So much of what I do in my work with families struggling with Internet Addiction has to do with parenting, even if the child in question is now 25 years old! Are you an overly permissive parent? Research shows it does not work well for producing self-reliant, self-confident, fully-fledged young adults. In the modern age of digital media, it is very easy for parents to succumb to children’s wishes for unlimited access to their computers and the internet. So, why not give in? The answer has to do the how child development is influenced by a child’s use of computers (including video games, smart phones, etc). When the use is excessive, then the impact can be profound and negative.
Let me back up a moment and introduce myself. I’m a psychotherapist who specializes in Internet and video game addiction. My out-patient clinic, Internet/Computer Addiction Services (co-founded with Jay Parker, CDP) is located in Redmond, WA (home of Microsoft), and my in-patient retreat center for Internet addicts, reSTART, (co-founded with Cosette Rae, MSW) is located in Fall City, WA, not far away. I’ve been specializing in this problem for many years. For reasons I cannot explain, I saw the approaching flood, when Internet addiction was only a trickle. Now, that flood is upon us. Statistics tell us that between 6 and 13% of the general population meets criteria for Internet Addiction. In the college age population, that number stands between 13 and 19%! That’s a lot of young adults who are addicted to digital technology. In S. Korea and China, the problem is growing so rapidly that those governments have declared Internet Addiction their #1 public health threat. Think about it. #1.
Now, back to parenting. If you are going to allow your child access to computers, the Internet, and video games, then there are some guidelines to follow:
- Don’t let your child use a computer or video games before the age of 7. This delay gives the child a chance to bond with caregivers (assuming you’re not distracted from parenting by your own computer use), develop social relationships with other children, fully engage natural inclinations toward creative play, curiosity, sociability, and physical activity: in other words, fully engage with the world, and develop the physical and psychological skills needed to succeed in that world. Allowing a child at these young ages to spend time captivated by a digital screen can interrupt this natural development and set a child up for a life time of underperformance in many arenas, and poor self-esteem as a consequence. It also sets the stage for digital addiction.
- If and when you allow your child to play video games, and use computers for their entertainment, keep their overall screen time strictly limited to 1 hour for elementary age children, 2 hours for middle-schoolers, and 3 hours for high schoolers. Make sure that your child understands that this is a powerful and even hazardous thing, and you will only permit your child access to such a privilege as long as the child demonstrates age-appropriate maturity and ability to keep the digital activity limited as prescribed by you, the parent. If the child fails to show adequate maturity, then the privilege should be withdrawn for an extended period of time, allowing maturation to proceed to the point that she or he can respect your rules.
- Do not worry that by limiting your child’s access to digital technology that you are being a bad parent. Quite the contrary. You are limiting access to something so powerful that, unless appropriately used, could lead to severely negative consequences. And research has demonstrated that teens who grow up without computers are able to use digital technology with as much skill as their “digital native” peers within months of use.
- Model what you’re preaching. If you want to raise a child that lives a well-balanced life, then you need to model that. You can not expect your child to use digital media moderately if you, yourself, are constantly on your smart phone, laptop, or the home computer.
- Invest your own time in your kids. Don’t let a screen keep them distracted and out of your hair so you can pursue your own pleasures. If you need a break from your kids, then a little screen time won’t hurt, but if you would rather be doing something else, and let the screen be the parent instead of you, then your kid does not have what he or she needs. Our kids need us – our attention, our insistence on the rules, our consistency, our wisdom, our love. Don’t let a screen come between you.
Don’t Just Be Fit, Be Gamer Fit
Leave your comments below and add to this discussion. Like what you saw, follow us on Twitter @GamerFitNation, like us on Facebook and follow us on Google+ GamerFitNation!