[00:00:00 – 00:01:16]Kids nowadays are more exposed to lots of screen time and parents are using this technology to effortlessly help in getting kids preoccupied, however this can result into massive meltdowns.
Reporter:What do you think about the modern day relationship between children and technology?
Dr. Kimberley: I often see kids using – well not often – but like, it’s becoming more regular that you see kids even as young as 2 using like, iPads, either in restaurants or while their mum’s are waiting in line, you know, in the waiting room at our clinics as well.
Kids are getting exposed more and more to screen time obviously and parents are using it as a way to keep the kids preoccupied. And, I think that’s great, except that there are usually some massive meltdowns involved – that I’m sure parents can relate to. As soon as they need to like pack up and go, and take the iPad away, these meltdowns are worse than your average tantrums. Because there is quite an addiction involved, you know, when it comes to the bright light, then in the middle of the game where you have to go through those stages to get to the next level again. So I think for parents, the tantrums can be more stressful because they last longer and are a whole lot louder. My advice would be try to avoid giving screens to kids under the age 5 because we can easily keep them entertained if we give them a book, and then you don’t have the meltdowns afterwards. Or even just a fiddle toy would do. There’re so many other options to avoid screen time that you can also carry in your handbag.
[00:01:17-00:02:37] This technology is damaging to the cognitive and social development of these kids thus giving them limited interest to interact with other kids or adults.
Reporter: In terms of long-term development, is it detrimental to their cognitive and social development?
Dr. Kimberley: I think so. What I see, even in 15 years olds who have been doing a lot of gaming for long periods of time, is that they have really narrow group of friends with narrow interests. So they might have one close friend that they do lots of “gaming” with on the weekends (I’m probably not using the right lingo).
But, if it doesn’t have a screen and they have to go or something, like if it’s someone’s birthday, then it’s just so hard for them to be there. It just feels more boring than it would have if they didn’t have such narrow interests because their social skills have been depleted and they haven’t been practicing on weekends, or having more conversations with people of different ages about different topics, because of their narrow interests.
So we do see fifteen year-olds to want to broaden their interests, but that can be quite a challenge because they have to actually do stuff that they don’t enjoy to start with, the enjoyment will grow when they develop new network of friends and they get more physically be able to run, jump or climb, so that can get back to a normal balanced lifestyle.
[00:02:38 – 00:04:18]Kids these days have serious addiction to technology and it is making them more aggressive.
Reporter: So you think that addiction to technology is real and it’s happening at the moment?
Dr. Kimberley: Yeah, definitely.
I saw a really good documentary but I wasn’t able to find it since I watched it. It was based on a Chinese rehab program for adolescent boys that have screen addictions. These are boys that have been gaming all through the night, have dropped out of school and have been spending like, 22 hours a day on screen. Some of them doing things like peeing in a bucket, wearing adult nappies so they didn’t have to come away from the screen. They serious wanting to be the best in world at whatever they were doing.
In that documentary they were in full withdrawal when they have no access to a screen, and two of them in that period of time, like in that one month program, they broke out and they went straight to an internet cafe and started playing, trying to catch up after being away from it so long.
Yes I do see it as a serious addiction. You want to watch it, because they’re some really lovely kids that we worked with in that middle range, from 10-12 years old. Just lovely kids that are well educated. They have supportive families, but are becoming more aggressive, throwing huge rocks through the sliding glass doors trying to get back inside once mum gives up because of too much screen time on a Saturday morning. Or breaking into a filing cabinet trying to get the laptop, fully busting the lock, doing damage.
[00:04:19 – 00:04:27]Kids who have attachment to technology are showing aggressive behaviours thus causing damage.
Reporter: In terms of behavioural issues, there is obviously the attachment to technology but you are saying there’s aggression as well?
Dr. Kimberley: Yes definitely.
[00:04:28 – 00:05:06]Technology is not the main cause of decreasing attention span of children, there are also other factors to consider.
Reporter: I’ve read a study that the attention spans of children are decreasing because of technology. Do you find that this is true?
