Parenting in the Technology Age: Real Solutions - Dr. Charles Fay
Each and every day our kids have opportunities to take cutting edge courses on the ins and outs of the latest technology. Visiting with their friends, they can learn what’s hot, what’s not, and how to work around most technological safeguards we put in place.
While they are taking these graduate-level courses, most of us are working long hours, paying bills, cooking, cleaning, fixing broken stuff and trying to squeeze a few more hours out of each day. As a result, trying to keep ahead of our kids’ technological savvy is impossible for most of us. Watching them every second of the day is also unrealistic. While it’s tough for some of us to admit, we have very little direct control over whether they make good digital decisions…or bad.
Real solutions to technology issues have little to do with technology…
and almost everything to do with relationships.
When we have little or no direct control over any issue, we must rely on helping our kids become motivated to make good decisions from the inside-out rather than the outside-in. This means helping them feel so loved that they want to make good choices. This means providing limits in ways that reduce the odds of unwinnable power-struggles. This means allowing them to experience empathy and consequences when they blow it…so that the focus is on their bad decision rather than our anger. It’s all about spending time with them having fun, and showing through our example that there’s more to life than screens and cyber-drama.
The Root Causes of Technology Addiction
At Love and Logic, our focus has always been to provide simple, down-to-earth strategies for raising happy and well-behaved kids. As such, we don’t typically spend much time describing the scientific research behind these strategies.
I’d like to make an exception. I’d like to summarize a body of research that gets directly to the heart of why some kids (and adults) become so addicted to technology that their lives begin to fall apart.
The problem… and the solution… have relatively nothing to do with technology… and everything to do with relationships.
The bottom line:
People at risk for developing these problems feel so badly about themselves, and their lives,
that they will do anything to escape into a world where they feel competent, powerful and liked.
For example, researchers Kwon, Chung and Lee found that those at highest risk score high on the following variables:
Escape from Self
The child believes that they don’t measure up. Compared to the perceived standards of their parents, peers, school, self, or world, they feel inadequate, unattractive, or responsible for everything that goes wrong.
Severe anxiety and depression are the logical result of a child believing that they’re worthless.
Perceived Parent Hostility/Lack of Affection
Loving relationships matter! Kids at risk for escape from self and depression believe that they can’t do anything to please their parents: “Nothing I do is good enough.”
Low Parental Supervision
Lack of supervision communicates lack of valuing: “My parents don’t even care enough about me to wonder where I am, who I’m with, or what I’m doing.”
Lack of Supportive Peer Relationships
When kids lack the skills to develop and maintain positive peer relationships, a vicious cycle develops: Lack of friends = Negative Mood = Negative Behavior = More Negative Mood
While practical limits and accountability are always essential, lasting solutions require that we help all children feel competent, loved unconditionally, and capable of enjoying positive peer relationships.
For those who enjoy reading research articles, see:
Kwon, J., Chung, C. & Lee, J. (2011). The Effects of Escape from Self and Interpersonal Relationship on the Pathological Use of Internet Games. Community Mental Health Journal, 47:113–121
Mistakes Made On-Line: Affordable or Not?
“Hope and pray every day that your kids make plenty of mistakes when they are young…when the “price tags” are affordable.”
Since the 1970’s, we’ve repeated this statement thousands of times. Why? Simply because children allowed to learn by making affordable mistakes are less likely to make life and death ones later on. We learn most of the important lessons in life, not by being lectured, but by experiencing the consequences of our decisions.
So…should we be hoping and praying that our kids chat with predators on-line, stumble upon pornography, become so addicted to video games that they miss out on life, text while driving, etc.? Absolutely not!
Wise parents yank their children back onto the sidewalk when they begin to dart into traffic.
Likewise, they do whatever they can to prevent their kids from making
unaffordable mistakes with technology.
One of the most challenging aspects of parenting is striking a balance between over-protection and allowing children to make healthy mistakes. Further complicating matters is the fact that we can’t completely ensure that our kids won’t get sneaky and make unaffordable ones.
We can up the odds of success by doing the following:
At What Age are Kids Ready for Cell Phones, Social Media, etc?
At what age should our kids be allowed to have their own cell phones? When is it appropriate for them to begin using social media?
The overly simplistic answer:
Not before their early to middle teenage years.
Few kids have the maturity to handle the pressures of these privileges prior to adolescence. In fact, many adults lack the maturity!
“Maturity” is the key word. Since the stakes are so high, I encourage parents to take the following survey to see whether their kids might be ready. Rate your answers from 1 to 5 for all the statements below. Total your score at the end.
Not at all Absolutely
My child is respectful and fun to be around most of the time.
My child typically makes good decisions when he or she isn’t being watched.
My child takes responsibility for his or her poor decisions without blaming others.
My child believes that using technology is a privilege…not an entitlement or “right.”
My child understands that not everybody online is their “friend.”
My child completes chores and other responsibilities without needing to be nagged.
My child isn’t hooked on drama or gossip.
When I ask my child to turn off the TV, video game, etc. they do so without arguing.
My child handles conflict, teasing and other social trials without “falling apart.”
My child understands the risks of sharing too much information online.
Obviously, the higher the score, the more confident you can be that your child possesses the basic maturity required to handle technology responsibly. If in doubt, err on the side of caution.
Addressing the many tough questions about kids and technology requires much more than one blog post. Therefore, I’ll spend the following weeks providing a blog series with tips addressing topics such as:
Discover limits you can set on technology with your kids in part two of this series!
Find more solutions to the temptations of technology with kids in our audio Real Talk on Technology.