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Addressing Technology Addiction In Your Kids

Kids these days have it way different from how we had it.

Most notably, they have a tiny rectangle that fits in the palm of their hand that gives them access to all of recorded human history and culture… and this is a gift and a curse!

Poetic musings aside, we do need to talk about a serious problem that many kids born in the digital age may face: technology addiction.

How does Technology Addiction happen?

There is such a thing as too much of a good thing, and this applies to technology as well.

Technology addiction forms the same way all addictions form: through over-reliance on a chemical release. This may apply to you as well.

Essentially, we get a small release of dopamine through many of the actions we do through our technology. When we receive/send a message, when we get new likes on our latest post, when we beat the next level on Candy Crush—all of these actions release dopamine.

The problem is that these actions are so easy and so innocuous that we can get addicted to the dopamine release cycle without even noticing it.

Harmful effects of Technology Addiction

With every experience that we have, neurons are fired in the brain.

Every repeated experience fires the same neural pathways. The more frequently these neural pathways are fired, the stronger they become. This affects the physical structure of the brain. This is why when we practice something a lot we can seemingly do it “without even thinking about it”.

You can begin to see how important this is for a child, because their brains are a relatively fresh slate, and hence highly impressionable.

Areas of the brain that get used more often become stronger. Similarly, areas of the brain that are not regularly used can fall out of practice. These neural pathways can even stop firing at all.

For example, consider the difference between reading a story to your child and letting an app read them a story. In the former, they are forced to process your voice into words, follow the storyline, and create their own visualization. In the latter, they are spoon-fed images and words, they can go back and forth as they please, and it turns out to be a very passive activity for them. It doesn’t exercise their creativity at all.

Some of the common problems exhibited by children who develop a technology addiction are:

  • Poor face-to-face communication skills
  • Attention deficiency
  • Trouble making friends 
  • Self-isolation
  • Aggressive behavior
  • Difficulty sleeping

Does my kid have a Technology Addiction?

It can often be hard to pin down. As parents, we may even feel inclined to lie to ourselves about it.

But we have to be vigilant. Look for the following signs of possible dependency on technology in your kids.

  1. Lack of interest in other activities. They are unable to find entertainment in activities that don’t involve technology. Or they used to enjoy things that they don’t seem to anymore.
  2. Displaying problematic behavior when they can’t access their devices. They throw excessive tantrums or become uncharacteristically aggressive.
  3. Displaying withdrawal symptoms when they can’t access their devices. They seem anxious or upset, and might only become calm when they get their devices.
  4. Constant distraction by technology. You find it difficult to communicate with them or get their attention when they are using their devices, or they always seem to be waiting for the next time they can get online.
  5. Constant talking about screen-time. When they are not using their devices, they are referring to them in one way or another.

Addressing Technology Addiction in your kids: The DOs and DON’Ts

OK, so you’ve detected a problem. Now how to fix it?

First and foremost, take a step back and realize that you don’t know what it’s like to be in their situation. All of this wonderful technology—smartphones, broadband internet, social media, and so on—came to us at a time when we were already relatively mature. Our kids, on the other hand, were born right into this world. While we knew a pre-digital world and can compare today with that time, kids have no such standard—what they know today is their complete reality.

Be sensitive and kind. Remember to treat them as equals. Coming off a technology addiction is difficult, and there may be moments of strain.

And finally, you will need to be present and set an example.

That being said, let’s get into the DOs and DON’Ts of addressing technology addiction in your kids.

DO #1: Address the problem

The first step is obvious, but approach is everything.

Think about the issue, what the problem is, and what your goals are.

In a two-parent household, both of you must be united and agree on common goals. You probably know what happens if you are not united on an issue—your child takes the soft corner and gets their way.

DO #2: Show your child that you care

When you broach the subject, do not make it sound like a punishment or like you are leveling an accusation. You are bringing it up because you care—that needs to show through. 

Children often view questions about their behavior as a condemnation of sorts, so you need to reassure them that this is not the case.

A child who has a technology addiction may feel threatened by this kind of talk, so be prepared for all kinds of emotional outbursts, accusations, and tirades meant to make you feel guilty. This kind of response is natural.

Your best line of defense? Don’t respond to the emotion. Acknowledge their feelings, but stay focused on the issue.

DO #3: Decide screen time limits

Implement limits with kindness, but also with firmness. And remember that there are a number of ways to implement screen time limits.

One way is setting boundaries, like no screen-time during family-time, or before bed.

You can also make a hierarchy of screen-time. For example, allocate some time to educational apps or communal screen time, and reserve the rest for free-time or individual screen-time.

Involve your children in the decision of screen-time limits, but remember to be firm.

DO #4: Get them outside more often

Take them on a walk around the block, or a hike through the woods.

Take them on a trip to the store without their devices.

