Why today's youth is addicted to technology
The information portal for safe cell phone use
Two things you can do
Ever since major Apple investors asked the company to do something about children's cell phone addiction, I have received a flood of phone calls asking for comments. I would like to scream out loud first. Because I have already written about the unhelpful narrative of "addiction" in detail in my book It's Complicated: The Life of Teenagers in Social Networks.
Back then, the biggest concern was social media. Today we're talking about cell phones, but the story is the same: young people are using technology to communicate non-stop with their friends at a time in their lives when everything revolves around social ties and their place in the world To find company.
As much as I want to yell at all the parents around me that they should relax, I am painfully aware of how ineffective that would be. Parents don't like to see that they are part of the problem or that their efforts to protect and support their children may backfire. If you want to see what I mean live and in color, check out the Black Mirror episode “Arkangel” (trailer here).
For a while now I've been trying to come up with little suggestions that can make a big difference. Providing guidance to parents in dealing with the problems they are concerned about. In the following you will therefore find two approaches to dealing with “addiction” for different age groups.
Raising the little ones: discussing the use of smartphones
Children get to know norms and values in the first years of life by observing their parents and other caregivers. They imitate our language and facial expressions as well as our quirks and quirky preferences. Nothing is as satisfying and at the same time as terrifying as hearing your child repeat exactly what you say too often yourself.
And guess what? Children also get all the clues about using technology from the people around them. A child would have to grow up all alone in the forest to overlook the fact that people love their cell phones. As soon as the children are born, people are waving cell phone cameras in front of their faces, using their smartphones to disengage from situations and ignoring them while they speak obsessively into their phones.
Of course, children want the attention the cell phone steals from them. And of course they want the device to be something special for them too.
So here is my recommendation for parents of little people: Explain what you (currently) do with your cell phone. Every time you pick up your smartphone (or other tech device) around your kids, tell them what you're going to do with it. And include your children in the story if they choose to.
- “Mom is trying to find out how long it will take to drive to Bobby. Would you like to look at the map with me? "
- “Dad looks to see how the weather is going. Do you want to see what's there? "
- “Mom wants to take a picture of you. Is that in order?"
- “Dad needs a little break and wants to read the headlines in the New York Times. Should I read it to you? "
- “Mom got a message from Grandma and now has to answer. Shall I tell her something about you? "
The crux of this type of verbalization is that you are in control of yourself and your decision to pick up the phone. It's pretty uncomfortable to say out loud: "Mom is checking your work e-mails because she just can't stop doing it, something important could happen."
As you start saying out loud that you are turning to technology, you will begin to see how often this is the case. And what you can show your children as normal. You can sort of look in a mirror and see what your children are learning. So check yourself and what has become the standard with you. Are you satisfied with the norms and values that you have set?
Raising the bigger ones: collective agreements
I can't tell you how many parents have already told me that they have the rule at home that their children are not allowed to use any technical devices until time X, where X is "after dinner" or "when their homework is done" or any other point in time. When I then ask them whether they put their own cell phone aside during dinner or until after bathing, they all look at me as if I were an alien.
Youngsters can't stand hypocrisy. Nothing can easily undermine trust between parents and their children. And they have a lot to say about their parents' cell phone addiction! Thunderstorm!
So here is my suggestion for restricting use: Draw up a joint contract. It's a contract that defines boundaries for everyone in the house - for parents as well as for children.
Ask your (soon-to-be) teen to draw up the first draft contract. This should determine which rules apply to everyone, what he or she is willing to forego in order to gain certain privileges in the use of technology, and also what the parents should forego. He or she should also list consequences for rule violations. (As a parent, you can also come up with rules that you think are fair and write them down if necessary, but don't introduce them first.)
Then ask your child to recite the completed rules. You will most likely be surprised because they are much more strict and structured than you expected. Then join the negotiation.
You might want to ensure that you can pick up your cell phone when your grandmother calls, but then your daughter should also have the right to pick up your cell phone when your best friend calls. Such things. Work through the rules, but let your child take the lead. And then write down the rules and hang them on the wall as a contract that can be renegotiated if necessary.
Education beyond addiction
Many people have unhealthy habits and structures in their life. Sometimes it is based on physical dependence, sometimes it is just a matter of habit or psychological crutches. But across the whole spectrum, the following applies: Most people notice themselves when they are doing something that is not healthy for them.
Maybe they won't be able to stop. Or maybe they don't want to stop at all. Gaining clarity about this is part of the challenge. If you have the impression that your child has an unhealthy relationship with certain devices (or with anything else in their life), the first thing to do is ask if they agree.
If parents think that their child is doing something unhealthy, but the child sees it differently, then the help must be completely different than when the child also has the feeling that something is going wrong. Many young people know very well that their need to be in constant contact with their friends - the fear of missing out - is not good for them.
Help your child by working together to develop strategies for dealing with the pressure. Your child will benefit a lot more in the long run if you help them develop such skills than if you simply make rules.
When parents and children view a situation very differently, parents should first try to understand why this difference exists in the first place. Is it about pleasure addiction? Is it about the fear of missing out? Is it about the emotional bond of friendship? Is it because the parental priorities conflict with the child's priorities?
What comes next is education in general. Some parents believe that they are the rulers of the house and that their claims are law. Others let their children get away with anything and never counter them with anything. Most parents are somewhere in between. But in the end, being a parent is always about helping children explore the world and helping them develop healthy action skills.
Therefore, I would strongly encourage parents to focus on negotiating terms with their children that will enable them to participate in life while understanding why certain limits are being set. This requires communication and energy and by no means new technology that monitors set limits. In most cases, the latter sends the wrong signals and backfires, much like the "Black Mirror" episode mentioned earlier.
Good luck, dear parents - upbringing is a constant adventure in which friend and suffering are in balance.
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