Dr. Kimberley: It could be hard to pinpoint that as a cause and effect because there are just kids with short attention spans, with or without technology. But I think teachers are using more technology in the classroom and then, I suppose when they turn the screens off, they have to be, you know – I mean it’s great to watch a YouTube video of something and then to have the teacher try explain every word, but it doesn’t have such an impact. I imagine the kids would become more accustomed to seeing things move and hearing different voices and different scenes. It’s hard to compete with.
[00:05:07 – 00:05:50]There are pros and cons in using technology in teaching. There are games that are educational that can help kids with spelling, reading, and mathematics.
Reporter: Do you think that technology should be used in school for children in reception like iPads and that kind of thing?
Dr. Kimberley: I know some school mums are sometimes annoyed at teachers that are giving little girls, like kindergarten/year 1/year 2, a lot of time on screens because that is something that they have tried to win as off time and only use it on weekends or something like that. And when they drop in to do reading at school and some kids spend the whole hour on screen and they feel that is not teaching. So, I think you get mixed reactions. Or the kids might love doing those educational games there are really some good ones out there that can really help children with spelling words, reading, mathematics. So there are pros and cons.
[00:05:51 – 00:06:30]Technology is beneficial for children but you have to managed the use of it.
Reporter: So do you think overall the increase use in technology is beneficial to children or detrimental?
Dr. Kimberley: If it’s managed, then beneficial, totally. I think it’s a great reward for kids to get all their homework done, and then have some time to do something they really enjoy. And to use it as a reward and use it in limited periods of time so that they don’t develop that addiction. I think they get used to logging off after 5 t0 10 minutes – it not such a big drama, but if it’s been 4 to 5 hours, thats a whole waste of the weekend I think. And it’s not the right parenting in my opinion. Reporter: Yes, fair enough.
[00:06:31 – 00:06:57]Children in general should only be allowed to have screen time for 1 hour every day.
Reporter: One last question – so how long should children in general be spending on screen everyday?
Dr. Kimberley: Research says maximum of 2 hours but for me that feels like high school age when they have laptops and homework to do online and things like that. So I think two hours for those kids who have to do homework online. But for other ones, maybe two hours on weekends and one hour every day.
[00:00:00-00:00:32]Dr. Kimberley O’Brien introduces strategies for parents to help kids cope with traumatic news.
Hello Bonnie. It’s Dr. Kimberley O’Brien here. I’m auto-recording in Japan, so I hope there won’t be any background distractions. I’ll talk for five minutes on strategies to help kids cope when they’ve seen a tragedy, or had some sort of unfortunate event. I’ll have some tips for parents as well – I’ll fill you in on that towards the end of the interview.
[00:00:33-00:02:27] Parents shouldn’t shield children from all forms of adversity. Instead, teach them coping strategies for stressful events, since those are an inevitable part of life.
The first thing you said was about helping kids to deal constructively with bad news, rather than sweeping it under the carpet. I agree that it’s a healthier approach, because it’s really setting them up for life. It’s giving them the skills to overcome adversity, without feeling like a parent is required to shield them from something that’s not appropriate for kids to hear.
From a young age kids are learning how to overcome physical injuries. Like toddlers grazing knees – they hop up and brush themselves off, and then life goes on. They can cope with those sorts of little incidents. And if we do shield the kids from all adversity, then they don’t learn the coping skills they need in certain situations, like if they are not good enough for a sports team, or if they’re excluded from a game at school. Teaching them coping skills is like teaching them life skills that help them to be more resilient. And it gives them confidence to be able to overcome issues moving forward. That’s part of healthy psychological development.
Imagine adults that haven’t learned to overcome adversity. They’re more likely to react negatively, perhaps need a lot more support, and need to take time off work if they haven’t learnt to cope with life’s issues that will come our way. That’s just part of life, isn’t it? Kids will have to change schools, or they may lose a pet or loved one. That stress is a part of living, so it’s something that kids need to learn to cope with.
[00:02:27-00:04:08] Encourage children to express their feelings in words, rather than through actions. Praise them for expressing themselves clearly, and empathise with them verbally. When something bad happens, let kids write down questions in a booklet, so you can answer those questions when you feel prepared to remain calm during the discussion. It’s a way to model good coping skills.
