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Shouldn’t parents stop blaming ‘the internet’ for screen time addiction and take back control?

3 years ago

2 experts and 3 parents have answered

Kelly Rose Bradford writer
Kelly Rose Bradford Journalist and broadcaster London, GB

As the parent of a 10-year-old son, I read the recent reports of children going into therapy because of internet and computer addiction with open-mouthed disbelief and with only one question in my mind: why are parents allowing this to happen? Because the problem is not the child’s – the issue is firmly with the adults who have allowed it to happen.

Last month, the Telegraph - among many other newspapers - reported that the youngest known patient in the UK with a diagnosed IT addiction was a little girl of just four. The child was said to be undergoing psychological therapy after her parents noted her ‘distressed’ and ‘inconsolable’ state when her devices were taken away.

The story enraged me. My child would spend all day on his computer or his iPad, or playing games on the Wii or the Xbox if I allowed him to do so. Similarly, he would probably replace every meal with jam sandwiches and Jaffa Cakes and go to school in his pyjamas. But because I am responsible for him and his wellbeing, these things do not happen. And when he, like the four-year-old girl now in therapy, becomes ‘distressed and inconsolable’ when I tell him it’s time to turn off the iPad or shut down the Wii, he is warned that he will not be back on them tomorrow if he is going to be difficult. The device is then taken away. It really is as simple as that.

It is disturbing enough to read that ‘addicted’ children display the same withdrawal symptoms as alcoholics or heroin addicts, but even more so to realise that the people who are responsible for them and their welfare have allowed their obsession to perpetuate. Parents must take back the control, stop using devices as electronic babysitters, and show a bit of common sense and responsibility towards their children. And giving a four-year-old an iPad or equivalent, is showing neither.

6 Reply Share:
Opinion 3 years ago
expert answer
Dr. L. Robert Furman expert
Dr. L. Robert Furman Principal South Park Township, US
Education expert

There are so many issues with this question I am not sure where to start. First of all, like my colleague said, this is ENTIRELY a parental issue. Please go and read my articles on the huffingtonpost about parenting and standards they should follow.

Second, I am not convinced that this diagnosis of IT dependency or computer dependency is a real diagnosis. I am not one to argue with doctors but lets face it, it would not be the first time.

Parents, this is simple, do your job and be their parent, not their friend.

4 Reply Share:
Opinion 3 years ago
expert answer
Leonie Smith expert
Leonie Smith Cyber safety consultant AU
E-safety expert

Agree with above comments entirely. There are too many parents I fear that have got sucked in to allowing their kids to be constantly on games and computers because it's easy. It keeps the kids quiet, and far easier to acquiesce rather then try to kid off. Television was the same type of babysitter back in the 90's and earlier. Now it's the computer of a game consul. Both parents might be working or it might be a single parent situation, and I think its just purely convenient to let the kids have their way. There's a pay off people...the kids are in one place where you can see them, out from under your feet and not fighting with siblings..sometimes...Start early giving timetables and boundaries to your kids in all things, including screen time, or you will really regret it.

1 Reply Share:
Experience 3 years ago
Tamsin Oxford writer
Tamsin Oxford Professional writer and editor Shoreham-by-Sea, West Sussex, UK

I agree with Doctor Furman. Sometimes I wonder what people are thinking. Honestly. They are the parents. Of course the child was distressed and inconsolable, she was throwing a temper tantrum because she wanted to play, not do as she was told. I am distressed and inconsolable when a good book/TV show/video game is interrupted or put on hold by life, but I'm not being rushed to see a therapist. Why are people not teaching their children what's important? I've mentioned before that my daughter is not allowed TV or any kind of screen time during the school term, except on weekends. I also schedule plenty of outdoor activities for the weekends so she is out and about and not slumped on the sofa. I've noticed that if she games or watches TV for too long her mood get quite funny so it is limited to a maximum of one to two hours in a single stretch. This holiday I also cut back her screen time considerably - it was tough at first, but now she would rather read a book, colour, run outside or build a fort than watch TV. end of righteous rant

1 Reply Share:
Opinion 3 years ago
Daniel Appelquist
Daniel Appelquist London, United Kingdom

Hi - I realize this topic thread is a bit old but I thought I'd try opening it up rather than starting a new thread, since my issue is very related.

I count myself as a tech-savvy parent. I also think I am more stringent with limiting our kids' screen time than other parents we know seem to be. Our kids have strict time limits on the family PC. They do not have computers in their rooms. We do not have any gaming consoles in the house. Certain Web sites such as Facebook and YouTube are blocked on their accounts - using Apple's built-in parental control's mechanisms (the limitations of which are a topic for a whole other post). I have only just got my eldest (12 yo) a phone, and we strictly monitor its use (e.g. it's not allowed in his room after bed time). The TV in the house remains off (at the mains) most of the time when the kids are up, unless we are sitting down together to watch something together - e.g. a film or the odd sporting event. The house is full of books and indeed books are a big part of the kids' lives, including regular library visits. I have also strongly been encouraging the kids to get involved in coding clubs and learn using tools like Scratch and Codeacademy so that they can start using the computer as a creation tool rather than just consumption.

Even considering all of the above, we have still run into major problems in the house that I would classify under screen addiction. So much so that I have had to call a "week of no screen time" over this week in an attempt to detox the kids.

Left to their own devices, the kids will always choose to use their computer time playing Flash games (on sites such as Moshi games, Friv and some more interactive sites such as Moshi Monsters) or watching cartoons or kid-oriented TV (either on iPlayer or similar).

Some of the issues include:

  • One sibling bullying another after their screen time has run out in order to play more games
  • Shoulder-surfing passwords and then using our accounts surreptitiously
  • Accessing inappropriate material and then once that web site is added to the banned list, using the above method to access it surreptitiously from another account
  • When using the computer for school work, immediately changing to games when the parent is out of the room
  • Inability to get a child off of the computer (e.g. to come to a family meal) without physically dragging them away, causing histrionics
  • The whole "screen time" thing itself becoming a major part of the sibling rivarly and causing major blowouts and screaming matches
  • ...the list goes on...

My encouragement to pick up tools such as Scratch and CodeAcademy has had some success but is still perceived as "what Dad wants us to do" - it can't provide the immediate reinforcement that flash games have, so if I am not supervising it doesn't happen (they go back to the games).

I feel like my attempts to limit screen time and encourage more progressive uses of the computer have basically back-fired. I am stuck now between banning all games (which by the way is a losing battle because there are a zillion sites out there with free Flash games on them), banning the use of Flash (also potentially an arms race) or banning the use of the computer entirely except for school work (requires constant supervision / policing which is not always possible). And I have the feeling this is only going to get worse as the kids grow older.

So the answer "it's simple, do your job as a parent" doesn't cut it. What specific strategies would you employ to combat these issues and turn kids' relationship with the computer away from the addictive and towards the constructive?

1 Reply ( 2 ) Share:
Experience 2 years ago

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