Moving to Learn

Arousal Addictions – The final frontier for families


Working with families who overuse or are addicted to technology, has been an eye opener into a world of child deprivation, isolation, and neglect. Mom’s obsessed with Facebook, and Pinterest, and Dad’s immersed in video games and porn, are leaving children on their own to fend for themselves. Seemingly safe and happy hiding behind screens, today’s tech families are actually sliding down a slippery slope toward addictions without a care in the world. Thinking they are preparing their young child for the future by handing them a device, today’s parents appear oblivious to the damage their deprivation and neglect wreaks on their children. Gone are family outings, regular meal times, naps, and anything that even resembles meaningful conversation. Children are getting lost in the fray of tablets, phones, and endless devices which separate them from the love and attention that determines their very existence. Drifting deeper and deeper into the abyss of arousal addictions, the art of parenting is now only an afterthought, if that. Parents either have forgotten what it means to parent, or simply don’t care anymore, and their neglected children are falling through an increasingly widening chasm into the abyss. The consequences of child neglect are harsh, both for the family and society in general, and in many cases, are irreversible. Schools plead for more support as they struggle to manage severe behaviours associated with not only neglect, but also prolonged exposure to violent and fast paced media content. As humanity’s desensitization to sexual and physical violence intensifies, cyberbullying, fights, swearing, rapes, and violent crimes committed by children escalate. Prolific and unrestricted technology use by today’s family has resulted in whole family arousal addictions, indicating we may have reached the final frontier in family dysfunction.

I was on my third visit with one of my technology addicted families when the Dad walked through the front door with a huge box containing the family’s fourth large TV screen. Even after all the work the family had reportedly accomplished to reduce their use of technologies, they could not (or would not) see that adding a fourth screen to the house would be detrimental to their efforts. There was a technology schedule on the fridge, basket for storing tech devices during designated family times, family agreed upon rules regarding technology usage also listed on the fridge, yet still another big screen. The reason I was referred to the family was for interventions and recommendations regarding violent and anti-social behaviors by the two children, severe enough to result in expulsion from daycare and school. Yet…the Dad’s box of video games rated > 18 years, which the 8 year old told me he plays nightly with his Dad and his friends, was still visible. The 4 year olds iPad was either on her lap when I arrived, or in her bedroom readily accessible. After the sixth visit, we all agreed that this family has all the needed information, tools and techniques to reduce their use of technologies should they chose to do so, but that any further intervention on my part was not really working, and should therefore be discontinued. Based on my initial assessment and failure with interventions, I would state that this family has a significant case of arousal addiction, and at this point in time, I have no idea how to help them.

On a recent short ferry ride, I was watching a parent settle three children into the back seat. The family was obviously on a trip, as their van was loaded with suitcases, and the parent was working diligently to ensure that each of the 3 children was adequately entertained. Candy bars and chips were unwrapped, stuffies and blankets tucked neatly into place, and finally, tablets placed on each lap to keep the wee ones entertained for the remainder of the journey. Once finished, the parent closed the van door, swiped her hands together, and exclaimed “Well…that should keep them busy for a while”! The fact that these children were all over the age of 6 years did not seem to matter to the parent, who obviously thought if left to accomplish these gargantuan tasks on their own, would either fail, get in a turf war, or make a mess. Without even knowing it, today’s family has moved from favorable (and less favorable) interactions, to no interaction at all. The job of the parent these days appears to be that of feeding and clothing the child…yes…but as well ensuring the child is entertained at all moments. I had a radio interviewer respond to my comment regarding proposed technology reduction guidelines with the statement “Well if they can’t have their iPad, then who is going to entertain them”? This myth that children need to be entertained is exactly the opposite of what they do need, and is resulting in an a whole generation of children who not only are dependent on their parents for every functional task, but who also cannot self-regulate their energy states, wait their turn, be patient, or figure out how to play without a device. Research has demonstrated repeatedly that conscientiousness is the most salient character trait for success in the workplace, yet these ego-based new age tyrants who appear to be ruling their parents universe, certainly will not be growing up to rule their own.

What can be done to stem the tide of family arousal addictions? It is with great sadness that I state “Not much”. As we are aware, substance addictions are very difficult and costly to treat, as we will soon find out are arousal addictions. Treating whole families is cost prohibitive and likely not lasting, as I found out. Where I suggest we focus our efforts and funds are in creating child and youth programs in our own communities that will be free, fun, and draw families off technology and into social and movement based program environments. With the help of trusted adults, youth leaders could be running after school cares, summer camps, and weekend events for both children and youth. Fun is a key word, and adults would be wise to consider whether existing playgrounds, programs, and events would be challenging to anyone over the age of 6 years, as most aren’t. In our efforts to be safe and avoid litigation, our children and youth’s world have gotten infantile and boring. I assisted the Heiltsuk Nation in creating a Crash-N-Bump in their community which has two huge bouncy castles, a variety of fun suspended equipment (see, an obstacle course, and other equipment that provides challenge to mind, body and spirit. The Crash-N-Bump program is heading into its second year, and initial evaluation was overwhelmingly positive, with parents, teachers, and children all requesting “More Crash-N-Bumps”!