Whatever you do, get them out.

It doesn’t have to be every day, but build a habit in your kids to spend some time outside without their devices, especially in nature.

DON’T #1: Don’t shout, lecture, or blame

As you are coming from a position of care, refrain from these actions.

It’s difficult for kids to understand that they have a technology addiction. They cannot see the situation from outside of themselves.

This might call on you to show immense patience, but this is better than condemning your child and causing them to build resentment or self-hate.

Bring the conversation to concerns that you have, and highlight those concerns—it might be fatigue, declining grades, giving up hobbies, social withdrawal, etc. Assure them that you will take the journey with them, so they don’t feel alone. 

DON’T #2: Don’t get them to quit cold turkey

A sudden transition will feel more like a punishment than anything else, and is likely to exacerbate any withdrawal symptoms.

Take a staggered approach. Outline your ultimate goal with them (say, reducing screen-time to 1 hour per day), and gradually work towards it.

Have regular check-ins with them to ask them how they are doing and to give them encouragement, and also to praise their commitment. A little bit of positive reinforcement can go a long way.

DON’T #3: Don’t fill in the gaps

Your kids may experience a void left by the absence of their devices. Parents sometimes tend to feel a responsibility to then structure their child’s time so that they don’t feel upset or bored.

This amounts to a form of rescuing your child. You don’t need to do that.

Trust your child to deal with the boredom and frustration. Let them figure it out! The experience will give them the opportunity to develop problem-solving skills and resilience.

DON’T #4: Don’t use a device as a shut-up toy

Although this is more of a preventative than a curative measure, it’s worth mentioning.

Don’t use the device as a bargaining chip or a distraction to get unruly children to behave or sit quietly. This is enabling behavior.

DON’T #5: Don’t overuse your own device

As with all other behaviors, the most effective thing you can do to influence your child’s relationship with technology is to set an example.

That might mean overcoming your own desire to keep checking your devices.

If you have designated family time, strictly keep your own devices away. That email from the office can wait, especially if it’s after work hours.

Let your kids see you doing other activities in the evenings. For example, the best way to instill a reading habit in them is to let them see you reading.

Set high standards of device independence for yourself, and your children will follow your lead. This can only be good for both of you. 

A technology addiction, like any addiction, is a serious issue. But that doesn’t mean that it should be a cause for panic.

Modern technology is a wonderful ally that enables us to do amazing things when used in moderation.

Keep a vigilant eye on your child’s technology habits, and don’t be afraid to have a difficult conversation if you see signs of a technology addiction.

Also keep an eye on your own technology habits! It will be impossible to get your child to follow your rules if they constantly see you breaking them. This is a journey that you will need to help your child with. You’ll need to lead by example and show a lot of care. But with technology becoming ubiquitous in ways we have never expected, the ability to use technology consciously will help your child immensely.

How to Help Your Child Develop a “Growth Mindset”

Every one of us has a mindset about our own abilities and potential. And this mindset is so powerful that it will strongly influence how we approach learning and problems in life, and can even predict success.

Psychologist Carol Dweck coined the idea of “fixed mindset” and “growth mindset”.

An individual with a fixed mindset gets stuck in the face of a challenge and has trouble moving ahead. An individual with a growth mindset, on the other hand, welcomes challenges as learning experiences and believes they can evolve with each one.

Which one do you think is likely to achieve more success in life? Which one do you want to develop in your child?

The answer is pretty obvious. What Dweck refers to as a “growth mindset” in a distinctive trait that she observed in people who are more successful in life and just happier in general.

Fortunately, Dweck informs us that no one is stuck in one mindset or another. Such a mindset develops based on our experiences. But the qualities of a growth mindset can be cultivated in an individual through reinforcement and practice.

It’s extremely important to cultivate these qualities in a child because it’s easier for people to be molded when they are younger. Further, the more practice they have with it, the better equipped they will be to face challenges when they grow up. And it all starts with their learning in school.

This post is going to talk about just how to teach growth mindset to kids.

What are Growth and Fixed Mindsets?

First, let’s take a quick look at the characteristics of each mindset. As you will see, there is a general difference in perspective between these them.

Fixed mindset characteristics:

  • They believe that intelligence, creativity, and personality are things we are born with and set in stone. They believe these qualities cannot be developed.
  • They fear failure. They view mistakes as failures rather than opportunities to grow and learn. In fact, hitting an obstacle becomes proof to them that they are incapable of overcoming it.
  • They may fear new experiences and avoid risks.
  • They look for external rewards to drive performance and feel the need to repeatedly prove ourselves over and over again.
  • A fixed mindset sounds like this: “I’m just not smart”, “I’m not good at this”, “I’m not going to get it, so why even try”.

