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Monday, July 15, 2019

Paying Attention


Are your child’s grades and study habits being affected from too much time with electronics?

I have received many questions from “stressed-out” parents on various topics concerning their small children and teens.

One, in particular, seems to be a pervasive problem in our society today.


“My 14-year-old son spends a lot of time on his phone and video games. He’s touchy about it and explodes when I ask him to get off his game or phone and spend more time with our family. He practically lives in his room with his door shut or in the den with us but ignoring us and on his phone. Is it bad for him to have so much screen-time? Is this normal? Help! What can I do? Signed: I’ve lost my child to the internet.”

Dear “Lost my child to the internet”: I see this often with many of the families I work with. Yes, it’s normal for 14-year-olds to want to spend more time away from their family. It is a way for them to separate a little to find out who they are as an individual. It’s kind of like them going through the “terrible-twos” again. This is a form of separating from family and finding their own identity. So, while this teenage phase is a normal and helpful process, it still needs some limits placed on it. Where to set the boundaries is a unique decision for each family.

Our society has changed so much over the recent years where phones and the internet are involved. People stay connected through electronics much more than in the past, and kids especially have no knowledge of what not being connected is like. This can certainly lead to a lack of social skills or social anxiety for teens.

Research shows that teens who spend more than two hours a day on the internet, phones and video games tend to have significant problems with socializing in-person and having good eating habits. They also are more sedentary and not exercising and have increased anxiety and depression. Sleep difficulties due to the effect of “blue light screens” is common.

Statistically, the average amount of time teens spend on electronics is seven to nine hours a day! This is a big difference from what is considered healthy.

Some of the questions to ask yourself are: “Is my child spending time on electronics to deal with stress from school, lack of friends, loneliness? Is the home a negative environment due to stressedout, irritable caregivers? Is spending so much time in front of a screen affecting grades, attitude, eating habits or sleep? Are any adults in the house modeling these electronically connected behaviors?” Answering these questions can help you decide if your child’s cell phone or internet use is a big problem or a little problem.

Sometimes, these activities can become like an addiction, just like drugs or alcohol. Here are a few things that separate a healthy habit from an addiction. The inability to abstain or stop in spite of negative consequences, strong cravings or withdrawal symptoms, a lack of recognition of significant problems with behaviors and interpersonal relationships, and a very negative emotional response to discussing the topic.

Here are a few things you can do to help get your 14-year-old’s internet use under control.

Slowly limit the amount of time your child spends “connected.” This is best done by creating other activities to do instead like sports, board game night with family, or dinner time conversations without electronics at the table.

Consider more closely monitoring your child’s activities online and getting with your internet provider on how to implement parental controls.

Put down your electronics as much as you can around your kids. Children learn a lot about electronics use from their parents.

Don’t let the internet become a babysitter for you to get a break from your child, especially during the summer months.

Have your child take breaks away from electronics often throughout the day and evening.

Set up rules about opening bedroom doors and not using headphones when gaming.

Remember, older teens and pedophiles may seek to connect with kids via the internet, so monitoring use is essential.

Know that kids can access pornography through their phones and online video game devices. This can lead to serious porn addiction.

Implement a fair punishment and reward system for online activities and time spent on them.

Never attempt to grab cell phones or gaming devices from your child. This often can lead to a major blow-up, and things could get physical.

If you have difficulty with how to handle this, it might be a good idea to get help from a professional counselor who can helpfully explore the problem and your family’s culture and make personalized suggestions for you. Thank you all for the great questions, keep them coming!

Andy Sibley, LPC, LMFT, is a psychotherapist in private practice and contract counselor for “The Dr. Phil Show.” To Ask Andy a question about a difficult situation you want advice with please email him at Andy@AndySibley.com or go to his Facebook page or website at www.AndySibley.com.

Also from Andy Sibley, MA, LPC, LMFT


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