The best way to do this, for parents, is to prepare for question time if it’s something that’s happened for a young person, like the loss of a pet. Have a question booklet that kids can record some questions in. And then make sure you feel prepared emotionally to answer each one of those questions. When I say prepared emotionally, I mean that children often take their cues from their parents. If parents are very emotional, kids will often follow suit and become quite emotional. So being prepared to model good coping skills as a parent is important. Say “these things happen but we will get through it”. Use words to explain those feelings.
Sometimes kids will use actions or behaviour to express their emotions. For example, they may feel disappointed, or upset that they didn’t make the sports team, and they may throw their sports bag across the room. But what we want kids to do is to use their words, and say “I feel so disappointed, I’m so jealous that my best friend was selected and I wasn’t”. Parents should then use verbal praise to say “I’m so glad to hear you express yourself so clearly, now I understand how you feel”. Parents can empathise with young people: “I’ve felt that way before, this must be hard”. Empathising is also part of helping kids to express their feelings in words, rather than in actions.
[00:04:08-00:05:01] When it comes to family trauma, such as a separation or a tragedy, it’s better to get professional help because they can remain objective and provide the family with support.
Just a final point now, for parents on how to help kids through family separation. It’s good to encourage them to see a psychologist, such as someone at the Quirky Kid Clinic or a school counselor, to help them normalize those feelings. Often if parents are involved in situations, like if there’s been a tragedy or trauma within the family, it’s better to get professional help. A professional can remain objective and provide kids and parents with stats on how often these things occur, how long it may take kids to recover, and what the phases of grief and loss may be. It’s good to have an expert when dealing with family separation or similar situations.
[00:05:01-00:05:58] When a tragedy happens, stick to the basic facts when relaying the news to the child. Avoid delving into the causes, or exposing them to distressing images, to avoid more of an emotional response.
And finally, a tip about how to relay the news to a child. Say it was something that happened in the world, like a tsunami. We often get rising referrals when there’s been a trauma, like a tsunami, and kids have seen it on TV. It’s best to switch off the news when there’s lots of visual, distressing images for kids to catch. Parents have more control when they’re giving the news to the young person. Stick with the facts: what happened, how it happened, when it happened. Avoid going into the whys, because that’s often going to trigger more of an emotional response.
[00:05:58-00:06:50] Apart from verbally expressing themselves, it can also be useful for kids to use art or visual props to talk about how they felt before, during, and after an incident.
I’m going to wrap up now. To help kids deal and process emotions, help them to use their words to understand those feelings, or to seek help from a professional. Sometimes kids will express their feelings using art, so give them an opportunity to draw what happened. Or, they can select images, such as from our “Face It” cards, which are feelings cards with a whole bunch of different facial expressions. Children can use them to talk about what they felt before, during, and after an incident. Visual props can be very helpful.
Bonnie, it’s been a pleasure to answer your questions today, and I look forward to talking to you again in the future. I’m Dr. Kimberley O’Brien from the Quirky Kid Clinic. That’s www.quirkykid.com.au. And keep in touch. Thank you.
Last week Dr Kimberley O’Brien spoke to a local magazine about how to help children enjoy sport. We recorded this and would like to share it with you as a podcast and transcript below.
Quirky Kid runs our popular performance psychology program, Power Up!
[00:00:00-00:00:16] Doctor Kimberley O’Brien introduces the challenge of getting children to enjoy sports.
Hi. You’re listening to Dr. Kimberley O’Brien, child psychologist at the Quirky Kid Clinic. We’re talking today about why kids might dislike school sports, and whether parents should be concerned, as well as how to encourage children to enjoy sports.
[00:00:16-00:02:56] Often children dislike school sports because of negative experiences, such as sensitivity to loud and overwhelming environments, pressure from authorities, perfectionism, discomfort with competitive environments, and lack of exposure to sports as a positive experience.
About why kids might dislike school sports, or sports in general: often it can come from negative experience. It could be that kids could be enrolled, even as toddlers, in some indoor KinderGyms or soccer lessons, that might have lots of noise, whistles, and other kids. If children are sensitive to their environment or have sensory issues, sometimes they can find these environments quite stressful.
