Loud complaining, irritability, shouting, and every parent’s favorite: the temper tantrum. It is true that some kids display these types of behaviors often. But what’s a parent to make of an otherwise well-behaved kid freaking out when one of their tech gadgets is taken away?
If kids are displaying irrational behavior when their devices are taken away or when limits are placed on their usage, this should signal to parents the possibility of digital addiction.
What is digital addiction?
The word addiction should never be used lightly. Addiction refers to a compulsive dependency on a substance or activity. Addiction interferes with a person’s interpersonal relationships and often takes up a significant amount of that person’s time and energy.
That said, digital addiction does exist and it shares many of the same chacteristics as addiction to drugs or alcohol. Adults and kids too, can end up with digital dependency.
How digital addiction works?
Digital stimulation, the kind that comes from using mobile devices, game consoles and similar gadgets, target the frontal cortex. This is the same area of the brain that addictive drugs affect. Since the frontal cortex controls cognitive functions and behavior, the result can be increased aggression, anxiety and depression.
Dopamine is a chemical responsible for sending signals between the nerve cells and the brain. Increased dopamine levels cause feelings of happiness. When a heroin addict uses the drug, one result is an increase in dopamine levels.
A not dissimilar increase in dopamine levels occurs when digital devices are used. The user’s brain then becomes dependent on the increased level of dopamine resulting in a type of digital addiction.
Know the signs and symptoms
Parents need to pay close attention to their kids’ relationship with technology. Knowing the signs and symptoms of digital addiction can help parents recognize if their kid has an unhealthy relationship with their devices. Look for these signs of digital addiction …
- Social isolation – preferring devices to meaningful interaction with peers and family.
- Irritability – becoming anxious and irritable when devices can’t be found or used.
- Sneaking use – staying up past bedtime playing on devices or stealing them back after they have been confiscated.
- Trouble in school – using devices without permission in school and/or having their devices confiscated at school.
- Jumpiness – constantly checking for messages, updates or texts and jumping at every sound their devices make.
- Physical symptoms – restlessness, inability to sleep or lack of sleep stemming from overuse of devices.
Parents can help kids with digital addiction
The symptoms stated above are just a handful of the ways that digital addiction can manifest. Parents who recognize one or more symptoms of digital addiction in their children can use the following tips to help restore a healthier relationship with technology.
1. Set limits on usage
Kids should understand the importance of balancing tech usage with physical activities and social interactions with friends and family. Setting usage limits helps kids balance time spent on tech with time spent on homework, physical activities and interactions with friends and family.
2. Teach responsibility
Letting older kids set their own limits is a great way to teach responsibility. If restrictions on digital devices are always seen as a punishment, then kids might never learn to set their own boundaries on tech usage.
3. Detox completely, not gradually
A complete digital detox might be necessary for kids showing more serious signs of dependency. Gradual withdrawal won’t teach kids that they can function without their precious devices. It will just seem like pure punishment. Be ready for your digitally addicted kid to act worse when denied access to those devices.
4. Make it fun
When a kid is a digital addict, convincing that kid to take a complete break from tech will be a hard sell. Paint it as an opportunity, not a punishment. Plan a fun event or even a digital detox getaway for the whole family. It is important to remind digitally addicted kids there’s so much more to life than their devices.