How Are So Many Children Becoming Addicted to Screens?
By Tess Farrand, Staff Writer
Computers, television, restaurant menus, tablets, billboards… all these mediums are ways for consumers to gain access to information. If you’d asked anyone thirty years ago, few would’ve dreamed we’d be this interconnected.
But, is all this information causing an overload?
Arguably, the overuse of screen-time is an epidemic.
Richard Feed, a child and adolescent psychologist wrote an article unveiling what he’s seeing in so many of his patients. He recalls an instance where a 15-year old girl, Kelly, was admitted to a psychiatric hospital after the cops showed up at her home. Kelly had torn her room apart in distress because her parents had taken her cell phone…
We know that children throw tantrums from time to time but at 15 years old? There’s more to be unpacked.
Feed mentions the posture parents lean towards; “a common thread running through many of these cases is parent guilt, as so many are certain they did something to put their kids on a destructive path.”
Moreover, Feed suggests that there is a direct correlation between technology and psychological studies that yield this type of attachment. “This alliance pairs the consumer tech industry’s immense wealth with the most sophisticated psychological research, making it possible to develop social media, video games, and phones with a drug-like power to seduce young users,” Feed writes.
This type of persuasive technology has a specific hold on growing children, “Children spend countless hours in social media and video game environments in pursuit of likes, ‘friends,’ game points, and levels — because it’s stimulating, they believe that this makes them happy and successful, and they find it easier than doing the difficult but developmentally important activities of childhood.”
Ironically, a study shows that the more you use social media, the less fulfilled you feel and contributes to depression and high levels of anxiety. Now, there’s even a market for digital detox camps where children are forced to spend time away from their technology devices.
BJ Fogg, a researcher a Stanford University told Anthony Kosner of Forbes, “Facebook, Twitter, Google, you name it, these companies have been using computers to influence our behavior. The missing link isn’t technology, it’s psychology.”
Live video feed and notifications keep users plugged in and wanting more. This is especially true of young users who look for affirmation. It’s easier to click, swipe and comment behind a screen than undergo face-to-face interaction for them. Julian Morgan of Vice continues to unpack the psychology; “You know when you open Instagram or Twitter and it takes a few moments to load updates? That’s no accident. Again, expectation is part of what makes intermittent variable rewards so addictive. This is because without that three-second delay, Instagram wouldn’t feel variable. There’s no sense of will I win? because you’d know instantly. So the delay isn’t the app loading. It’s the cogs spinning on the slot machine.”
CEO of Salesforce, Marc Benioff goes so far as to liken this issue to cigarette addiction, stating, “I think that for sure, technology has addictive qualities that we have to address, and that product designers are working to make those products more addictive, and we need to rein that back (CNBC).
If we keep running with the cigarette analogy, it takes one cigarette user at least years to quit smoking, and the road is not always easy. By the same token, reversing our dependency on screens could take years, but it doesn’t help that in order to function in society in the 21st century, at least some screen use is almost a requirement. Because of this, learning how to regulate our own habits, practice self-restraint and pass these characteristics down to children is so incredibly important.
We need to teach our children that in an interview, you can’t text your answers. We’re losing those soft skills that generations before now, never had to worry about… So, what’s next?
We can choose to limit our consumption to media. Try turning off your phone, having a family dinner with no TV, or simply go on a walk without earbuds. Perhaps helping our children out of this foothold will force us to evaluate our own attachment to our screens as adults.
Finally, as believers, remember that anything that becomes an idol detracts from our attention to God and our relationship with him. (1Cor 10:14.).
We can correct our children’s addiction, it just might take some time, and, of course, all of this is so much easier if we don’t allow screen consumption to turn into an addiction in the first place.
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