Has your teen got a screen addiction?

Mar, 17, 2021

“He’s addicted”

Said a father of a teenage boy to me in a private session. He and his wife had sought my support to help them deal with their son’s obsessive gaming and YouTube habits.

These parents were deeply concerned for their son, who since the first lockdown had become increasingly withdrawn and interested only in things involving the use of a screen. They realised that their knee jerk reactions of confiscating his phone, changing passwords to search sites and hiding the remote controls only offered relief in the short term. Not only did their son figure out ways of getting online anyway but they also saw no improvements in his screen use upon reuniting with his screens once again.

What needs are met through screen use?

My clients felt powerless to help their child without taking things away from him. After all, the dad said, you wouldn’t allow a drug addict to be surrounded by drugs every day. And if we view screen addiction like drug addiction – this might make sense.

However, whatever feelings we might have about screens – one thing is for certain; they are here to stay. And they are an integral part of our children’s life. Therefore, it is more useful to look at screen addiction a little like an eating disorder. In treating an eating disorder it isn’t possible to cut out food altogether. The aim is to help cultivate a different RELATIONSHIP with food.

A good place to start
Is to acknowledge that screens – however inconvenient and worrisome they are for us parents are not evil in and of themselves. It all boils down to the relationship we have with them – and for us parents to understand this better we do well to first get curious:

A powerful question we can ask ourselves as parents is:
“What does my child’s screen use give my child – both positive and negative”

For your teen – screen offer many positive things:

  • Connection
  • Entertainment
  • Education
  • Inspiration
  • Escapism
  • Relaxation

When our children spend an inordinate amount of time online and wakes up tired every morning and constantly behind on school work, it can be difficult to consider that screens have anything good to offer.
But the social aspect of gaming is not to be diminished. Especially now that physical togetherness isn’t possible.

For change to happen – we first have accept

A common barrier to embracing the existence of screens in our children’s lives is that we have no personal reference of growing up with one. Our template of adolescence is at odds with reality for how teens of today behave and communicate. And what we don’t understand we often have a hard time being curious about.

It is tempting to shame and criticise our children for being too attached to their screen in the hope that this will lead to more sensible behaviours. Yet, for anyone to ever be motivated to changing and opening up – we need to feel respected and accepted. As we are.

“What are some of the things you like the most about playing games”?

Is one way to open up conversation with our teen about what their screen use offers them. In as much as we can listen without judgement – we might get an insight into what this world has to offer them.

The more we can stay out of judgement and moralising the more likely our child will be willing to look at what some of the drawbacks to their screen use are. You might find that your child will be willing to admit that it can feel addictive and distracting and that it can be hard to step away from it.

As a parent this likely resonates. As most of our lives are run through a screen and we are contactable 24/7 it is easy to find common ground. We are much more likely to create opportunities for change when we go with as opposed to eyeing these open door moments as an opportunity to correct and teach.

What CAN we do to counter our teen’s screen obsession?

Raising teens is a real gear shift in our parenting style. Up until this point we have had the privilege of being in the position to teach, impart our wisdom and manage.
The challenge for us parents in raising a teen is to adapt our parenting style from one of being our child’s manager to having more of a ‘mentor role’.

For our teen it is really important to be met at ‘eye-height’ and be allowed to push back on some of our ideas and beliefs. Not with the view to upset us. But to find out who THEY are. And they do this only through rejecting our points of view and finding their own way.

Therefore, setting up strict rules or confiscating their devises will only drive them further away as my dear clients realised the hard way. When we restrict and deny something we invariably create a hyper focus on that very thing. Much like the bread and chocolate you MUST NOT EAT you can be sure this is the one thing you crave the most.

Therefore, consider the idea of ‘crowding out’.
Adding to your child’s repertoire of things to do to meet their need for
Connection, relaxation, fun and entertainment.

Make yourself available:

  • Rather than saying NO MORE SCREEN. Think about HOW you can become a more attractive alternative for your teen.
  • The mother I worked with realised that she could rekindle the passion she shared with her son for playing tennis together. She bought a net and dusted off their rackets and enjoyed playing with him some afternoons.
  • You might find that you connect well with your teen when you walk the dog together. And rather than walking by yourself – encourage your teen to come with.
  • Do quizzes as a family and have a game night.
  • Bake together or get your teen to cook their own favourite meal with you (or by themselves)
  • A garden project, allowing your teen to be part of the design and the build.

You might look at these suggestions and think; My teen would NEVER want to do any of this. And you might be right. But rather than assuming it is worth giving this a go. And trusting that while friends matter increasingly to your teen – they still yearn for a good and close relationship with you.
Finding things that you both enjoy is a way to making connection more successful.

Louise Brooks

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