Think about what negative experiences kids might have gone through in the past which might impact their perception of sports. Sometimes it’s pressure from parents to participate, or even a negative relationship with a coach, that might put them off the idea of participating in sports.
Other kids might be perfectionists and find it sort of frustrating or embarrassing to try a new skill. When they’re not good at something they refuse to participate, and they just don’t want to fail. Sometimes that can be one reason behind kids not feeling comfortable with team sports.
Another idea could be that they are not comfortable in a competitive environment. In some schools, children do become competitive with sports. Teachers can encourage competition between kids. Thinking about how the child might feel, they may feel inadequate or self-conscious when they’re in a competitive environment.
And another possibility around a child’s negative experience related to sports, could be that parents have had similarly negative experiences with sports. So parents might actually be reluctant to seek out opportunities for kids to participate in sports, just trying to be protective with their children and not wanting to put them in a competitive sports environment. They may avoid sports and maybe favour technology, for example, instead of sports. So when kids get to school, the idea of participating in sports might not be something that they’ve experienced before on a regular basis.
Other well-meaning parents might start off kids in a soccer or nippers type of environment, where there’s lots and lots of kids learning a new skill. And this can also be overwhelming for children.
[00:02:56-00:06:27] When you introduce kids to sports, start small, in low-pressure environments. Respect their resistance, and praise them for their efforts and improvements. It’s also important for parents to build a positive relationship with the trainer and model participation sports. For perfectionist kids, have them study theory online before attempting to physically learn a new skill.
So when you’re thinking about how to introduce kids to sports, here’s some tips on how to do that:
Step one, start with a small environment, a few kids. Think about how to increase their exposure to sports gradually. You might use a soft toy rather than a ball when you’re practicing catching or throwing, at home in a safe setting. Or instead of starting small, you might enroll your child in a one-on-one coaching clinic. For example, tennis, rather than starting with a large group setting like soccer or large team sports.
It’s also really important to build a positive relationship with the coach or trainer. This will help young people to feel safe with that unfamiliar adult, and to boost their motivation to go along on a regular basis. Parents can probably relate to this one when it comes to choosing the right swim teacher for their toddler. If the relationship is really positive between parent and teacher, then often kids will feel safer and be more interested in participating. Having a regular coach or trainer rather than having a different person each week will also help kids to feel more comfortable, more willing to participate.
Another point when it comes to helping kids cope with sports, is to respect their resistance. So if kids are resistant to participating, don’t push them or punish them. Try to praise any improvements that you’ve noticed. “It’s great that I saw you watching the other kids today.” “I noticed you were listening to the instructor today.” Just highlighting the positives rather than letting them know what they’re not doing.
It might also be worthwhile to shop around and find an environment that suits you and your child. It could be that something more open. For example, circus skills with a free trial lesson might make you and your young person feel more comfortable, rather than paying in advance for a full term and then increasing the pressure on participating week after week.
Parents are also encouraged to model participation sports. That could just be playing beach soccer or backyard cricket. Leading by example will help young people also want to participate. Sometimes just laughter will help to lighten the mood when it comes to participating in sports, but adults should keep in mind that it’s good to laugh when adults are playing sports, but not so much when a child’s learning a new skill. Try and refrain from laughing if they’re struggling with a new skill, because kids might become self-conscious.
For those kids that I mentioned before, that may be perfectionists and prefer to not participate until they’re good at a particular skill – these kids often benefit from doing online tutorials before they even practically participate. Lots of theory and following instructions online can make kids feel comfortable enough to attempt to ride a bike or attempt to serve a tennis ball. So keep that in mind as well.
[00:06:27-00:08:35] Performance psychology offers a few tips on how to help kids enjoy sports. Let them choose their sport, give them breaks, point out their improvements, and praise them for trying. Make sure that they’re doing sports in a low-pressure environment that praises effort over results. Get them to score how much effort they put into their sport on a weekly basis, and hopefully you will see improvement over time as they get more comfortable.
