is-screen-addiction-realI received this email from a parent recently…

“I’m always intrigued to watch and read your latest Blog. I have learned so much about ‘Choice Theory’ from these offerings, and your presentations at a local school a few years ago. These have helped me in raising my three children and I’m grateful.

“A common concern for today’s parent is their child’s use of technology. My 14 year-old son is a wonderful, active, great student, and very social child. We are proud and celebrate all his strengths, but our constant ‘bone of contention’ is his use (or overuse) of technology.

“Please know that this would be a welcome topic for us all. I’d love to know your thoughts on how to achieve the proper balance at home (with cell phones, XBox, and other technology such as iPads, laptops, etc.), without disrupting the relationship with our teenager.”

Signed, A Concerned Parent

My Reply…

In the lives of our kids, technology is a fixture. For many of our kids, it’s just always been there, and they can’t imagine how we ever survived in the stone-age… you know, those pre-iDevice days!

Truthfully, there isn’t an easy answer… but the key is the relationship. The more connected you are to your children, the more “room” you have to

discuss this challenging topic, and set limits on things like use of technology.

I encourage you to have an open conversation with your children about how they feel using different technologies. It’s important not to lump them all into one catch-all area of frustration. If you can talk about the purpose of each, and how well they fulfill the purpose, this could shed some light. If your child feels you are trying to take away something that is need-satisfying, though — his freedom, power, belonging, or fun — there will be push back.

I believe you need to use the “add on” model, not the “take-away” model. What I mean by this is the more you enrich your child’s life, the greater the likelihood of a healthy balance of things. So evaluate how much your child(ren) are getting of these:

  1. Quality conversations with you that contain real sharing and depth
  2. Physical activity – both organized and just play
  3. Contribution to the family and home – what are they doing to enhance the family and home
  4. Contribution to others, not just friends
  5. Quiet time for grounding

It’s also really important to have some “no technology” time and have a break from using the brain this way. Children need to know why you want them to take a break, so be sure you have done your research and are comfortable sharing this information.

Research is showing that young people’s brain’s are changing as a result of technology, and that the scanning ability has increased greatly, and the ability to “go deep” has diminished. Mature relationships require good conversation and communication, and this is where professionals like myself are concerned for our young people. Lastly, there is room for a conversation about addictions. Again, this needs to be at a time when things are going well. It’s important, too, that it’s framed as open conversation about “what is an addiction, and how would you know if you were addicted?”

Television has been a real addiction for many people in the past, and it appears that the internet has taken the place for some, if not many. The brain feeds on variety, and the internet can offer endless variety and stimulation which creates an endless loop of wanting more – more time, more stimulation, etc. This is how addictions fundamentally work. The epidemic of pornography works on this same principle, as the variety and stimulation is endless and it’s this that traps people, and causes “real” relationships to seem so much less interesting and stimulating. My intent here is simply to illustrate the way the brain works, and not to suggest that your son is on some kind of a slippery slope, and scare you. We must be in charge of our brain and how it evolves.

There have been a number of great books written on this very topic. For example:

  1. The Brain That Changes Itself, by Dr. Norman Doidge, highlights breakthroughs in brain research, and has a chapter on addictions (Dr. David Sazuki did a show on this on The Nature of Things. It’s really worth seeing!)
  2. Evolve Your Brain and Breaking the Habit of Being Yourself, both by Dr. Joe Dispenza, are terrific in terms of pointing out why we need to be in charge of our brain
  3. Hardwiring Happiness: The New Brain Science of Contentment, Calm, and Confidence – by Rick Hanson has some great ideas that can easily be applied to our kids. He has a very positive approach, as the title of his book would indicate, and it’s grounded in good science.

Hopefully, this generates some ideas and great conversation about this amazing, and challenging issue of technology.