Thinking back to the toddler years, many of our kids had that one favorite treasure that was extremely loved. Whether it was a blanket or stuffed animal, it was a vital part of their being even though it was often tattered and worn. The softness, the smell, or the sense of security the object offered was enough to prevent sleepless nights and tear-stained cheeks.
As our sons and daughters aged they may have retired that favored snuggy, but today’s adolescents may have replaced it with a handheld device or Smartphone. It’s easy to joke that our children are addicted to technology, but it might not be so funny when we sit down to consider that Internet addiction (including cell phones, games, social media and apps) is becoming a real problem for society.
Addiction and developing brains
Internet addiction is becoming widely accepted in our tech-obsessed culture. Many people often liken this disorder to gambling or other behaviors that create stimulus to reinforce addiction. People who suffer from this disorder often demonstrate a preoccupation with their devices and actually suffer withdrawals when they can’t access their application.
Our children are experiencing an evolving world of apps that makes it easy to develop “FOMO,” or the fear of missing out. This sensation is fueled by the constant status and app updates flooding our devices as kids navigate chat rooms, social networking sites, or friend circles on social media apps that can lead to an emotional attachment or addiction to their devices.
Like all true addictions, there are measurable changes inside the brain when our children become addicted to the Internet. This can be very troubling, because the brain begins the final stage of growth during adolescence. The cognitive development in the prefrontal cortex leaves our children more susceptible and hardwired to forming addictions.
Signs of app addiction
It is estimated that 95% of today’s teens are connected on the Internet, with 90% actively logged onto social media. A huge portion, at least 78% are downloading these apps and signing in with their Smartphones. With numbers like those, it is easy to understand the important role apps play in our kids’ daily lives.
Typically, a cell phone or device is one of the first items a child reaches for the moment they wake up. And all day long they are sending disappearing messages, snapping photos, or texting each other—even when they are supposed to be learning in school. A whopping 90 percent of students admit to using their devices for non-educational purposes during class.
If you are concerned that your child’s love of apps is bordering a true addiction, ask yourself these six questions:
- Does your child become moody or anxious when they can’t access technology?
- Does he or she stay up late or wake up in the middle of the night to log onto an app?
- Are they breaking school or home rules to use apps?
- Have they lost interest in activities they once enjoyed?
- Do they check for updates or multitask on apps while having conversations, eating, or watching television?
- Do they sleep with their phone or take it in the restroom to avoid missing something?
5 ways to help an app-addicted child
If you answered “yes” to most of these questions, your child might be experiencing an addiction to apps and technology. Being aware of the problem is a vital step in helping our children overcome this detrimental habit. Thankfully, there are steps we can take to help curb the lure of apps and intervene before the problem impacts a child’s future.
Listed below are five strategies to help app-addicted children:
- Encourage no phone zones in the home. Designate family dinners, bedrooms, and restrooms as areas where no electronics are allowed.
- Create a technology contract with a child that clearly states what is and what isn’t acceptable.
- Begin an ongoing conversation about addiction and technology. Remember to focus on listening and avoid lecturing.
- Look for activities or groups that will help distract a child from their apps and devices.
- Monitor a child’s app and site activity to stay on top of overuse by paying attention to the frequency or amount of time spent online.
Unfortunately, technology and app addiction aren’t something a child will probably outgrow easily. More and more of our world communicates over the Internet and technology is becoming deeply ingrained in our society. Managing this type of addiction is possible, but similar to the toddler years there is bound to be a few mistakes and tears along the way.