By Mathieu Morin, Youth Worker at the Valcartier Family Centre
Our continuous relationship with the digital world is not news, but the current health crisis has brought it into sharper focus. Telework has never been more prominent, schools have moved online and it has become difficult to draw the line between entertainment, work life and private life. In fact, you can stay online the entire day and not really notice!
The previous article (My Virtual Teen—Part 1) dealt with the virtual phenomenon in general. This article deals with the (too?) many hours spent online and tries to address your concerns regarding your child’s screen time.
It’s an increasingly common situation: a parent contacts us because he is worried about his child using digital technology too much, as his child’s behaviour changes when he plays too much or, conversely, when his child’s screen time is restricted.
Although it is perfectly reasonable to be worried about your teen, thinking that he is dedicating too much time to screen time does not automatically mean he is addicted. Of course, cyberaddiction does exist. It is a known, documented phenomenon, and there are a number of help services out there for youth and their parents. That being said, addiction (to the virtual world or any other kind) involves certain criteria and professionals have specific clinical tools to assess your child’s specific situation.
Many reasons for being online
Apart from the usual suspects—school, work and everyday life (financial transactions, shopping, research, etc.)—there are many reasons why we might find ourselves online. Below are a few examples:
– Reality today: A large majority of adults—and therefore youth—spend a lot of time on their cellphones. Everything is done via text message. In 2020, a child that calls or visits a friend’s home to see if that friend is free is practically unheard of.
– Socialization: A basic human need—like eating. Based on the principle that humans fulfill their needs in the easiest and most convenient way possible, it’s easy to understand why young people stay on their cellphones, talking with their friends and watching what’s going on on social media. They are socializing, without ever leaving the couch!
– Entertainment: Shows and video games are fun. Like every other pastime, they are not a problem in and of themselves if consumed in moderation and as long as the sources through which your child finds his fun and worth are varied.
– Escape: People who are stressed (e.g. conflict, family tension, bullying, grief, etc.) have to manage it as best they can. The Web, games or shows can easily become a means of escape. In fact, spending too much time in the virtual world is generally not THE problem: it’s a symptom.
Warning signs—proceed with caution
Here are some signs that might suggest that your child’s use of digital technology is a problem or has the potential to become one:*
– The situation is impacting a number of areas (social life, school, family, etc.).
– Digital technology is the centre of your child’s life: he arranges his life around moments when he can be online.
– He is isolating himself or no longer engaging in activities he previously enjoyed.
– His health has been affected (trouble sleeping, aches, change in behaviour or mood, irritability, signs of depression, etc.).
– He is playing/going online very late at night, even if he has work or school the next day.
– He has tried unsuccessfully to reduce his screen time.
– He seems to be losing control or crossing certain social boundaries (e.g. playing at school when it’s not allowed, stealing money from his parents to pay for games, etc.).
*Be careful not to make your own “diagnosis”: when in doubt, consult a professional!
I’m worried about my teen, what do I do?
Adults love to criticize young people’s behaviour, but rarely ask for their advice. However, that’s the first thing you should do if you think your child is having difficulties. If the virtual world is truly an escape for him, it is paramount to take an interest in what is making him uneasy (from what is he escaping?). Some advice:
– Be available and avoid judging your child’s behaviour, especially if you are concerned. Constantly harping about too much screen time risks having the opposite effect. And why label your child a cyberaddict when that is probably the last thing he needs.
– Make your child’s well-being your primary focus. Have you asked him how he’s feeling right now? Have you analyzed his current situation? What about his social life? Have there been any significant changes lately in the family or elsewhere? Is he stressed about a particular situation? If your child doesn’t want to confide in you, he will maybe confide in a loved one or a professional. The important thing is to give him the space and opportunities to do so.
– It might be tempting to use internet service provider parental controls. It is very appropriate to limit screen time precisely to prevent this kind of problem from happening. However, if your child is already spending many hours a day online and these controls are not already in place, a gradual approach should be taken to avoid a too-drastic change, which would be counterproductive.
– Once again: what may seem to be cyberaddiction is quite often a symptom of something else. Therefore, focusing solely on screen time means you risk missing your child’s true issues. This could increase his distress, develop his unease and encourage other, more significant problems to crop up.
As mentioned, there are number of resources out there to support for you or your child or simply to answer your questions. Do not hesitate to phone us at 8446060 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. We would be happy to spend the time talking to you about your situation in order to provide you with the tools you need and to make sure we refer you to the right resource.
Note: The pronouns “he/him” are solely used to simplify the text; what is true for a boy is just as true for a girl!