Digital Detox for Kids

Boy with mobile phone

Do as I say, not as I do? Parenting in the digital age.

Reflecting on our own use of social media and digital devices can be an interesting activity for parents and can be a key part of the boundary setting procedure within the home. Being conscious to how electronic devices and social media are used by all members of our family can be an eye-opening, revealing and triggering process and one many of us wish to avoid addressing.

However, as the research data accumulates and debate heats up around the impact of these factors on all aspects of child and adolescent wellbeing, it is a child-rearing issue which is becoming increasingly prevalent and unavoidable.  It is one I have had to grapple with both as a teacher and parent myself.

The controversy and discussion around the impact of electronic devices and social media on child and adolescent health has perhaps until recent years been side lined or conveniently ‘ignored’ by many. It is therefore surprising to learn that Steve Jobs, Bill Gates and other Silicon Valley executives raised their own children in low technology homes with tight limits around device, media and internet usage. Some even totally banned them due to the risks of what they perceived as harmful effects of screen time. So there appears to have been, at least at one time, a ‘do as I say, not as I do’ approach to parenting and household management of digital device usage amongst the creators themselves!

Where does that leave the rest of us?

The children and young adults in our homes and schools live in a digital age and look to us to lead the way on how they should manage their relationship with the internet, social media and digital devices. My previous blog (Why a Digital Detox?) highlighted and questioned the addictive qualities of these and the recent reporting that the on-line game ‘Call of Duty’ has been played for more hours than the total time humans have been in existence suggests that this sort of pass-time is the number one choice of youngsters. That is a scary statistic!

How do we as the responsible adults navigate this complex topic?

The easy option is to do nothing and hope that young people will find their own way around the issues and concerns. Research, however, has shown this approach is not working. There is a clear correlation between the increase of young people’s difficulties around sleep, anxiety, low mood and self-esteem. The rise in mental health issues in children and adolescents is linked to unregulated access to electronic devices, particularly social media and on-line gaming use. The phenomena and major health consequences of ‘FOMO’ (fear of missing out) and ‘social media envy’ are very real.

The rise in cyber-bullying and risk behaviour taken online especially during unrestricted use (at night time, in bedrooms when youngsters are on their own) is frightening.

So, what do we need to do in relation to this issue? The answer is in boundary setting.

Firstly, know that you are the expert in relation to your children, young adults and family set up. Become aware, transparent and honest with yourself as to what is going on in relation to everyone’s internet, social media and electronic device usage.

Ask the young people in your home how they feel about it all. How does it help them? What do they find difficult about it? If you can use terminology they are used to, such as FOMO, and educate yourself in advance about the social media platforms they are using (Snapchat not Facebook!) and on-line games they are playing, this will help you connect and discuss at a deeper level. Talk about the sensations that arise within their body and the thoughts that are created with in their mind when not being able to access these things.

This conversation facilitates self-reflection and empowers young people to assess the benefits and costs in relation to it all. Inspire and energise them to make healthy choices – they are often far more intuitive and self-knowing than we give them credit for. They just need to be asked the right questions to activate this. Often, they want this dialogue.

Next, remember that children and adolescents need boundaries to kick and push against – this is what helps them develop a healthy sense of self. Think about how you want your children to be in relation to the internet, devices and addictive energy as they move into adulthood and set the household limits accordingly. Trust yourself in being able to apply the limits.

Finally know that children learn how to ‘be’ in life in relation to what they see the adults they look up to doing. So being congruent between what you say and do yourself is the best way for a boundary or behaviour pattern to stick. “Do as I say and as I do” works.

Finally, don’t beat yourself up – perfect parenting is a myth. We are all doing the best we can and learning together in an ever-changing world. We are all finding our way. Be compassionate with yourself and them on the journey.


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