Now just finishing up: I’m going to take you through final tips to help kids, teachers, and parents, and help kids to enjoy sports more. All this information is linked to performance psychology. We know that Olympians often use performance psychology such as goal-setting, arousal regulation, and positive self-talk to help them get the best out of their sporting performance. You can find out more about this in our “Power Up” program which is the only performance psychology program for children, developed by Quirky Kid. So if you want to find out more, have a look at “Power Up” on the quirkykid.com.au website.
So these final tips are: let your child choose their sport. Having more choice will increase participation and motivation. Number two, give them regular breaks. Number three, point out their improvements, not their problems with the new skills. Number four, praise your kids for trying. It’s really important to be mindful of the environment in which they’re learning that new sport or participating in sports. So if there’s competition or a coach putting pressure or putting down students that are not reaching the results that they would like, remember to look for a new environment that praises effort over results. And last but not least, ask kids to score themselves in terms of effort. That might give them a 6/10 for the first week, and then get them to monitor their effort week after week. Over time I would hope that as they feel more comfortable in the environment, they are more likely to want to go back and continue practicing that new sport.
All right, I hope you’ve enjoyed that little session about kids and sports. And keep in touch! I’m Kimberley O’Brien from the Quirky Kid Clinic. Thanks for listening.
[00:00:00-00:00:17] Doctor Kimberley O’Brien introduces friendship challenges as children transition from the holidays back to school to start the year 2017.
Hi. It is Doctor Kimberley O’Brien here talking about best friendships as we move into 2017. The new school year often brings some challenges when it comes to friendships, especially when kids are just returning to school and maybe they’ve spent a lot of time with family over the holidays.
[00:00:21-00:01:28] On average, age 7 is when solid friendships begin to form between children, although there are many factors at play, such as when the child started spending time with other kids, as well as the gender of the child.
When do children start to form solid friendships? We know that this differs depending on the child. Some children are exposed to playgroups from the age of 2 or 3, and then preschool, so often kids are starting to form closer friendships if they’ve been in social situations for a longer period of time, whereas other kids who start school at the age of 5 and haven’t been to preschool or day-care sometimes feel quite shy in the company of other kids, so they may take a little bit longer to form some solid friendships. Generally speaking, around the age of 7 is usually when kids start to pair off in having one close friendship. Of course, this doesn’t always stay the same, especially for girls. Around eight years old girls will often have some challenges with their friendships, so that could be that jealousies start to occur, even competition between girls to try to win over certain friends, and when more popular girls could also start to take place.
[00:01:30-00:02:47] Quality and quantity are important when it comes to friendships. Parents should model having friendships with more than one person to encourage their child(ren) to do the same.
What can we teach our children about friendship? I believe it’s important to teach children that it’s about quality friendships, friendships that make you feel good all the time, not hot and cold friends where sometimes they’ll be nice and sometimes they won’t, because when friendships are unpredictable kids can often feel anxious about approaching that person, not sure whether they’ll be friendly or not. Having someone who’s consistently nice and kind is really important in a friendship.
You can also teach your children to have more than one friend, which I believe is important, rather than just a best friend because in my work with young people, sometimes having a best friend can inhibit the formation of other new friendships; they’ll become quite clingy with one person or they won’t want to go to school if their best friend is not there. Particularly in kindergarten if they’ve been paired up with one buddy or person, if they’re not there sometimes they don’t want to go to class, and they can become quite emotional.
I think it’s important for moms and dads also in the playground to model having a broader group of friends, rather than just one consistent friend that they talk to every morning or every afternoon because that gives them options when that person is not around.
[00:02:49-00:03:26] Encourage your child to acknowledge people around them, whether it be through verbal or non-verbal greetings.
What strategies can parents use to help their child develop strong relationships? As I said, modelling good relationships is a good place to start, always using eye contact and saying: “Hello.” So, greetings. If children don’t feel confident with verbal greetings, try non-verbal greetings, teaching them that just a nod or eye contact, a smile is just as good as a verbal greeting and they shouldn’t force themselves to say: “Hello,” if they don’t feel ready. Eye contact is a good place to start.
