply behaving in age-appropriate and expected ways. When it comes to your child’s use of social media and video games, knowing where the line is, between normal and not normal, can be extremely important – for you as the parent, as well as for your children.
There are some experts who will say that you can measure this in the number of hours spent with technology each day. Some will tell you that if it interferes with the kids doing their homework or their chores, this is a sign of addiction. And others will say that it is an addiction if they cannot put their phones down or transition from a game to join the family for dinner, or go to shower, or…
I see it differently.
My experience has shown that whether the way in which your child uses social media and video games is normal or not normal, typical or addictive, depends on whether your child shows signs of anxiety, together with low self-esteem – or not. The higher the anxiety and the lower the self-esteem, the greater the danger that the way they are using technology could be addictive.
So, it doesn’t make sense to me when parents argue and fight with their kids about their overuse of technology. It doesn’t make sense to me that they punish children by taking their phones and games away from them as a consequence for bad behavior. It doesn’t make any sense whatsoever because by doing this, parents are focusing on a symptom and not on the cause. And when we focus on a symptom, and start nagging about it and arguing about it, we simply get more of it. When we focus on the root cause, the symptoms go away.
As parents we need to realize that when a child is overusing technology, to the point where it interferes with their lives, this is a symptom of the child believing they are ‘not enough’. Children who believe, ‘I am not enough’ are at risk of being addicted to technology because they are using something outside of themselves as a distraction, as a way of helping them to avoid feeling the inner pain of their sense of ‘not enoughness’. Since their low self-worth is the underlying root cause, it makes sense then, that, as parents, this is where we need to put our attention and what we need to address.
8 Ways to do this.
1) Identify and support situations and events that will cause them to feel good about themselves.
Find out what they resonate with (outside of technology); what their natural talents are; what they enjoy, and build this into their daily/ weekly lives. It could be playing a sport or simply watching a sport. Perhaps they enjoy being out in nature. Or cooking is their natural talent. Or they love dogs and volunteer at an animal shelter. Or they love drums and would benefit from joining a drum circle. (Drum circles are hugely beneficial in lowering anxiety and creating feel good emotions); or art and pottery classes. What about poetry. I could go on and on but you get the message. The point is that when your child does something they love and becomes more and more skilled at it, they are stimulating healthy chemistry in their spirit, body and brain.
Of course, this means that as a Mom and Dad YOU need to be insightful enough to realize what your child would connect with and then do everything in your power to make it happen. Be sure that these activities involve others so that your children can learn to connect with others who enjoy the same things as they do.
Note: Children who are addicted to gaming, texting, social media, aren’t doing it because they love it. They are self-medicating. And that’s how they become addicted.
2) Have the courage to examine your values and change them where needed.
Have the courage to confront your own possibly outdated, society-dictated, ego driven values. Go outside your own areas of comfort and what you believe to be useful. For example, you might believe that if only your child would play soccer, they would feel so much better about themselves – and the idea of being part of a drum circle is weird and therefore you would not even learn about it or consider it – and yet this could be hugely beneficial to your child.
3) Educate don’t dictate
Educate your children about the actual facts of what happens in their brains with too much screen time and too many violent games. It’s HOW you do this that is so important. If you do it in an argument, they will not listen. You will actually create resistance and a desire for more screen time.
When education and knowledge are an active part of family life and are built into your family lifestyle, your children will be more open to listening to research about screen time and the brain. Don’t use facts as a stick but rather as a way fo teaching children to self-regulate.
4) Balance not punishment
Instead of reducing their screen time or removing their stuff, create the following agreement:
Screen time happens only when homework and other chores are done
They must use whatever hours of screen time they have available after that, equally between their social media/games/ and googling something educational that interests them.
They must be willing to share their learning with other members of the family so everyone can learn.
A great time to do this is in a relaxed and easy way at the dinner table. In fact, research has shown that when families eat dinner together, children show fewer addictive tendencies later in life.
5) Communicate with your children in calm and serene ways.
Make sure that your communication and interaction with your children contains positive, stress-free:
- Eye contact
- Facial expression
- Tone of voice
6) Talk more about their ‘being’ than about their ‘doing’.
Be sure to have conversations about things like:
What did you learn about yourself today?
What are you grateful for about your day today?
What made you feel good, not so good today?
What new knowledge did you discover today?
These kinds of conversations strengthen children from the inside-out, helps them to become more resilient and helps them to self-regulate. (For goodness sake – please don’t take them to a therapist asking that person to teach the child how to self-regulate!) You can do that through your dinner-time and other conversations with them. I’d be delighted to show you how easy it is to do.
7) Speak about what is working.
Tell them 5 positive things about themselves to one negative each day. And mean it! Your children know when you are not being authentic!
8) Look in the mirror.
And last but most important of all, model the behavior that you want from your children. Your children are you. Be the living example for them of someone who knows who they are, lives their passion, enjoys their talents, loves life and feels good.
Above all, ask yourself, and answer honestly: ‘Am I addicted to technology?’