by Chris Taylor, MFT, Author “Back to Basics”
It is no secret that we live in the digital age. Since the introduction of the internet over 2 decades ago, to the creation of the smartphone a decade later, we have been moving at lighting speed to find ways in which we can incorporate technology into all facets of our lives. Now, while there is no doubt that technology has afforded society an incredible amount of convenience and freedom over time, there has been a major unintended consequence; addiction.
For most, addiction brings up ideas of a drug user on a park bench or an alcoholic sitting at a bar at 6 am on Christmas morning, but there is an addict lurking in almost every American home. This addict doesn't look disheveled and most would describe them as being “normal.” But spend any prolonged amount of time and you will see them using their drug of choice out in the open, at the mall, in the classroom, in meeting rooms, even at the dinner table. We have all seen or experienced this behavior, but sadly it is becoming more commonplace and unfortunately not just tolerated but accepted and even expected.
We could easily write this off as a sign of our times, but the issue is deeper and the consequences more profound for our teens. Digital addictions are eroding the social fabric of our society. Turning the interpersonal, impersonal. Teens are suffering from social isolation, anxiety, depression, sleep disorders, poor school performance and a complete breakdown in their ability to communicate in an effective manor. A 2015 story run by major news outlets reported teens spend over 9 hours per day on digital devices. That equates to more screen time than time spent sleeping, and when combined accounts for 17-20 hours of their 24 hour day. It is no wonder our teens are losing the ability to function in even the most basic ways.
The question as a parent is, what do I do to stop it?
First step is to take control of the environment by establishing a clear and consistent structure. Set up technology free times and zones in the house. Follow these rules yourself in order to model the desired behavior. Technology should be viewed as a privilege to be earned, so create an incentive structure on how it can be accessed focusing on homework and chore completion. If your child does not follow the rules, then get rid of the devices. Did you function as a teenager without a cell phone or video games? Then stop acting as if your child can’t. This is called lazy parenting plain and simple. We live in an age of anything goes, and a society of extreme entitlement. We don’t value our individuality so we give into trends and media expectations for how we should live. These become norms and drive our behavior. Step away from that mentality by focusing on building relationships through time spent and engaging in healthy communication. Not texting and setting a poor example of how to spend idle time by burying your face in your own device and slowly disappearing into your own digital addiction.