Remember the days when there was one family computer which you kept in the sitting room so you could keep an eye on what the kids were doing online? You probably installed parental software to filter what was being accessed on the computer. Kids asked to use the computer and everything seemed quite manageable. However, over the past five years the explosion in usage of smartphones, tablets and social media has complicated everything. A typical parent is now faced with kids who are glued to their smartphones, constantly messaging on Snapchat, Twitter, Instagram and Facebook while also spending more time gaming on Xbox or Playstation. With increased screen time there is less family interaction and less time spent “playing outside” or interacting with friends in the real world. For many parents there can seem to be a divide between them and their kids’ lives – where their kids want to spend more and more time alternating between phone, tablet, Xbox, Wii, DSi and for some kids the usage of technology either borders on addiction or has tipped over into addiction. We are the first generation of parents who have faced this and for many parents it is hard to know where to start.
Is your kid becoming addicted to technology?
Lots of kids use their phone and play video games without becoming addicted to technology. Lots of kids play online games and use social media for a few hours per day but when it becomes more than that a child can easily be spending 30 – 40 hours per week on technology. Without doubt there are kids whose usage levels of technology borders on unhealthy and extreme and it is when that usage starts to have other impacts such as their personality and behaviour changes or they start to lose friends who tend not to play online gaming, or their grades suffer, then the usage is developing into a problem. If you are concerned about technology addiction and whether your child might be becoming too “addicted” to technology, some generally accepted warning signs include;
- Your child is constantly checking the phone to see if a message has arrived.
- When you ask your child to reduce the amount of time they are spending there is conflict and it can seem like a power struggle.
- Your child spends more and more time ignoring what is happening in the room in favour of using the smartphone.
- Your child can easily play online gaming for 7-8 hours a day.
- Your child gets angry, withdrawn or irritated when game or technology time is over.
- Your child feels anxious when separated from the phone.
- Your child become preoccupied with a game they are playing – playing it constantly, and talking about it when they are not playing it.
- Your child prefers to spend more and more time on a games console/smartphone/PC rather than interacting with friends in the real world.
- Your child doesn’t know what to do when they are not allowed technology. They are bored and at a loss.
- Your teenage child becomes angry when told that he needs to stop playing a video game.
What are the dangers of technology addiction?
There are some extreme cases such as
- A seventeen-year-old killed his mother when she told him he couldn’t play video games anymore.
- A Korean who stabbed his mother for the same reason.
- A teenage boy who died from spending too much time gaming non stop.
These are of course extreme cases. However, as a parent it’s important to consider that technology addiction can impact your child’s behaviour, their social interaction and their emotional well being. Kids face real risks of;
- Becoming socially isolated in that they predominantly interact with virtual friends online instead of real friends in the real world. Many kids lose friends who are not gamers and some kids develop social phobia.
- School grades suffer because more and more time is spent on screen time to the detriment of school work.
- Their health is suffering. They become more and more tired because they are online gaming late at night.
- Their personality changes as they become more irritable and anxious when denied technology time.
- Older teens can get physically aggressive when told to stop gaming/using technology.
What can you do about it?
Step 1. Explain the dangers of technology addiction
Explain the dangers and ask them questions to tease out whether they think people can spend too much time on it and what the risk of that might be. Explain how some kids get addicted to technology and that the key is to get a healthy balance. Ensure they understand what the risks are and why you going to set time limits.
Step 2. Set time limits
Discuss with them what they think a reasonable amount of “technology time” is each day. Compare it to the amount of time they spend in school so that technology time is in proportion e.g. if they spend the day in school and it is 7 hours, do they think it is reasonable to spend 7 hours (the length of an entire school day) using technology when they come home? Involve them in the discussion about how long they should spend. How long you allocate is up to you as a parent but you might feel that a reasonable amount of technology time (gaming, PC, mobile internet) for a young child is 2 hours a day and for teenagers 2-3 hours per day – once all homework and household jobs are completed.
Step 3. Set specific technology time for each day
Set specific technology time for each day that will apply to all kids in the house eg. At the weekend 9-10 AM and 6.30 – 8PM . Ensure that these times are strictly enforced – even by kids visiting the house.
Step 4. Create a mobile phone agreement
Write up a mobile phone usage agreement for your child and in that agreement limit the use of the phone for social media and gaming to technology time with some leeway for moderate text messaging in non- technology times. In the mobile phone agreement specify that the phone is to be left outside the bedroom when they are going to bed.
Step 5. No PC in the bedroom
Ensure there is not a PC situated in their bedroom and have a rule that phones/ laptops/tablets/DSi’s are not allowed in the bedroom once they go to bed.
Step 6. Explore activities outside of technology
Explore activities outside of technology that they would be interested in and encourage them to invest more time in those activities outside of technology time.
Step 7. Avoid threatening to totally ban technology
Avoid threatening to totally ban technology time if your kid misbehaves but do reduce the amount of technology time as a penalty for bad behaviour or not sticking to the agreed times.
Step 8. Learn how to set the timer on the Xbox and how to disable the phone during certain hours
If you are unable to monitor your kids adherence to technology times and you think they are not abiding by them, learn
- How to set a timer on the Xbox allocating the agreed amount of tech time each day.
- How to set your internet to come on and off at specific times.
- How to disable your child’s phone so that it won’t work during set times eg. after 8PM
If you found this parents guide useful and you think other parents would benefit from it why not share it on Facebook, Twitter, Linkedin or via email.