Technology can be used to enrich our lives, and it also creates challenges. For many children, cultivating healthy boundaries and limits to technology use at an early age will help prevent the development of addictive screen use.
At Recovery Café we are a community committed to the holistic wellbeing of all people. One of the growing concerns for parents across the United States is the impact their child’s interaction with screens has on their lives. While the research is still developing, the majority suggests that forming healthy boundaries with technology at an early stage sets your child up for the most success. To this end, with the support of the Snoqualmie Tribewe have created an initiative to help parents/caregivers navigate the world of kids and screens. In the fall of 2021, we will bring together experts and offer statewide webinars which will include helpful information, tools, and support for your family.
Above you can register for more information about this series of webinars and below is a collection of research, prevention strategies, and treatment supports which can a good starting place for opening the conversations with your family.
What is a Process Addiction?
A process addiction is the compulsion to continually engage in an activity or behavior despite the negative impact on the person’s ability to remain mentally and/or physically healthy and functional in the home and community. Many of us associate addiction with substance use; however, other types, such as behavioral or process addictions can also be detrimental to our lives.
Process Addiction: The Internet and Your Child
The internet has increased the risk of young people developing a process addiction, especially addictions to screens, video games, pornography, and online gambling. Many of us spend much of our days on screens, and the coronavirus pandemic has only exacerbated this issue. Process addictions are more common than public perception would have us believe: 1 in 8 Americans struggle with a form of internet addiction.
Children, in particular, are learning to cultivate their own sense of boundaries, time management, and self-control and are provided more freedom and opportunities as they grow up. We aim to support you and help your child learn how to find the right balance for themselves and your family.
- Screen Time: Screen time addiction can develop from overusing technology and have a substantial negative impact on our lives. Uninterrupted scrolling, TV time, and mindless app hopping can become problematic for the development of other necessary skills that benefit children such as time management, socialization, and physical activity. As adults, it can be challenging to disengage and our children emulate us, yet do not have the prefrontal cortex development necessary to set and stick to limits for themselves.
- Internet Gambling: Gambling addiction, also called problem gambling or gambling disorder, is an addiction that refers to any type of gambling that compromises a person’s lifestyle. Online games or casinos have made gambling more accessible, especially to younger people who are no longer hindered by a legal age restriction at a brick-and-mortar location. Gambling can take the form of poker games, betting on sports, redeeming a lottery ticket, going to an online casino, and more. Many video games blur the line between gaming and gambling, introducing young kids to its addicting rewards.
- Online Gaming: Although online games have been around for a long time, current users are increasingly faced with games that are designed to be complex, detailed, and compelling enough to keep users playing at higher rates. These addictive qualities, or “hooks,” that work to keep users engaged include role-playing components or relationship building with other players that create an emotional attachment and challenges such as high scores or levels. Young children are particularly susceptible to these hooks and can struggle with self-discipline to put the controller down.
- Pornography: Porn addiction, a subset of sex addiction, is an addiction to viewing pornography that interferes with one’s life and personal development. Online pornography isn’t just an addiction problem but a cultural problem as well. Sexually explicit material that was once hard to find is now a mouse click away. We are inundated with spam, pop-ups, and ads that blatantly advertise adult websites, and it is so ubiquitous that we can easily bump into it, even when we aren’t even looking for it or don’t necessarily want it. Kids who are beginning to explore their sexuality are often drawn into the new sensations of puberty and the taboo, yet have not learned how to set appropriate boundaries. This is closely connected with the rise of online chatrooms and sexting.
How do you know if your child is in need of support?
A great starting place to find out if your child is in need of support is to have a non-judgmental conversation. Leading with empathy over the usual message from adults– wishing for simpler times with less technology and minimizing the world that children live in today– can make them more receptive and feel like it is a conversation as opposed to a lecture.
A first step is taking an inventory of your child’s online usage, such as the IMPROVE Tool.
