Tech Over-Use and Lazy Parenting: A Deadly Combination
By Marina Spears
I’m sure we are all familiar with the following scene: A small child cries and whines in public, the parent pulls out a smartphone or tablet, connects to a game, the child calms down, and all is well. But is it really? Many teachers, administrators, and school mental health professionals are worried.
In a recent interview with Sarah McCarroll, MS, a Pennsylvania school psychologist of eighteen years, she voiced the concerns that she, her colleagues, and school officials are experiencing across the country. They are noticing the effects of “over using” technology with children and what she described as a “significant reduction in emotional intelligence.”
Emotional intelligence is “the ability to understand the way people feel and react and to use this skill to make good judgments and to avoid or solve problems” (Cambridge University Press, 2018). McCarroll explained that when technology replaces active parenting, such as taking the time to teach coping skills, children are skipping important steps in learning how to handle emotions in healthy ways. This kind of “lazy parenting” is detrimental in several ways:
- It decreases the ability for a child to learn self-regulation. When a child plays video games or uses social media the brain releases dopamine, which is connected to feelings of pleasure. When a parent uses this mechanism to help a child cope, the feelings of frustration were never truly dealt with–just covered up with a distraction that “felt good.”
- It creates unhealthy patterns. Overuse of technology in moments of frustration will create a pattern of behavior that uses of technology as an escape from uncomfortable feelings.
- It can lead to addiction. When technology is used this way, children may develop a sense that they need it to “cope,” which can lead to addiction.
On the other hand, when a parent takes the time to allow the child to feel the emotion, and teach coping skills, the child’s brain is working very hard, and making new connections which build the ability for the child to manage their emotions in future situations
McCarroll also explained that “we need to use technology wisely,” and far too often kids are spending more time interacting with an iPod than in face-to-face interactions with their parents. In 2016 the American Academy of Pediatrics announced new media regulations for children’s media use. One of the lead authors of the recommendations, Jenny Radesky, MD, FAAP, stated the following: “Families should proactively think about their children’s media use and talk with children about it, because too much media use can mean that children don’t have enough time during the day to play, study, talk, or sleep.”
So, what can we do? Technology does work to calm down a child; it does work to have quiet time while we’re making dinner after a long day. It is important to remember that these are quick fixes. In the long run, we all want a strong connection with our children. We want to be able to impart what we know and provide them with all the tools they need to succeed. And that won’t come from becoming a champion on Subway Surfers.
Here are Four Suggestions to Help Us Find Balance With Technology:
1) Tech now, talk later. If you used a “tech quick fix” to avoid a disaster in the supermarket, make sure to discuss it later on with your child, find out why they were upset, talk about ways they can handle their feelings and how you can help them.
2) Take breaks. Create “tech-free times” with your family. These can be mealtimes, rides in the car, Sunday afternoons, or whatever works best. How you do it is not as important as just ensuring moments of face-to-face interaction.
3) Quality time. If possible, take time each day to spend one-on-one time with each of your children. Be sure to shut off the phones, iPods, and any other screens during that time.
4) Self-check. Because children follow our example, do a “self tech-check” every few days. Are we missing out on teaching moments with our kids because we just want to get to the next level on Candy Crush?
Let’s make sure that each day we are doing all we can to connect with our kids and use technology to help them not hinder them. In our books 30 Days to A Stronger Child and Noah’s New Phone, there are activities, lessons and conversations starters to empower our kids with the tools they need to succeed in this ever increasing digital world.
Feeling motivated to do something right now about digital use in your home? Click on this link for a downloadable lesson to discuss this issue. With this lesson and about 15 minutes of your time you can discuss digital addictions and healthier coping mechanisms with your kids, right at the dinner table tonight!
Marina Spears received her Bachelor of Science in Marriage and Family Studies from BYU Idaho. She runs the student guidance program at the Summit School of the Poconos, and facilitates a support group for families of addicts. She is also a contributing writer and editor at Educate and Empower Kids. She is the mother of five children and loves to spend time with her family.
Sarah McCarroll, M.S., earned her degree from the University of Pennsylvania and has been a school psychologist for 18 years, working with students at the junior high and high school levels for much of her career. She is married to a high school teacher/coach and is the mother of 3 children, who are also at the junior high and high school levels. She believes in advocating for students with disabilities and their families through teamwork with wonderful educators. She is a co-founder of STARs, a program targeting at-risk girls, to reduce girl/girl violence by promoting positive sisterhood.
Cambridge University Press. (2018). Cambridge Dictionary. Retrieved from Cambridge University Press: https://dictionary.cambridge.org/us/dictionary/english/emotional-intelligence
Kent C. Berridge, K. C. (1998). What is the Role of Dopamine in Reward Hedonic Impact, Reward Learning or Incentive Salience? Brain Research Reviews, 309-369.
American Academy of Pediatric. (2015, October 21). American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children’s Media Use. Retrieved from American Academy of Pediatrics: https://www.aap.org/en-us/about-the-aap/aap-press-room/pages/american-academy-of-pediatrics-announces-new-recommendations-for-childrens-media-use.aspx