I spied on a family of three outside on the Local Cantina patio, pieces of Crunchweezy taco spilling out of my foil wrapper. The parents finagled their two-ish-year-old into a high chair, iPad clenched in his somehow already sticky fingers. Mom and Dad played a verbal tennis match about whose day was more stressful, while the kid’s eyes lit up as bright as the Hawaiian colors on his iPad when Moana came on screen.
Why was I awkwardly creeping, you ask? The scene ignited a nagging question that typically hits me when I watch my nephew Snapchat through a family movie night: Is technology really “ruining” kids, or are people just overreacting?
I’m an over-analyzer who can think myself into oblivion, so I reached out to Live Wellness, a counseling center in Columbus. They have seen an uptick in parents bringing children in for counseling.
The Underlying Issue
Charity, a therapist on staff, sat down with me and clued me into one of the biggest themes that continued to surface in our conversation about kids’ addiction to technology – the connectedness between children and parents:
Without healthy technology boundaries and intentional family time, kids struggle to process through their emotions. Author and Pediatric Occupational Therapist Cris Rowan shared in the Huffington Post that “diagnoses of ADHD, autism […] anxiety, depression, and sleep disorders are associated with technology overuse, and are increasing at an alarming rate…Elementary aged children use on average 7.5 hours per day of entertainment technology.”
Add technology on top of school, social, and athletic commitments, and it’s easy to see kids are drowning in stimulation, which begs the question: Are our family priorities in the right order?
That can be a scary question to ask. In all the busyness and distractions, parents may not realize their child lacks real connection.
Whether they know it or not, kids are desperate for the kind of connection that isn’t fleeting, and they won’t find it making a touchdown, scrolling through Instagram, or binging Netflix. They’ll find it spending time… with you. That’s the root issue of many families who come to Live Wellness for help. The parents don’t realize that their kid’s emotional health can be impacted greatly by their presence.
Where to Start
Charity mentioned that, in all their sessions with children, they see substantial improvements in behavior and attitude simply because the children are actually getting quality one-on-one time one hour a week. Just one hour a week! I asked her, if exhausted parents sense that their kids are anxious or depressed (or are just plain addicted to their phones), what baby step can they take to get their priorities back on track?
15 Minutes a Day of Play | Ages 0-12
For those of you who have younger children, Charity recommends sitting down with your kid(s) – without any technology, especially without your phone – and letting them pick an activity. It could be a board game, or maybe they want to paint or play catch outside. In that 15 minutes, you have only one responsibility – to be present with your kiddo and respond to whatever they’re saying or asking. Encourage them, and make sure they know you love them.
Quality Time with Teens | Ages 13-18
For those of you with teens, it may seem like they need their phones more than you, but that couldn’t be further from the truth. Charity recommends taking your teen out for some quality time. It’s worth stating that you should NEVER let on that it’s planned intentional time! That’s teen-repellent right there. Just nonchalantly tell them you’re too tired to make dinner, so you’d like to go through the drive through and eat at the park. Or if face-to-face time is difficult for them, go on a walk or do an activity. Say it’s a no-phone zone if they’re addicted, and leave both of your phones in the car or in your purse/pocket. Even if they don’t talk at all, just be there! It may seem uncomfortable if you’re not used to it, but here’s what Charity says you’re doing for them:
For those of you who have teens who are either in a difficult season or are unresponsive to your efforts, never stop verbalizing your love, and pray that God will use other people to speak into their lives.
Phone Station | All Ages
One great step toward healthier technology boundaries is removing your kids’ phones at dinner and at bedtime. Children will lie in bed, scrolling and comparing, or browsing and overexposing themselves to things they don’t know how to process. Removing phones, a couple times a day, can be instrumental in building emotional stability. Brace yourself, though. They may call you out to do the same thing!
What Time Tells Kids
It’s amazing how time plays an important role in child development.
My dad was a mailman my entire childhood. He despised most aspects of his job, but he worked hard anyway, out of love for our family. My early years with Dad went like this:
Every evening, I’d Bosa-tackle him when he walked through the garage door.
Every evening, he was sticky from 9 hours in a hot, tiny mail truck.
Every evening, I asked him to play catch with me in the backyard.
Every evening, he’d fight back for about 6.8 seconds until his big heart got the better of him, and we’d play until dinner was ready.
I’m sure playing catch with me was the last thing my Dad needed to do when he got home from work. He wanted food and rest, and probably a hot shower. But his sacrifice communicated something to me that I’ll never forget…
Every evening, my Dad decided to play catch with me. And every evening, without using words – only time – he communicated to me: “There are so many other things to do today, but you are worth more than all of them.”
If you’d like to seek some help for your family or for your kiddos, let Live Wellness know. They have a sincere passion for making family ties stronger.