Disconnect to Connect
By Angela Murphy
How many of us remember the story of Josh and his parents?
Once when I was visiting a family, the 12-year old adopted son *Josh, took me to his room to show me his game. Within a 5-minute time span I saw his very real looking character smoke marijuana, pick up a prostitute, run down a police officer, and the boy talked about killing his family next (in the game). By the time I stood up to leave the room, my head was spinning and I felt dizzy. That was only 5 minutes, imagine what 4+ hours a day could do?
Josh’s parents were good people trying to balance all of the responsibilities of life. Like many of us, they weren’t fully aware of the connection between his gaming and his growing brain, nor were they fully aware of what he was playing. They also struggled to know how to set boundaries around their son’s video gaming which became a point of contention in their home that impacted on everyone.
As a brief recap on last week’s blog (and supported by current research) on the overuse of video games, screens and online gaming:
- The American Academy of Pediatrics has instated guidelines for the use of technology with children as research has culminated evidence based understanding of its negative impact.
- Despite these guidelines, children are playing 4x more than the suggested limit
- The fast pace of online activity is not only altering the way young people’s brains process information, but such activity is also physically changing their brains.
- According to Dr. Richard Graham, children “react with tantrums and uncontrollable behavior when their [devices] are taken away… they experience the same withdrawal symptoms as alcoholics or heroin addicts” (Riseman, Psychology Today)
(To read full blog, please click link here:https://www.complextrauma.ca/kids-technology-damaging-disconnecting-part-1/ ).
This research can cause us to panic. But don’t feel guilty. Reflective thinking can create the change we need. This week, we have focused on giving you some critical tips on how to re-connect with your children. Following are the 10 Steps to Unplug Kids by Occupational Therapist Cris Rowan (reprinted with permission). This is essentially, how to disconnect in order to re-connect:
- Become informed regarding the effects of technology on physical and mental health.
Technology overuse is related to child attention problems, poor academics, aggression, family conflict, impaired sleep, developmental delays, attachment disorders, impaired body image, obesity and early sexuality. The signs of technology addiction are tolerance, withdrawal, unintended use, persistent desire, time spent, displacement of other activities, and continued use. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than one to two hours per day of combined technology use, yet elementary children use on average eight hours per day!
- Disconnect yourself – Be available for your children!
As child technology use patterns parallel that of their parents, a technology addicted child is likely to live in a high technology usage household. Parents need to determine how much technology is too much, and set limits. Parents should then model balancing technology use with other activities.
- Reconnect – Designate “sacred time” with your children.
The root of addiction is fear of human connection or “social anxiety”, and results from poor parent – child attachment formation. Adults may benefit from exploring past experiences of attachment with their own parents, and think about how this experience may have affected how they relate to their own child or students. Designation of “sacred time” in the day with no technology (meals, in the car, before bedtime, and holidays) is a first start toward reconnecting with your children.
- Explore alternatives to technology as a class or family.
Not all children are interested in or value the same activities as adults. Fostering a tolerance for differences and respecting individual preferences can go a long way toward promoting children’s motivation to unplug.
- Enhance performance skills PRIOR to unplugging your children. Children with technology addictions have poorly developed identities, social skills, relationship to nature and sense of spirit. Drastically or suddenly reducing technology with a child who has an addiction, will result in chaos at school and home, as the child is now alienated from what has become their whole meaning for living. Teachers and parents can help build performance skills by exposing children to activities that are “just the right challenge”, not too hard, not too easy.
- Meet developmental milestones through engagement in the three critical factors for child development – movement, touch and connection.
Children need to rough and tumble play 3-4 hours per day, and spend time connecting with their parent(s), teacher and other children, in order to achieve optimal physical and mental health. This type of play promotes adequate sensory development of the vestibular, proprioceptive, tactile and attachment systems needed for paying attention, printing and reading.
- Address perceptions of safety.
Parents’ perceptions of safety correlate with child time indoors in front of TV and videogames e.g. if a parent perceives the world as unsafe, that child will spend more time indoors using technology. Fear of litigation has drastically changed playgrounds. Outdoor rough and tumble play is a biological need for children, and has been proven to significantly reduce ADHD.
- Create individual roles and foster independence.
Children benefit from knowing their role in the big picture, and self-esteem comes from being independently productive. Realistic challenges and expectations by parents and teachers promote defined roles for children, and provide a structure where they can begin to try out new skills. When faced with a task that is perceived to be beyond a child’s skill level, frustration and poor self-esteem will be the result.
- Schedule a balance between technology use and activities.
One hour of ‘energy in’ (technology use) equals an hour of ‘energy out’ (movement, touch and connection). Make up a weekly schedule with designated time for technology balanced with time for movement, touch and connection. When beginning the technology unplug, it’s important to alternate between familiar, predictable, structured activities and novel activities. The parent and teacher’s job is to skillfully dance the child between predictability and novelty during the initial unplug period.
Screen-free activity ideas:
- Indoors: crafts, board or card games, puzzles, cook dinner, bake cookies, sing, dance, write a poem or song, clean room, do chores (set a timer), visit with elders, invite family/friends to dinner, arrange a play date, play hide and seek, babysit siblings, read a book, color a picture, cut out shapes, or print name, letters, and numbers.
- Outdoors: play sports, ride bikes, hike trails, walk to friends/store, play games (tag, capture the flag), go to beach or park, make a lemonade stand, build a fort, climb a tree, plan a theatre play for family/friends.