Starting the conversation about smartphone addiction with your children
We don’t have all the answers, but we can start asking the right questions
My twelve-year-old son was actually talking on the phone. For longer than one minute, and not to ask a gaming- or pc-related question to one of his uncles. Instead, he was having a relaxed and alightly giddy conversation with one of my closest and best friends. I took this shot with my son’s own phone, I thought it was an interesting moment.
And it reminded me.
I was visiting another friend the other day - one of these special people who, when you self-publish a book, takes the time and effort to order one for themselves. Awesome.
He introduced me to his kids - who I was meeting for the first time - as the writer of the book he had recently gotten, and said to his oldest daughter (I think she’s 9):
“I think this might actually be an interesting book for you as well; it’s about screen-time and how much time we spend on digital devices.”
This reminded me heavily of a conversation I had had with people in a workshop I had led back at a congress in November, where we talked about the silent impact digital technology has on our lives, and about my book Life Beyond the Touch Screen.
One of the participants said she could really see the book - and especially the pages with bold printed quotes and questions - as a great conversation starter about the issues of smartphone addiction and other effects of technology overuse on our mental health.
Turns out; a lot of people thought the same.
Now, why is this so important?
Your habits exist between you and your environment
I once, for a brief period of time, worked for the organization that organizes “Family Group Conferences” in the Netherlands (De Eigen Kracht Centrale). Even though I studied psychology, one lesson about mental health care I learned at EKC like never before was this:
You can take the alcoholic out of his home environment, and put him in a rehab center and through all sorts of therapy, to then pronounce him cured.
However, what happens when you put him back at home, in his dysfunctional relationship with his spouse, with his group of friends in which toxic masculinity and alcohol abuse are the norms - and his house above the pub?
Your habits are formed by your environment and if you’re human, chances are that next to physical, digital and - depending on your background metaphysical - your environment is determined in a large part by the nature, strength and depth of your relationships and social network.
It’s hard to change or create a new habit, but it’s exponentially harder to do so without changing your environment. Especially the social one.
Does that mean you automatically need a new spouse, new friends and a new location to live?
Of course not.
But it does mean you need to start the conversation.
Starting the conversation and the steps after that
Now, if you’re interested in the subject of smartphone addiction and other negative effects of digital technology overuse on our mental health, I’m assuming that you’re not only concerned with your own individual, personal mental health.
You’re probably concerned with the mental health of your lover, friends, coworkers and family members as well.
If you have kids, I’m pretty certain that you’re at least somewhat concerned about the impact a 24/7 digital device culture and the apps, games and interactions that run on the devices, have on your kids.
What’s this doing to their developing brain, to their sense of self-mastery, social development; their adjustability as adults?
[By the way, if you really want to know what the latest research is saying about the impact of digital technology on our mental health, read this article].
What’s the right balance? How should we approach this issue? I’m pretty sure you don’t know the answers - much less as I do. We don’t have the perfect answers. But we can start by doing a few things:
- Instate #OfflineSunday - or offline any day - in your household. Just as a simple, weekly, short digital detox, and a reconnection and mental health check. Are we really addicted?
- Limit your own screentime as explicitly as you do your kids’. Don’t only tell them they can use their pc, tablet, smartphone or whatever device holds their interest for longer than you feel is productive and healthy - lead by example. “Daddy’s going to write some, I’ll be on my laptop from 10:00 am to 12:00 this morning, and after that I’m all yours and we can go...[insert something fun and dad-like, here].”
- The kicker: Have the conversation(s) about the effects of digital technology on our time, energy and focus; our relationships and our general wellbeing. Assume you don’t have all of the answers, but try to ask the right questions. Try to do your own research. And maybe, like the participants in that workshop in november, you’ll find my book to be a great starting point for your conversations.
Maybe this one is a nice way to start: