While I don't always think it makes our lives better, I am a believer in technology and the good things that it can do. It is, after all, an integral and even important part of our lives. And the more familiar that we are with it, the more useful it can be.
There are times, however, that I think things can get out of hand. It seems that it is not unusual for everything to take a backseat to our computers or smartphones. This situation can develop into a dependency on technology that is not unlike addiction, especially when it involves the developing minds of young children.
In fact, studies have shown that some children spend more than seven hours each day in front of a screen, often from the moment they get home until they go to bed. Anywhere from 2% to 10% of children who play video games are addicted to them. Parents are even going so far as to send their kids to "video rehab" programs to ween them off their dependency on their digital devices. And for good reason: addiction to technology can have adverse consequences on their physical, mental, and emotional health while affecting their performance in school and their social interactions with their peers. Kids who spend a lot of time in front of their screens are also less active and potentially more prone to gain weight, which puts them at greater risk for obesity and diabetes.
How can you tell if your child is addicted to technology? As with any sort of health or behavioral problem, there are varying degrees of severity. There are, however, some telltale signs that your child is going down this path.
Questions to ask yourself:
- Is your child restless, irritable, or moody when they are not in front of a screen?
- Does your child want or demand an increasing amount of time in front of the screen?
- Is their schoolwork being compromised?
- Are they beginning to disregard their appearance or health?
- Is their social life beginning to suffer?
- Does your child cheat or lie about how much time they're on the computer?
- Do they ignore your requests or demands to put down their phone?
- Do they throw a tantrum when you make them turn off their screen?
The situation is rarely clear and absolute, so parents need to keep an eye out for any of these signs and assess the situation accordingly.
If you are concerned about your child's immersion in technology, here are some suggestions to help address them or prevent addiction from occurring in the first place.
- Set rules, make them understand screen time is not a privilege and not a right, and stand your ground.
- Keep computers out of their rooms, and put them in public places like the kitchen or living room.
- Talk to kids and show some genuine interest in what they are doing, i.e., that you care.
- Make sure they get out of the house at least once a day, if not more.
- Establish and enforce rules of technology etiquette.
- Provide them with other activities that don't involve screens.
- Lead by example; kids will emulate parental "tech behavior."
- Be a parent and not a friend, because some rules or decisions will not be popular.
If you are concerned about technology addiction, talk to your child's doctor and/or teacher, and visit the website for WebMD.