Technology addiction can be a problem for people of all ages. But to a child’s developing brain, vision, and sense of self-worth, too much screen time and social media can be damaging. There are ways to address your child’s technology addiction – without overwhelming or punishing them.
Technology is growing and changing just as quickly as our children. With constant exposure to screens, it’s only natural for a parent to be concerned about what all this screen time is doing to our children.
Research shows that the physical structure of the brain actually changes with repeated experiences.
But it’s not so much the experiences that are as important as what the child makes of them that creates this blueprint for brain development.
How Screen Time Affects Brain Development
Each time a child has an experience, nerve impulses are fired in the brain. With repeated experiences, these neural pathways are fired over and over again. The more frequently neural connections are used (impulses are fired), the stronger they become.
So, a child who watches TV, plays video games, or scrolls social media regularly will have a physically different brain than a child who doesn’t.
Similarly, areas of the brain that are not regularly used can fall out of practice. When neural connections aren’t fired habitually, they eventually stop firing at all. (Have you noticed that some children who text as their primary means of communication eventually develop poor face-to-face communication skills?)
This is the brain’s way of “pruning” neural pathways to maintain efficiency. Energy is focused where energy is used. In a developing child, it is important to provide experiences that fire connections in all areas of the brain so that it matures fully.
In order to teach kids the skills that will help them be successful in life, we must engage them in those skills on a regular basis so their brains will develop the appropriate connections.
What does technology addiction look like?
Here are some signs your child is addicted to technology…
- can’t entertain self without electronics
- disconnecting results in tantrums or high level of irritation
- develops a negative attitude toward non-screen activities or spending time in nature
- can’t manage guidelines surrounding electronics
Older kids are entering a digital world with social issues connected to cyber bullying with texting, social media, adult content websites, and violent video games. We are just beginning to learn the trickle effect of advanced time spent connected to screens and children plugged into technology.
Once you realize that the very people who invented these addicting forms of technology don’t let their own children use them or social media, you’ll wonder why it’s ok for your child.
Excessive screen time is also contributing to increased frequency of myopia (near-sightedness) and digital eye strain.
As a parent – and the one who buys devices, games, and apps – you control your child’s access to technology.
Sometimes things get out of hand before we realize what happened. Don’t be too hard on yourself. It’s never too late to reframe your family’s tech rules from an attached parenting approach.
Here’s an exceptional guide to setting effective screen limits for your child.
How to Prevent/ Fix Technology Addiction
These suggestions work whether your child has an actual addiction to devices or seems to be developing a less than healthy relationship with them.
The key is to be upbeat and excited about non-screen activities. Don’t use them as a punishment or you may end up making screens even more attractive to them.
1. Don’t view your phone or tablet as a shut-up toy
While there are sometimes situations where it’s easier to let your child watch a movie or play a game on your phone, let these be the exception rather than the norm. And try not to offer a device when your child is bored.
When my oldest child repeatedly asked to use my phone when he was bored, I would respond by starting a conversation that stimulated his imagination or would encourage him to go outside and play or explore. I told him I’m always open to talking with him and that I want to hear his thoughts and opinions. That conversation (and a few reminders) ended the habit he had formed of always asking for my phone out of boredom.
2. Give your child more freedom
The summer months are ideal for getting outside more and sitting in front of a screen less. This is the best tip for an older child who can’t get enough video games. Give them the freedom to free-range hang out with a trusted friend, visit a local park, or just to explore!
Start with short intervals and let them enjoy exploring on their own. As a mom learning to encourage free-range play, it’s difficult to not feel panic at first. I stay positive by thinking of free-range play as a gift I can give my children to help them grow and discover the beauty of play and nature through their own eyes and experiences.
Related: 50+ Scree-Free Activities for Kids
3. Insist on electronic-free play dates
We’ve all seen the effect of one child pulling out an iPad and suddenly all social interaction is lost with a group of children. Request that electronic gadgets don’t accompany guests or play dates when you are hosting.
4. Use low-level technology to encourage a nature-averse child
Here’s where tech can be useful for bigger kids. Have an old digital camera? Children love to take pictures and you can create amazing eye-spy games and hunts.
Head out with an age appropriate nature scavenger hunt printable. Little kids can spend hours searching for treasures. And big kids like to get competitive or enjoy teamwork.
Another tool to getting kids outdoors is geocaching. It’s a digital style treasure hunt that involves an app, GPS, or simply following clues and instructions.
Time spent in nature is incredibly important for physical and mental health. If you need to take baby steps to get kids outside, every little bit counts.
5. Encourage mindfulness
When you really think about it, our phones are the best way to avoid reality. Games, videos, and constant scrolling takes us out of the present moment. Mindfulness is all about being aware and conscious of what is.
When we are mindful, we aren’t constantly trying to stifle our emotions or hide from an unpleasant thought or feeling. Meditation has been shown to be extremely beneficial to kids and an effective tool against technology addiction. Plus a recent study found that elementary school-aged children who practiced mindfulness training slept an average of 74 extra minutes a night.
You can find 40+ guided meditation scripts to read to your child before bed time or any time they’d like to practice mindfulness and deep relaxation.
6. Look at your own habits
What example are you teaching children with your relationship to electronics? When you have idle time – how do you spend it? If you are checking your phone and needing constant stimuli, it might be time to wean yourself down from your own technology addiction.
Need something to keep hands busy and productive? Take up a hobby like gardening, playing an instrument, or reading physical books.
Watch yourself through the eyes of your child and show them that you are willing to detox from electronics, too. Sometimes we need to reevaluate technology and the huge advancements and accessibility to understand how connected we’ve become.
Your efforts will be so worthwhile. And it’s true – there’s no app that can replace the importance of time spent in nature and with other humans.