Recently, my husband and I were out to dinner when I noticed a well-behaved toddler at the table next to us. Needless to say, I was impressed! But upon closer inspection, I saw that she was playing on an iPad.
Looking around the restaurant, I saw yet another table with a well-behaved 18-month-old. The young parents were pleasantly enjoying conversation and I found myself impressed at their ability to eat out with a baby, remembering when my own children were babies and the near impossibility of doing that! But once again, a closer look revealed that the baby was swiping a cell phone screen with his little finger. Even when his dad fed him a spoon of ice cream, the baby did not take his eyes off the phone. And I thought silently to myself: Are we creating screen addicted children?
Consider the dangers of screen addiction and how it can hurt your child.
In her book Screens and Teens, Kathy Koch warns parents about the dangers of too much screen time. And while most of her research is on teens, screen addiction might be even more harmful developmentally to young children.
Habits are things we choose to do repeatedly. They can either be healthy and wise or unhealthy and unwise. If you start paying attention to your habits, you’ll find they usually fall into one of two categories: good and bad. If a bad habit drives our behavior, we can, with some intentionality, choose to stop it in time. Of course, our good habits like praying with our children, playing with them, and patiently answering their questions are habits we don’t want to stop!
Not every teen who uses lots of technology is addicted. Some have simply developed habits like playing certain games, using websites to learn about actors in their favorite movies and texting among friends. On the other hand, when behavior is driven by an addiction, we are “unable to control the aspects of the addiction without help because of the mental or physical conditions involved.” Because of the dangers of addiction, we must be alert to our children’s use of technology and their attitudes and behaviors when they’re not connected. Addiction can trigger other negatives like fatigue, depression, anxiety, and loneliness.
In the face of these factors, parents still have great influence over our teens. Not only do they watch how we cope with frustrations, boredom, and impatience, they also watch how we use technology. If parents disengage from children to stare at screens, children will likely do the same.
Because of what we know about how the brain’s soft-wiring develops, we must be diligent. The National Center on Addiction and Substance Abuse at Columbia University tells us why addiction is more prevalent during formative years than it is for adults: “Because the teen brain is still developing, addictive substances physically alter its structure and function faster and more intensely than in adults, interfering with brain development, further impairing judgment and heightening the risk of addiction.”
Consequences of Addictions
Children who develop addictions to screens are much more susceptible to developing other addictions someday. Research suggests 90 percent of addictions have roots in the teen years. Habits, if we’re not careful, become addictions. When you’re playing a game on your computer, have you ever intended to click on “exit”‘ but you clicked on “play again”? Have you reached for your phone so often at red lights that now it’s hard not to? Those are habits ingrained into your brain connections.
Children who develop addictions to screens are much more susceptible to developing other addictions someday.
Change is possible—definitely—but change won’t be automatic or even easy. Teens need to see us being transparent about our own negative habits. We can share personal examples of our own history with changing bad habits or reversing negative routine behaviors. We need to show them we’re willing to move from recognizing problems to taking action to change our behaviors at the same time we’re expecting them to work at changing theirs.
When we limit our use of screens and encourage our teens toward other activities, we’re digging new “river banks,” so to speak. The new patterns will replace the automatic reach for a screen. Not only will this enrich teens’ lives today, it makes it less likely that addictions to drugs, alcohol, eating disorders, cutting, and tobacco may happen in the future.
So play outside, go for walks as a family, attend sporting events, and plant a garden. Play board games as a family and talk and laugh while you play. Read together and discuss what you read. Listen to engaging literature or appropriate sermons or podcasts when in the car. Discuss what you enjoy and find intriguing. Make meals together. Enjoy life, fight tech addiction, and reprogram your family’s brain patterns at the same time!”
What are the biggest addictions you’re facing in life?
Source: Screens and Teens by Kathy Koch