Mom… one more minute, please, please, please!
If you are a parent of a child younger than 18 years old (maybe even older), there is a high probability that you have heard this plea or something similar in the past several years.
Let us be honest; we have all been caught off-guard with the advent of smartphones, mind-blowing games, and entertaining social media platforms. We bought our child’s smartphone since we found it impossible not to when our child’s friends all owned one. We assumed building fake architecture on an iPad will make our child smarter. We found social media platforms socially inevitable and essential for our teenage son or daughter’s sense of connectedness and belonging. We gave in without sufficient knowledge about the ins and outs of what we stepped into, and now, we are suffering the consequences.
Although there is an abundance of research depicting the harm digital screening imposes on our brain, our well-being, and our relationships as a whole, we barely recognize or refuse to acknowledge the gravity of the situation since the research is not overly publicized. Nonetheless, the technocrats, such as Steve Jobs, declined to give the iPad to his kids as he knew better.
The fact of the matter is that smartphones, games, social media, and easy-to-access shows are here to stay, and we should hold a positive, firm, and informed position about them, especially when it comes to our children.
Being a mother of two, helping hundreds of families, and after years of reflection, research, and consultation with experts, I have finally concluded my result. The following is a synopsis of how we can approach the beast in the house more consciously, wisely, and compassionately.
1. Digital screening acts similar to narcotics in the brain. Digital devices are intentionally designed to keep us hooked. Yep, digital screening is addictive, and the subject of addiction is new information. With every swipe, every alert, a new text, new images, the thumbs up, the comments, a new scene, the shiny objects, the sound cues, and the fake rewards the brain perceives, we get a surge of dopamine that is commonly known as the pleasure chemical. These chemicals change our brain, training us to need more dopamine hits from the devices and trap us in a feedback loop that is impossible to resist.
2. Knowing the addictive properties of digital screening, we must release our children from many unrealistic expectations. Children are not able to self-regulate their screening time unless we have extensively communicated with them non-judgmentally, have trained them to cultivate radical self-awareness, and have given them tools to make conscious choices to rise above the luring forces of addiction. Even then, they need our support. Do you trust an alcoholic with a bottle?
3. Excessive digital screening could be associated with the underlying reasons for many other family and behavioral conflicts. As the brain gets used to the high stimulant environments, it finds other real-life activities boring and unnerving. Simple daily activities, such as going to school, brushing teeth, exercising, learning new skills, and helping around the house, become daunting chores. Therefore, before branding your child with various labels such as ADD, ADHD, ODD, OCD, anxiety, depression, and many more, try a two-week digital detox and see what happens. (Disclaimer: This is easier said than done, but at least it brings awareness to the situation at hand.)
4. Addiction is an activity we take on to make ourselves feel good on a temporary basis. We usually feel lethargic, hung-out, or more depressed and exhibit withdrawal symptoms, such as melt-downs after the activity or its effects are terminated. Therefore, it is crucial to have a road-map or strategy not only to prevent falling into the trap but after the devices are taken away.
5. The root of addiction is the lack of connection. When we cannot fill our inner void with positive activities, interactions, thoughts, and sensations, such as meaningful interactions with others, physical exercise, meditation, creative activities, and task accomplishments, we resort to filling it with “negative” activities and addictive and numbing behaviors, such as alcohol, drugs, shopaholism, workaholism, and digital screening. The goal is the same; to feel good. One actively makes us feel connected, fulfilled, and overjoyed. The other numbs our pain temporarily and fabricates a false sense of belonging and feelings of relatedness on a short-term basis. Therefore, when we retrieve the digital devices from our children, it is essential to replace them with a good dose of connection and high-quality activities to decrease the withdrawal symptoms.
6. Any behavior is a form of communication and merely a symptom. As conscious parents, we must attend to the underlying needs rather than trying to manipulate or fix the behavior. Having plenty of one-on-one time with each child throughout the day is crucial to fulfilling the basic psychological need of connectedness and possibly dissolve many forms of “misbehavior.”
7. Communicate with your child about the addictive properties of digital screening. Coach them to cultivate awareness about their inner terrain. Come up with win-win solutions together in a family meeting. Involving them in the decision-making process ensures their sense of autonomy, which is another basic psychological need, remains intact. Nevertheless, do not expect them to comply with your agreement by themselves. You are the reinforcer and need to help them stick with the guidelines with love and affirmative energy. Release all expectations. The expectation is the root of suffering. Sample daily schedule:
- At least 10 minutes of one-on-one time with each parent
- Physical activities (dance, hiking, biking, various sports, etc.)
- Creative activities (music, arts and crafts, drawing, cooking, etc.)
- Learning new skills (language, music, fixing things around the house, etc.)
- Reading books
- Helping around the house and community work (to fulfill the sense of competence, which is another basic psychological need.)
- Engaging in these real-life activities ensures two hours of digital screening (preferably spread out throughout the day)
- Sample consequence: Loss or decreased amount of digital screening the next day if not engaged with the real-life activities mentioned in the agreement
- Note: Postpone buying smartphones as long as you can, even longer than 8th grade and avoid portable devices or massively minimize the time for children younger than 6.
8. Implement the guidelines with calmness, clarity, and compassion. A police officer does not yell at us while giving us a traffic ticket. Join in with their digital screening activity for five minutes. Connect with them. Ask them questions as if you are interested. When the time is up, accompany them to their next positive activity for a few minutes until they are ready to do it independently. Think of intervals, such as 30 minutes of independent time and 10 minutes of connection time. In the connection time, dance to silly music, jump on a trampoline, play tag, do a pillow fight together. Enjoy the time! Your inner child will thank you for it.
9. Increase hugs and kisses, endearing words, words of encouragement, playfulness, humor, and decease lecturing, raising your voice, saying “no,” negative comments, and excessive words throughout the day to make them feel seen, loved, accepted, and safe. Remember, the lack of connection is the root of the addiction.
10. Be it to teach it!
- Be a good role model!
- Avoid screening unless it is necessary.
- Turn off notifications.
- Delete as many applications as you can.
- Unsubscribe from emails.
- Allocate a specific time for emails and social media.
- Avoid screening one hour after you wake up and one hour before bed-time.
- Use restricting properties of your phone for yourself as well.
- Get yourself and your family out to nature as much as you can.
- Do what you asked your children to do in the daily schedule.
- Create conditions for your children to succeed.
- Every time you want to tell your children something, show courage, and consider maybe, just maybe, that is something you need to say to yourself!
Dr. Arayeh has a Ph.D. in psychology with a focus on mindfulness. She is a certified transformational coach, mindful living conscious parenting speaker, and conscious teaching and corporate mindfulness trainer. She helps individuals and groups transform anger, depression, and other low-vibration habits so they can live from the place of love, peace, and joy instead of lack and fear and build harmonic relationships with themselves and their loved ones at home and at work. She is endorsed by Dr. Shefali Tsabary, the founder of conscious parenting and Oprah’s favorite parenting expert. Free 30-Minute Conscious Parenting Consultation: www.drarayeh.com.