A recent study by Dr. Bruce Perry with Child Trauma Academy in Texas revealed that children who are neglected by their parents have significantly smaller brains, with long term effects of increased violence, addictions, and unemployment.The Centre for Disease Control and Prevention reports child injury rates are up 12%, and cite parent preoccupation with technology as a causal factor. While parental neglect is nothing new to society, overuse of technology is. As technology draws parents away from the needs of their children, these neglected children are more prone to injuries and even fatalaties. In the absence of a primary attachment figure, neglected children form unhealthy attachments to devices. Socially acceptable and alluring, parent overuse of technology is resulting in escalating and widespread neglect, causing injury and irreversible brain damage in children. This article will profile initiatives for health professionals regarding identification and treatment of Tech Neglect.
As a paediatric occupational therapist, I visit children in home, daycare/preschool and school settings. As a manner of protocol prior to the first visit, I tell parents that they are both required to be available to participate in therapy sessions. I also tell them that I have a “no tech” policy based on the law of “partial attention” (multitasking is a myth). Half of my potential clients don’t call back. Even with these warnings, my first session usually requires anywhere from 10-20 minutes prying devices away from not only child, but also parents, in order to proceed with therapy. We designate a safe place to stow devices, unplug the phone, and proceed. It’s the only way to achieve effective therapy sessions.
Many therapists might not consider the act of wrestling a device away from a parent and/or child to be in their professional domain. When one considers the damage inflicted on the child from parental neglect when using devices, the implications of employing “best practice” procedures of removing devices becomes imperative. Parents deserve accurate, research referenced information fromhealth professionals regarding the impact of technology on their developing child. Research shows technology overuse in children causes developmental delay, obesity, sleep disorders, depression, anxiety, aggression, adhd, dysregulation, and learning disorders (see Zone’in Fact Sheet www.zonein.ca). Above noted research shows neglect associated with technology overuse in adults causes injury and permanent brain damage. Parents have a right to this information, and they also have a right to know that the reason the health professional was referred to their child could be related to family technology overuse.
Along with providing research referenced information to the parents regarding the impact of technology on their child, I also perform a technology usage screen on the first visit (see www.zonein.ca for free Tech Screen download). Technology screening should be manditory for all of our clients and families, and will help to determine if in fact technology overuse is a causal factor in the child’s observed disorder or behaviour. As children’s technology usage patterns follow that of the parents, if the child has an overuse pattern, so obviously do the parents. This technology screening procedure is a combination of information gathering and giving, intersperced with compassion and empathy. Knowledge regarding tehnology addiction is imperative now for all therapists, as is the understanding that technology overuse is not a problem in and of itself, but rather a symptom of something deeper.
Underlying many addictions is a failure of the primary attachment between parent and child, as well as a fear of intimacy and human connecton. Generally there is one spouse in the parental partnership that has a more significant technology overuse problem, which consequently makes the treatment of this condition very complex. Involving counsellors experienced in addiction therapy is imperative, in order to help families get back on a healthy track. As pediatric occupational therapists we can use our expertice in exploring alternative activities to technology, and assist families in managing balance between activity and technology through use of schedules and action plans.
Tech Neglect is rampant in our society. To continue to ignore this problem, and participate in the over diagnosis and overmedication of child disorders and behaviours related to technology overuse, is unprofessional, unethical, definitely not “best practice”. As professionals, we need to get Tech Neglect out of the closet, and start unravelling and addressing this problem, before it’s too late.
Cris Rowan is a pediatric occupational therapist passionate about changing the ways in which children use technology. Cris provides workshops/webinars, products, training and consultation services to professionals and parents. You can read more about Cris at www.zonein.ca.