[00:03:33-00:07:06] School/playground observation by yourself or a professional is a good place to start to determine if there are other factors (such as bullying) affecting your child’s formation of friendships, and whether your child needs help developing their social skills or if there is an issue with other children at school which may require a schoolwide intervention. Also, weekly playdates are beneficial for the expansion of critical social skills, as well as “The Best of Friends” program at Quirky Kids Clinic.
What can you do if your children are struggling to build friendships? At the Quirky Kid Clinic, we’ll often go to the school and observe the children in the playground and the classroom to see what’s happening in their environment, because it might be that the young person is quite sensitive to bullies, exclusion, loud noises, or rough and tumble play. There are lots of things that can inhibit children from forming close friendships, so doing a good observation, or asking a school counsellor, or external psychologist to observe the playground is a good place to start to get an objective view of things. Sometimes class teachers can be helpful, but other times they may not want to be dealing with friendship issues; they might suggest that the children solve things themselves, which can also present challenges for young people. I think it’s good to help your child by doing the observation or having someone do it, and then putting some strategies in place to help.
For example, if there is exclusion or bullying going on, it’s more about addressing that issue rather than skilling the individual up with better social skills. Sometimes a schoolwide message about the importance of including others or something along the lines of being kind can really promote that inclusive practice in the school rather than pulling girls aside and talking to them directly; that can sometimes start more trouble in friendship groups. A whole-school approach is often more successful.
If you do think your child is having some struggles socially, the Quirky Kid Clinic also offers a “The Best of Friends”, a social and emotional learning program which was developed 12 years ago because of the constant referrals for individuals, usually parents saying: “I’m concerned my child is not forming close friendships.” That could just be from having a bad experience in the past and not feeling that they can trust new friends, or it could just be that they’re very shy and they prefer the company of one person rather than groups.
“The Best of Friends” program helps kids to develop one-on-one social skills first, with those greetings as we talked about, developing to-and-fro conversation skills, learning how to approach a group. It starts off developing the one-on-one friendships and then looking at how to have two or more friends, which is often slightly more challenging before even considering having a group of friends, which is even more challenging.We talk about having a very best friend or a best friend forever, it’s also very important to consider that’s quite a lot of pressure to put on a young person to maintain one friendship for a long period of time, so please consider having more than one person over for playdates (on a weekly basis is often good).
One at a time to start with so that kids can develop those one-on-one skills before having more than one friend. Having weekly playdates is a great way to develop social skills in a safe setting. You can observe the kids playing, and maybe give some feedback if that’s something you would do with your child, around how to help them to lead play or how to help them to take turns so that they can have more successful and longer playdates down the track.
[00:07:12-00:08:43] Kids who are distracted by devices or doing a lot of their social interactions online miss out on the opportunity to learn and practice their social skills. Face-to-face relationships need to be encouraged, demonstrated, and practised.
How is friendship changing for children in today’s society? I think that friendships are obviously moving more online, so social media is becoming much more important to early adolescents, and so face-to-face friendships are on the decline, while online friendships are increasing. I think it’s just so important to have lots of face-to-face time because there are so many subtle social cues that you learn to pick up when you’re spending face-to-face time with friends.
Those social cues can be missed if kids are spending more time online socialising. For example, social cues might be that you’re leaving a space next to you when you sit down so that someone can come join you, or someone might be looking for a seat and someone who picks up on the social cue would move aside and make some room for that person. Kids start to sometimes lose their ability to pick up social cues if they have their heads down, even at lunchtime using laptops or iPhones to play games rather than observing other kids’ play and observing the social nuances in the playground. Having more opportunities to play freely is a good way to maintain social skills, and parents are also encouraged to model those social skills by socialising more often themselves.
On that note, I hope that you have a really social 2017, and lots of great playdates at your house and also in the community.
Take care. I’m Dr. Kimberley O’Brien from the Quirky Kid Clinic. Please send your questions for my next podcasts.
It seems in today’s world children are born ‘digital’. From young toddlers to teens, children appear to have a knack of being able to navigate the world of technology, using a range of gadgets for enjoyment, social connection, education, communication and convenience. Technology is the vehicle through which children are taken on missions, through fantastical virtual landscapes, into characters and to their friends and provides children with much reward and enjoyment. Classrooms are now filled with technology from computers to interactive whiteboards and families are now inviting a range of technologies into their homes.
