The jury is still out about technology being addictive – tech addiction hasn’t yet made it to the DSM-V, the handbook for psychiatrists and physicians. But we all know that games and the Internet can be habit-forming. We need only our own impulse to check our devices to see the truth of that.
If your child’s attachment to his tech toys is starting to seem excessive, then he will likely need some help to broaden his interests. He’s unlikely to be able to do this on his own. How you help him depends on whose idea handling this habit is.
If stopping the tech habit is your child’s idea, then your job is easier. You and your child can brainstorm ideas for substituting something else for video game play or cell phone contact. You and she can figure out a way to track her progress toward reducing her reliance on electronics. You can be part of the habit-busting team, but your child takes the lead. It was, after all, her idea.
It’s more likely that it’s you, not your child, who wants to pull the plug. If this is the case, then you have two tasks: first you must make the child aware of when and how much he is connected to his devices, and then, you must help him to make the choice to do other things. Noticing that he has a problem comes first.
If the child is old enough to talk about what he does all day, then have a heart-to-heart talk about his technology use sometime when both of you are in a good mood and aren’t in any hurry to do something else. Describe your concern about his usage and state clearly your desire that your child reduce it. If you get agreement, set clear goals for a gradual reduction over the next week or two. You cannot expect any habit to stop cold-turkey, but you can set up a time-and-place plan for daily reduction.
Of course, something has to take the place of the technology you’re reducing. So your agreement with your child has to include what that something will be – or what it can’t be. Most likely you don’t want to replace handheld game play with computer game play or game-system game play: the problems that triggered your concern will not be resolved just by switching platforms. But something has to fill the gap, so talk together about what that could be.
More likely, though, you will not get immediate agreement to reduce tech use. More likely, you’ll get loud resistance. If this is so, then you will need to exert your parenting authority while understanding the limits of your authority’s reach. You can forbid that your child connect to technology at home more than a set number of minutes per day and you can impound her devices to make your edict stick. Remove the TV and computer from her room, pocket her phone, lock up her tablet. Remember that your authority to do this comes from the fact that you are her parent (so don’t say your authority comes from who owns the house or who pays for the data plan; this isn’t about money, it’s about roles).
Don’t imagine that you can control what your child does when she’s away from home. Realize that she will undoubtedly use her friends’ devices the minute she’s out of your sight. There’s not much you can do about this, so don’t try to follow her around and monitor her every move.
Quitting a habit isn’t easy. It helps if the person who has the habit feels some positive result from quitting. Unfortunately, quitting a habit often leaves one feeling lost and depressed. There’s a period of withdrawal. Your child will need your support to get control of technology again.
Two quick words: First, if your child is not old enough to talk about what he does all day – if your child is a preschooler or young child and tech play has gotten out of hand – then you have a responsibility to simply take action. Get your kid away from the devices without much apology and get him doing other things.
And second, model what you want to see. If you are never without your phone and feel you have to check it constantly, if your day moves from one device to another without much else in between, then now is the time to set an example of sensible technology use. Don’t make excuses. Turn the things off.
Finding the off button and realizing that the world really isn’t passing us by while our devices are off is a big step for many people. Help your kids – and you - to take that step.
© 2013, Patricia Nan Anderson. All rights reserved.