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How to address our kids' technology addictions

Posted January 18

We often begin our parenting and family lectures in different parts of the world by asking what worries or concerns rank highest in the minds of those attending. Time after time in place after place, the two “winners” are “entitlement attitudes” and “technology.”

In many ways, they are the same concern. Part of the entitlement kids feel is for the latest technology — for every gadget their friends have, for instant access to every social media app, every game, every message or download. They think they should have it all and with no restrictions on its use.

Parents are scared of technology because of its strong hold on their kids, and because they sense they don’t know the full extent of what it is doing to their children’s brains and to their spirits. And most parents simply do not know what to do about it.

In our opinion, the worst thing parents can do is nothing. When there is no approach — no strategy, no guidelines, no rules, no real knowledge of what kids are into — things can go south very quickly.

The approaches we do see parents taking fall into three broad categories:

1. Embrace and immerse: Some parents take the "if you can’t beat 'em, join 'em" approach. Technology is a mixed blessing, but it’s here to stay, so why not embrace it? Parents who use this approach fill the house with tablets, smartphones and laptops; immerse themselves in every app, every game and every social media website; and let kids use Snapchat, Instagram and Twitter to their heart’s content.

2. Discipline and moderate: Don’t try to hide from technology, but have rules and boundaries — such as turning in smartphones before dinner, no devices in bedrooms, limiting time online each day, monitoring all websites viewed, parents having total access to all social media accounts, and so on. Sometimes, the rules become extremely complicated. If they are too loose, they don’t do much good. But if they are too strict, kids find what they can’t have at home at their friends' houses or elsewhere. Some parents try to simplify it to something like “only a 'dumb' phone” (no apps, no social media, no games, just the ability to call or text when you need to).

3. Abstain and avoid: We meet more and more parents who have tried approach one or two and seen enough shortened attention spans, screen hypnosis, artificial “friendships” and serious addiction that they are trying to ban all technology except what is required for school.

Parents from the first group say, in essence, “It’s like the TV addiction a generation ago, and there’s not much you can do about it.”

Parents in the second group say, “It’s like an alcohol or caffeine addiction, and you just have to moderate and control it.”

Parents in the third group say, “It’s like a drug addiction or a porn addiction, and the only cure is to totally stop.”

In fact, technology can combine several of the effects of these other kinds of addictions, such as causing us to lose track of time and place and to completely escape from reality. But in actuality, it is an addiction of a whole new kind because it is interactive rather than passive, with kids actually participating in ways online and in virtual reality that we would never allow in real reality.

We spoke to some social media entrepreneurs recently who admitted that they measure their success not by the number of members or logons, but by how long they can keep a person on their app — and their goal is hours at a time. One of them also said their best tool is the fear of missing out, which causes users to check their texts, Instagram and Facebook every three or four minutes, no matter where they are.

So what is a parent to do? How do we break our own addictions to technology, how do we cure our kids from those same addictions, and how do we govern and control the access of younger kids before they develop the same addictions?

These are complex questions, and the answers vary from person to person and family to family. The first steps are to think about it, try to understand the pros and the cons, and discuss them with our kids, friends and with the parents of our kids’ friends.

So, we challenge our readers to think about it, and we will return to the subject in a future column and provide what we believe are the best guidelines to follow and with some examples of the best ideas we have found.

As NY Times #1 bestselling authors, The Eyres have now written 50 books and speak throughout the world on families and Life-balance. For seminars and presentations available locally go to www.lifeinfullcruise.com or www.lifeinfullonq.com.

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