Along with the multitude of benefits technology brings, there has been widening concern over the time children spend with technology and the type of interactions children are having through technology.
Here is an Interview we completed regarding this top:
The Australian Communications and Media Authority reported that in 2007, children were spending on average close to five hours a day with technology, a figure which has likely increased with the proliferation of media-enabled smart phones and other electronic devices (ACAMA). In fact, in April 2012, the Australian Bureau of Statistics reported that nearly a third of all 5-14 year old children had their own mobile phones. With the increased sedentary time children are spending with technology and reduced time in outdoor play, links are being drawn between overuse of technology and a delay in children’s achievement of sensory and motor milestones (Rowan, 2010) and reduced academic performance (Gentile, 2012). Certainly, parents have been commenting on the struggles they have in steering their children outdoors for playtime and the friction caused when children are asked to leave technology for homework time.
The types of interactions children are having with technology is also of concern. Australian research mirrors that of the United States, in which significant increases in the popularity of electronic gaming, particularly among boys, has been observed (ACAMA). Exposure to violent content during gaming has been correlated with aggression and desensitization to violence (Gentile, 2012), which is of particular concern, given the evidence that gaming can be very addictive (ABC, 2012). There appears to be a great interest among children in combat-focused games, which is starting to filter into playground play with their peers.
How can I tell if my child is addicted to technology?
The Australian Government’s Department of Health and Ageing Guidelines suggest that children younger than 2 years should not spend any time watching TV or using other electronic media such as DVD’s, electronic games or computers. Children between the ages of 2-5 years should be limited to less than one hour a day on these activities and children 5 years and older should be limited to 2 hours or less on these activities
Some key signs that may indicate that your child is spending too much time with technology are:
your child may be spending large amounts of time consumed and preoccupied with technology, which may impact on his/her time to complete other daily tasks.
your child may withdraw from previously enjoyed activities such as playing with their siblings and playing outside.
your child may withdraw from family and friends
your child may be saying things like “I’m bored” or “lost” without technology.
your child may be becoming very tired and irritable as a consequence of staying up late or waking through the night or early morning to use technology.
your child may request or demand technology during mealtimes.
your child may be spending time surfing the internet with a lack of purpose
your child may become angry or distressed when limits to technology use are attempted.
your child’s technology use may be impacting negatively on their grades and school work.
your child may be reporting an increased preference with socialising online.
your child may engage in unsafe technology use, for example, making friends with strangers.
Problems and suggested strategies for with technology
Research suggests that even 2 hours spent a day on non-homework use of technology can negatively impact on children’s overall development (King et al., 2012). Some common problems are:
A) Falling behind on social, emotional and physical milestones:
Children need to be active, have their senses stimulated and have opportunities for social connection to develop both physically and psychologically. Children who are spending more and more time on technology, for example, have been observed to be failing to meet their motor milestones (King et al., 2012). A recent study, including Australian children, demonstrated that more children between the ages of 2-5 years could play games on a computer than complete age appropriate tasks such as tie their shoelaces and ride their bike (SMH).
Some helpful tips would be to:
Set a good example. Set your own limits and demonstrate this to your child. For example, a family rule may be no phones or technology at the dinner table for any family member.
Skill up your child. Help your child develop coping skills for managing technology and non-technology time. For example:
Explore their talents and interests and foster these
Help your child develop problem solving skills and practice using these, particularly in times when your child is feeling at a loose end without technology
Develop your child’s physical capabilities, such as helping them with their fine and gross motor skills.
Develop your child’s communication skills, demonstrate conversation, friendship, conflict-resolution skills and practice these and listen to your child when they are communicating with you
Be proactive in helping your child develop friendships through out of school activities, play dates and developing their interests
Develop some new family traditions. Have times when the family disconnects with technology and reconnects as a family unit. Involve your children in brainstorming activities they might like to do as a family that don’t involve technology and make a point of doing them regularly.