I: take an Internet inventory – Detail when, how long, and what activities your child is engaging in
M: monitor usage over time – Observe behavior over 2-3 months because it can change rapidly
P: parenting factors – Self-reflection by parents; too lax and too intense parenting both can be challenging for children to find their own sense of independence
R: real-world activities – Try to encourage offline activities such as sports
O: other mental health problems – Note underlying or pre-existing health conditions or disorders
V: vulnerability factors – Factors such as bullying, low self-esteem, family stress, and dysfunction can drive one to internet use to escape or numb these other factors
E: extra assistance needed / educational impact
After cataloging the above, as a parent, you can determine much help is needed. Consider enlisting professionals, school counselors, or further treatment.
It is also helpful to reflect on the Three C’s of Screentime, developed by Lisa Guernsey: Content, Context, and (Your) Child. Is your child playing video games after school to relax and blow off some steam? Are they playing games that support their education? Are they engaging with friends and peers online or solo? Are they hiding their screen usage or engaging in behaviors they think you’d disapprove of? There is no objective good or bad answer, it will depend on your child and your family dynamic.
Additional Screening Tools
- Internet Addiction Test (x)
- Net Addictions Quizzes for Internet Addiction (x)
- Brief Internet Game Screen for Parents (BIGS-P) (x)
Tools for supporting your child
The best place to start is by having open and honest conversations with your child. While as parents we want to guide our children towards success and teach them life skills, hyper controlling their lives is not healthy or effective — this needs to be a collaborative effort and storming in to take a game or phone is not going to build goodwill.
With this in mind, here are some tips and tools for supporting your child:
- Establish good practices early. Implement technology policies before giving your child access. Established by Kimberly Young, this rough template suggests how much screen time to allow at different age brackets. It is so much easier to loosen rules than to tighten them. Establishing no TV until after homework or a phone curfew is less of a blow if your child hasn’t gotten used to having free reign.
- 0-3 years: No screens
- 3-6 years:1 hr/day
- 6-9 years: Supervised used
- 9-12 years: Responsible Use
- 12-18 years: Independence
- Use Technology to your benefit. Phones, TVs, and Computers have ways for you to support your child’s development as they learn healthy boundaries with technology. Read up and become aware of the tools you may not know you have at your disposal.
- Setting parental controls on the TV and devices that young children have access to.
- Focus on habits around homework
- Many of us are familiar with the call for ‘5 more minutes!’ Teaching your child to finish their responsibilities first before using technology helps show balance. Connecting with the schools to work with counselors and teachers can also be beneficial to creating continuity in your plan for support.
- Explain realities and take away the taboo
- Gambling: convey your expectations about gambling to your kids, discuss differences between chance- and skill-based games, consider not gifting lottery tickets
- Pornography: your child is likely embarrassed to talk about it and may not really understand what they are viewing. Taking away the mystery around sex and pornography can lessen the appeal
- Encourage offline, real-world activities such as sports, time with friends
- In contrast to what was said above, we don’t want to condition our kids to see screens as a prize and anything else as a boring obligation. Focus on the quality of time spent off-screen, not the quantity. Make non-technology related activities fun!
- Explore activities such as organized sports, walks outside, cooking or baking, playing games or doing a puzzle, gardening, spending time with friends, and more.
- Make it a family conversation on your household practices.
- It can feel hypocritical that you can’t play video games after school when Mom is checking work emails on her phone at dinner. Our kids watch and learn from our behaviors and ‘listen to what I say, not what I do’ has rarely been an effective adage. It is important to balance addressing addictive behaviors with finding alternatives for the whole family. Try discussing how you are cutting back, the difference between work and personal screen time, and come up with a plan with your child for the times when you may need to have them occupied while you tend to a task needing your full attention, such as when you are working or while making dinner. There are times that you might feel that technology is the only option, but involving your child in this decision when tensions are not as high gives you the space to have a conversation about the place of technology in your lives.
Where can I learn more?
- Additional Resource on Process Addiction
- Additional Resources on Gaming Addictions
- Additional Resources on Gambling Addictions
- Additional Resources on Pornography Addictions
- Additional Resources on Screen Addictions
- Residential Treatment Support