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 www.swring.com), 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.