(by Dawson McAllister)
Do you find yourself observing the amount of time teenagers and young adults spend staring at a screen (their phone, iPad, TV, computer) and wondering if it’s healthy for them? Do you find yourself frustrated by it? Annoyed with it? Concerned for them?
Needless to say, the way they are growing up with technology is certainly NOT how we grew up. And even if you are a full-on adopter of all current technology, you probably don’t use it to the level of your kids. Or maybe you do. Regardless, it is a conversation worth having and one that is occurring in the broader community.
Internet Addiction Disorder, Electronic Screen Syndrome, Digital Detoxes, Digital Diets, etc. Have you heard these terms? They are subjects that are currently generating a lot of discussion.
As far as personal experience with technology goes, I am a slow adopter. Yes, it is true, I don’t own a smart phone myself. I am still using the archaic mode of communication…the flip phone.
However, I hear from many people who struggle with screen addictions or social media addictions to the point that it is adversely affecting their lives. So I understand the challenge from the stories they share and I’ve done my research to offer the best help I can. Listen to my call with Melissa:
Let me clearly state that I am NOT anti-technology, anti-smart phone or anti-social media. Just because I don’t have a smart phone, doesn’t mean I don’t see how it could be beneficial. I also know that there are tremendous benefits and good uses for Social Media, etc. It just concerns me when any online-related, compulsive behavior begins to interfere with normal living and causes severe stress on family, friends, and one’s work environment. It is simply wise for us to be aware of how technology may be affecting us and others.
Chances are the teens in your life probably don’t think they have a problem. Right? They will tell you all their friends are just as obsessed with their devices as they are. That everyone checks their Instagram feed constantly, keeps 50 Snap Chat streaks alive every day, binge watches YouTube and Netflix for hours on end. They are just like everyone else. That may be true or maybe they are fooling themselves. Regardless, we know that just because everyone is doing it doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.
Dr. Kimberly Young developed an Internet Addiction Diagnostic Questionnaire. You might want to ask your teens the following questions. If they answer “yes” to 5 out of the 8 questions, it means they are addicted:
- Do you feel preoccupied with the Internet (think about previous online activity or anticipate next online session)?
- Do you feel the need to use the Internet with increasing amounts of time in order to achieve satisfaction?
- Have you repeatedly made unsuccessful efforts to control, cut back, or stop Internet use?
- Do you feel restless, moody, depressed, or irritable when attempting to cut down or stop Internet use?
- Do you stay online longer than originally intended?
- Have you jeopardized or risked the loss of a significant relationship, job, educational or career opportunity because of the Internet?
- Have you lied to family members, therapist, or others to conceal the extent of involvement with the Internet?
- Do you use the Internet as a way of escaping from problems or of relieving a dysphoric mood (e.g., feelings of helplessness, guilt, anxiety, depression)?
If after answering those questions you realize your child may actually be addicted to the internet, perhaps you are now thinking “Well, what can I do about it? Should I take their phone away? How am I going to do that?”
Don’t lose heart. They can break their addiction. You can help them. And they don’t need to quit cold turkey to do it. They maybe just need a digital diet.
The Digital Diet
Think of a digital diet like a food diet. There comes a time when you just need to make healthier choices to get to a healthier place. A digital diet is about being mindful of what you are doing online and how much time you spend there. It’s about embracing the good it brings such as using it for work, school, and fun without over-consuming. It’s about using it in moderation. So what might a digital diet look like?
Here are 5 areas that together, with your child, you could set parameters. Discuss what limits seem reasonable. You might even find some of these areas to be healthy guidelines for yourself as well. Make it a team effort and hold each other accountable:
- Schedule No-Device times in your day. For example, always put your phone away at meal times. Or establish a boundary for yourself to not look at your device past 10pm. Or perhaps you get an hour of screen time after school and then you put it away for 2 hours. Figure out what works for you and then stick to it. It will be tempting to pick it up…but like a diet…you’ll need a little will-power and in the long run you will be happier.
- Don’t charge your phone/devices in your room at night. Is it the first thing you look at in the morning and the last thing you look at before bed. Give your brain and eyes a rest. Plug your phone in somewhere else during the night to decrease the temptation. But they’ll say, “It’s my alarm clock.” You know what? They do still make good old-fashioned alarm clocks for very little cost.
- Avoid Push Notifications. If you have push notifications turned on for everything, your phone will never stop binging. Ask yourself if you really need to know every time someone updates their post or likes a picture or sends an e-mail? What push notifications could you turn off so that you are not inundated by bells and whistles? You can still find every new post and update when you choose to go look at them. You just don’t need to be interrupted every time one comes in.
- Limit the number episodes or videos you watch. Do you find yourself binge watching a show on Netflix? Or going from one YouTube video to the next? Set a limit for yourself. (You do tell yourself you can’t eat the whole package of Oreos don’t you?) Tell yourself you will watch no more than 2 shows at a sitting.
- Take a social media break. How often do you check your feeds or look at Snap Chat stories? Have you ever actually counted how many times you click on that little icon to see if there is anything new out there? I promise it won’t kill antone to take a break. Maybe for a week give up social media or at least one bit of your social media. See how much more time you have. You might even find you are less stressed when you don’t have to try to stay on top of every feed. And when you start using it again, don’t go back to where you left off and try to get all the way through. Trust me you will live without seeing what your acquaintance ate for supper.
You could very well encounter a lot of resistance to the digital diet. For one, it’s an addiction that isn’t fun to break. But also because they don’t think of it as a big deal. They don’t see how they may be hurting themselves or others by staring at a screen. However, the truth is they could very likely be hurting themselves and their relationships with others.
Research shows that internet/screen addiction can damage the brain. Overstimulation can impair brain structure and function, especially when a person’s brain is not fully developed which doesn’t happen until the mid-twenties. The effects of this are vast but here are some examples:
- Trouble sleeping
- Poor concentration
- Affects ability to develop empathy and compassion for others
- Can cause cravings similar to drug cravings
- Poor impulse control
- Cause anxiety or stress in small things
Here are some additional pitfalls of a screen addiction:
- Superficial Relationships– With a social media addiction your superficial on-line relationships can start to take the place of real personal relationships.
- Become irresponsible– You can waste so much time staring at a screen that, without even realizing it, you were sucked in for hours. During this time perhaps you should have been studying, sleeping, doing tasks around your home. Perhaps it’s even affecting your career. If you feel the need to check your phone at work all the time to keep up on social media or read your push notifications, you will be less productive. Period.
- Missing out– You can be so engaged in the on-line world that you ignore the life that is happening around you. Did your parent, sibling, spouse try to have a conversation with you, but you ignored them to stare at your phone? Did someone ask you to go out, but you declined?
- Trapped Inside– You can forget that there is an outdoors with adventures awaiting because your screen has become too tempting and you just can’t leave it.
- Boredom – You simply don’t know how to create any fun or excitement in your life anymore. You can’t think creatively or discover other things to do. Unless you are looking at a screen, you find life to be boring.
Technology isn’t going away, so the most important thing we can do is to teach the teens in our lives to be smart consumers. Maybe some of the points above can be conversation-starters to help them become self-aware of the amount of time they spend looking at a screen.
For many more tips, videos, and information about screen addictions, please download our free eBook today.