Challenge your own thoughts. Many of our own thoughts and perceptions can get in the way of helping our children limit their technology use. For example, believing the outside play is unsafe or that technology is good to help your child be quiet, can limit your ability to maintain healthy boundaries for your child’s technology use.
Schedule some downtime time. Make sure your child has some scheduled time in their week to be unscheduled, unstructured and free from technology, homework and planned activities. Help your child play in the garden, at the park or the beach, for example, without the distractions of technology. Invite your child’s friends along to foster friendships and social skills. Interact with your child and demonstrate how to make your own fun and play in a free and unstructured way.
b) Experiencing high stress levels and exposure to violence
Children who overuse technology appear to experience physiological changes which mimic those seen in high stress states, such as high heart rates, fast paced breathing and hyperacute hearing and vision (Rowan, 2010). Additionally, playing violent virtual games has been linked to increased aggression and reduced empathy-skills among children and suggests these games may well desensitise children to violence (Rowan, 2010).
Some helpful tips would be to:
Set some relaxation time. Explore the things your child finds relaxing that do not involve technology and make time to regularly engage in these activities.
Be selective. Determine what is appropriate and not appropriate for your child to play and keep the boundaries clear. If your child has played a game that is violent, talk through it with your child, discussing things like what is real and fantasy and how your child might view the game.
c) Falling behind at school
The overuse of technology has been found to impact negatively on children’s academic performance (Farber et al., 2012; Gentile, 2012). Children typically find it difficult to self-regulate their technology use, which can mean that daily tasks such as homework and reading are not completed or not given the time needed.
Some helpful tips would be to:
Set clear limits and boundaries. Negotiate with your child on how much time they can spend with technology daily and stick to it. Help your child choose how to use technology and how to plan for non-technology time. Avoid using technology as a reward and involve older children in these negotiations.
Monitor computer-based tasks. Be aware of the school-based tasks your child is completing on the computer and help them remain on task and focused.
Set time to read and help your child with their homework. Talk to the school if there are difficulties completing the homework and take an interest in school-based tasks at home.
d) Other psychosocial difficulties such as sleep difficulties.
The overuse of technology has also been associated with sleep difficulties and increased anxiety, depression and isolation in some cases, particularly when children are exposed to personal safety risks such as cyberbullying and sexting (Farber et al., 2012).
Some helpful tips would be to:
Educate yourself. Know what technology your child is using and what they are doing on that technology. Be your child’s friend on facebook, look at their Tumblr account, know the websites and games they seek. Most devices have parental controls and keep technology use in public areas in your house.
Educate your child. Help your child know how to safely navigate technology, know the risks and how to identify them and know the supports they can seek if things go awry. Have some simple rules such as no sending of videos or photos without permission, no ‘friending’ people that you haven’t met.
Establish clear bedtime routines and limits. Shift technology use to daylight hours and out of the bedroom. Research suggests that children who use a computer before bedtime take longer to fall asleep, have a poorer quality sleep and are more distractible and fatigued during the day (King et al., 2012). Have a device charging station in a public space in your house for all family members to plug into during the night.
Seek help. Seek professional help if you identify a personal safety risk involving your child or if your child is experiencing symptoms consistent with a mental health disorder.
King, D., Delfabbro, P., Griffiths, M. & Gradisar, M. (2012). Cognitive-Behavioural Approaches to Outpatient Treatment of Internet Addiction in Children and Adolescents. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 68 (11), 1185-1195.
Farber, B., Shafron, G., Hamadani, J., Wald, E. & Nitzburg, G. (2012). Children, Technology, Problems, and Preferences. Journal of Clinical Psychology, 68 (11), 1225-1229.
Rowan, C. (2010). Unplug-Don’t Drug: A Critical Look at the Influence of Technology on Child Behaviour With an Alternative Way of Responding Other Than Evaluation and Drugging. Ethical Human Psychology and Psychiatry, 12 (1), 60-68.
Australian Communications and Media Authority (June 2010): Trends in media use by children and young people. Insights from the Kaiser Family Foundation’s Generation M2 2009 (USA), and results from the ACMA’s Media and communications in Australian families 2007