Growth mindset characteristics:

  • They believe that intelligence, creativity, and personality can be cultivated through effort.
  • They are not afraid of failing. They view failure as a springboard for growth. 
  • They show a willingness to confront challenges and. 
  • They exhibit a passion for learning and are self-motivated to find out new things.
  • A growth mindset sounds like this: “I wonder what else I could find out about this”, “I know I can figure this out”, “I get what I did wrong and can fix it”, “That was tough, but I’ll do better next time”.

Now let’s get into what you can do to develop a growth mindset in your child. If your child already strongly exhibits growth mindset qualities, then you can use these tips to make sure you reinforce them.

Talk about the brain

Teach your kids that the brain is pliable and it can change with effort and practice. Download this idea into them! You don’t need to be a neuroscientist to do this, and neither do they. You can even instill a growth mindset in early learners by telling them in a way that is appropriate to their age that the brain is like a muscle, and we can make it stronger with dedication, practice, and consistency.

Avoid labeling your child and others

From the outset avoid giving labels, whether it’s a good label (You are so smart!) or a negative one (Don’t be a lazy bones!). Labels put them inside a box and promote a fixed mindset.

Let them make mistakes

Be comfortable with allowing your child to make mistakes, it’s good growth mindset parenting. No one likes to see their child fall, but sometimes that’s what is required for them to learn. It’s like the proverbial “letting go when teaching them to ride a bike”. You can’t run with them forever!

Give them permission to fail

This sounds like the previous point, and in fact, it ties in closely with it. But while the previous point is more for you, this is more for your child. Giving them permission to fail means taking the anxiety out of learning. It will help expand their creativity and grow their readiness to embrace challenges and take risks. Because failing is a natural part of learning anything. Be cool with it.

The power of “YET”

It’s a tiny, three-letter word with a huge impact. Studies have shown that using the words “yet” and “not yet”, when a child encounters a setback, increases their confidence and persistence.

How does it work? It simply transforms fixed mindset phrases to growth mindset phrases. So, “I am not good at this” becomes “I am not good at this YET.”  The word “yet” indicates that there is a learning curve, and points to the importance of the process rather than the outcome.

Praising the process, not the child 

Praising your child is important, but it is important to praise in the right way.

  • Simply praising your child for doing well reinforces a fixed mindset. You must resist the temptation to just say, “Great job, you are smart!”
  • It is also ineffective to blindly praise the effort. This will lead your child to believe that if they try hard enough, they will succeed no matter their strategies. This could lead them to repeat the same futile strategies over and over again. Resist the urge to be reconciliatory and just say, “At least you tried!”
  • Process Praising:This is the kind of praise that we want to aim for. It focuses on the way your child approached a challenge, and not how smart they are or how well they did. It shifts the focus from the end result to the process. So look at what your child did, how they did it, and praise that. You might say something like, “I really like how you checked your textbook for solutions, then asked your teacher, and then tried these two methods to solve this problem.”

This is not to say that effort and outcome are completely unimportant. But by giving importance to the process, you encourage your child to be more experimentative and to face failures.

Teaching them to watch their emotions

Learning is an emotional experience – and it’s not always a joyous one. Help your child understand their emotions, even the negative ones. Let them know that they are bound to feel frustrated at some point or the other in any learning process and that it’s OK. Children need to learn how to handle their emotions. This is a key factor in building resilience and reinforcing a growth mindset.

Read MoreHow to strengthen parent-child communication-relationship?

When they do well without effort

For a student who does really well without putting in any effort, it’s still important to resist making it all about their cleverness. Instead, Dweck suggests saying something like, “OK, that was too easy for you. Let’s see if there’s something more challenging that you can learn from.”Be balanced and wise with your praise!

Seek out challenges 

Encouraging your children to find new challenges, and not stop at their school work. You can help by actively looking for growth mindset challenges for them to do. It doesn’t have to be difficult, and it can be tangential to school learning. Maybe you can buy them a book of Sudoku or crosswords, or something that is aligned with their interests. You might also want to contact your child’s teacher and ask if they are using growth mindset lesson plans.

Set a growth mindset example

Kids imitate their parents. So let them see you persisting with difficult tasks, trying to learn something new, and taking on challenges with enthusiasm. They will observe how you deal with obstacles and how you face failure, and they will imbibe at least some of these habits.

Developing a growth mindset is an ongoing process. Facing challenges in life is not easy, but it’s something that we have to do, and being equipped with a growth mindset is a great boon.

The effort will come from your kids, but it is important that we do what we can to encourage them and give them guidance.

Be wary of boxing them into a fixed mindset, whether through positive or negative statements. This might take an effort on your own part to start focusing more on process than outcome, but it’s well worth it for the effect it will have on your child.

Remember, in the end, growth mindset and fixed mindset applies to all of us, throughout our life. One of the best things we can do for our kids is taking this concept to heart and exemplifying it in our own lives.