The Balancing Act: ‘My 10‑year‑old Is Addicted To Gadgets’
Every other week, Sonali Gupta draws on more than 10 years of experience as a clinical psychologist to answer readers’ questions about parenting, family dynamics, relationships, mental health, and more.
A Gaggle of Gadgets: My 10-year-old daughter seems to be quite addicted to gadgets, whether it’s playing games or browsing on the phone. She spends too much time on the phone and iPad. She gets irritated and angry if we don’t give her the phone. We are worried that this may turn into an addiction.
Sonali: Your concern is a very genuine one, and I can understand your worry. Digital detox is an emerging need. Research shows your daughter is not unique in her behavior; children as young two or three years old react with anger, irritation and frustration when an iPad is taken away from them. The good news is she is still at a stage when it’s possible to set appropriate boundaries around using technology.
When it comes to controlling gadget use, the most successful course of action is role modelling by the parents. If we adults are like ostriches with our heads constantly buried in our phones, our children will assume this is appropriate behaviour. It also suggests to children that the virtual life is more interesting than experiencing the real world and in-person interactions. Our obsession with phones has led to FOMO (fear of missing out) on cool things happening on WhatsApp groups or social media. But the reality is we are missing the moment in real life; most of our creativity emerges from being able to enjoy moments of doing nothing, when we think and process ideas.
Setting up rules – such as no gadgets during meal times, a fixed time limit for gadget use, or phone/tablet charging overnight in the parents’ room – and consciously taking holidays or trips where there is no access to gadgets also helps. It teaches children to enjoy the natural beauty around them, live in the moment, and consciously engage in conversations with friends and family. Also, encouraging your daughter to pursue a hobby, learn a sport, or spend time reading. Be firm, even if she experiences withdrawal symptoms such as restlessness when not using a gadget, insistence on iPad or other device while eating meals, or refusal to go out and play so as not to compromise gadget time.
Needing A Break: I’m an introvert, but my son is an extrovert. I want to be a good mother, but sometimes I need a break. What to do?
Sonali: In my experience, I find introverted mothers or fathers become exhausted by the constant chatter of their extroverted children. The exhaustion is immediately followed by a sense of guilt. These parents worry their own introversion may be hampering their child’s development. But it is important to acknowledge that, just as your son seeks energy from communicating and being with people, you may be refueled by some alone time. As an introverted parent, the most important concern is not to feel guilty about one’s own temperament and one’s needs.
My introverted clients ask me if there is a manual or guidebook to raising an extroverted child and not struggling with one’s own identity. I wish we had a support group for introverted parents. But then, I’m not sure if having a social gathering for introverts is the best idea…. But it helps to connect with another introverted parent in whom you can confide and who can validate your worries with his or her similar concerns. Also, try to schedule alone time on a daily basis. Try a morning or evening walk, or simply listening to music or reading. When our needs as individuals are met, we can be more attuned to our children’s needs.
As our children grow up, it is our responsibility to teach them about differences and learn to respect them. I ask parents to consciously teach their children the value of alone time and how people are wired differently. If you teach your son about your need for alone time in his early developmental stages, he can learn to be sensitive to your and others’ needs. Encouraging some quiet time daily or doing independent activities together (such as reading or painting) can help drive home the point.
I’d also suggest talking about your child’s temperament with your partner. Then, you can figure out a way of parenting together, as a couple, that meets the unique needs of you and your son. Scheduling activities when your partner engages your son one-on-one will give you small, bite-sized breaks to soak in energy by being alone.
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