Join together with your community to create safe yet exiting programs for the children and youth in your community. Build it and they will come.

Cris Rowan is a pediatric occupational therapist, biologist, CEO of Zone’in Programs Inc., and author of “Virtual Child – The terrifying truth about what technology is doing to children. Sign up for the free Child Development Series Newsletter, join our Moving to Learn blog, or read our Fact Sheet which contains over 280 research referenced facts on the impact of technology on children. Cris can be reached at

Cris Rowen

Cris Rowan, BScOT, BScBi, SIPT

Cris Rowan is a biologist, pediatric occupational therapist and sensory specialist with expertise in the impact of technology on child development, behaviour and learning. Having worked in school settings for over 3 decades, Cris is committed to improving student health while also easing the job of learning for children. Cris is a well-known international speaker and author to teachers, parents and therapists globally on topics of sensory integration, learning, attention, fine motor skills and the impact of media content including video games, social media and pornography on children’s brain and body development. Cris has a BSc’s both in Occupational Therapy and in Biology, is a SIPT certified sensory specialist, and has Approved Provider Status for CEU provision with the American Occupational Therapy Association. Over the past 3 decades, Cris has provided over 350 keynotes and workshops, writes monthly articles for her blog Moving to Learn, publishes the monthly Child Development Series Newsletter, and is designer and creator of Reconnect Webinars which offer research evidenced information for teens, parents, teachers and clinicians to manage balanced between screens and healthy activities. Cris is member of the Screens in Schools committee with Fairplay for Kids, member of the Institute for Digital Media and Child Development and sits on the Board of Directors for the Global Alliance for Brain and Heart Health. Cris has two adult children, Matt and Katie who grew up without screens.

Cris can be reached at Reconnect Webinars offers a free, 5.5-hour CCAP accredited Screenbuster Program training webinar for teens which qualifies them to perform Tech Talks for their peers. The Screenbuster Program requires one counsellor, teacher or principal to complete the 3-day Balanced Technology Management certification CEU provided course in order to adequately supervise the teens.

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3 Responses

  1. I totally agree with Wendy that a “holistic peptrecsive” must be used in order to big-picture diagnosis and therefore be able to select the treatment and rehabilitation options that would best be able to help the person. I think that both the Addiction Severity Index (ASI) Patient Placement Criteria published by the American Society of Addiction Medicine (ASAM) both try to help the clinician to make a holistic diagnosis by using a multi-dimensional approach that looks at various relevant aspects of the client’s life. But what really surprised me is how complicated and difficult making this holistic diagnosis and treatment plan can be. Especially the article about the ASAM Patient Criteria really points out that it can be very difficult for a clinician to incorporate all these different aspects in an objective and effective way. I was surprised to see that their results hint that using a computer program may aid in being able to select an appropriate treatment plan. Normally I would think that a computer would limit the clinicians thinking and ability to incorporate the big picture. However, it seems that due to the complexity of the big picture and the many aspects of the person’s life that the clinician must keep track of and consider when making a treatment plan, the computer program actually does help. I would be very interested to see if there were any studies that have the opposite view. I just have a bad feeling about having a computer be so influential in deciding what the best treatment plan for a person is.

  2. Thanks very much for creating this webspace for overloaded, overwhelmed tech junkie families that can’t handle or won’t handle raising their kids one on one.

    What’s really scary is walking into a downtown coffee café just off campus from a University of California, in Davis, CA, and it is as quiet as a pin dropping. Every single young person had a laptop or a tablet and each was busily engaged or engrossed at their “screen”, no one was talking to anyone despite there being nearly 30 students in the café. Only outside the café on the street where there some obvious non-students who didn’t have laptops and they were talking to each other. this is where this new generation is going: no one talks to each other, they only talk via stupid Facebook messenging (I just despise folks who spend all their precious time doing FB messenging and demand that you engage in their FB “world” be posting comments or photos to your timeline).

    It’s just going to get worse, these children and young adults are going to be so incredibly disconnected from everyone and will be unhealthily connected to online activities that work to further isolate them from human contact, from relationships, from meaningful conversation and connection with their friends, families and greater community.

  3. I feel your despair, Chris. I see the preoccupation everywhere… public spaces are no longer shared but full of isolated, self-focused units. Not to mention the texting while driving menace. No doubt you get a lot of flack for your views. But soldier on, even when you feel like a voice in the wilderness!

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