Parents as role models: understanding our own addiction to screens

Kinderling News & Features

These days we eat, sleep and socialise with our screens never far from reach. Technology is changing exponentially and we’ve organically embraced it in our lives.

As parents we haven’t really had a moment to pause and consider the penetration at every level, having passively accepted it’s a part of how both we, and our kids, function. But before we discipline our kids’ tech use, it’s time to examine our own (because let’s face it, we’re all a little hooked).

As parents we haven’t really had a moment to pause and consider the penetration at every level, having passively accepted it’s a part of how both we, and our kids, function. But before we discipline our kids’ tech use, it’s time to examine our own (because let’s face it, we’re all a little hooked).

Dr Kristy Goodwin is a children’s brain and technology researcher, so she’s our go-to expert for helping us dissect our own addiction to devices to begin the Screen Free Challenge.

With this tsunami of screens, Kristy says no one is alone as a tech junkie. “I admit I have a digital dependence, or a bit of an unhealthy digital habit,” she says.

A 2013 study suggested the average adult is checking their phone 150 times a day, and Kristy believes that would have increased since then.

Listen to Dr Kristy Goodwin on Kinderling Conversation:

 “It’s crazy.” Kristy exclaims. “When we stop to realise how we have become infatuated with our screens, it helps us as parents to understand why our kids become obsessed with technology as well, why they combust when we ask them to turn it off and why we have techno tantrums. These devices really capture our attention.”

What reasons are there for reducing screen time?

Most of us have been using smart phones for less than ten years, a relatively short period of time in our society. We’re still coming up with guidelines since it’s all new and we don’t have the past generation to look to for help with this element of parenting.

“It’s uncharted territory and I think we’re all looking around for some guidance. Realistic guidance too, not people making you feel guilty,” Kristy notes.

Because of this, there are a couple bad side effects from the digital realm.

1. Our brains need to be bored

In a world with the internet at arm’s reach 24/7, we’re not allowing ourselves to be bored. “As adults, we have become conditioned to busyness and we don’t know what boredom looks like,” Kristy says. And boredom is so important for our brains, mental health and overall wellbeing – we need a break!

2. Family relationships are changing

Screens are actually changing our relationship with our kids. Common Sense Media released a study last year and they found that 54% of kids said they wished their parents used their devices less. Adults are spending over nine hours on screen a day, so we have to be mindful when we tell a child to put their iPad down.

Why do we get so obsessed?

Phones are a pleasurable experience, Kristy admits. We watch funny things, we read interesting information, so we feel good and want to do more. That’s where our dependency comes from.

“There are definitely neuro-biological and psychological drivers to explain why we do it,” Kristy continues.

Our phones cater for three human drivers:

1. Our innate desire to belong

“Our phones cater for our basic human psychological drivers. As humans, we want to connect with other people, we have this biological driver for what we call relational-connectedness, to feel like we belong,” Kristy explains. “When we’re on social media, playing video games with others, we get that sense of belonging and connectedness.”

2. Our desire to feel competent

“On our phones, we only ever display the highlight reel on social media, very few people display the B-roll footage of their lives,” Kristy says. We can portray our competent life as we wish others to see it.

3. Our desire for control

“The third thing our phone caters for is a sense of control. And we all know as parents, there are very few times in the day where you have any locus of control over what’s going on.”

When we understand why we like them so much, it can help us curtail our behaviour.

How can we develop healthy screen habits?

 1. Use an app (despite the irony)

“If you’re worried or not sure if you’re entering dangerous territory with your phone infatuation, there are apps that can monitor how much time you’re spending online and how many times you’re checking it,” Kristy recommends.

For Apple users, try In the Moment. Android users can use Quality Time and there’s also Break Free for both.

2. Set screen time limits 

“What works for me is that I really try to compartmentalise my time,” Kristy says. “I’ve got social media hours that I try to stick to.”

3. Leave the phone alone

Something that’s also worked for Kristy is ‘out of sight, out of mind’. “Literally putting my phone out of reach and out of eye sight means that I don’t reach for it as soon as there’s some [spare time].”

4. Look to the future

Take a forward-looking trip – what would a future you like to remember? Consider what we’re missing out on when we constantly have our heads down, those micro-moments of a smile during a swimming lesson, a laugh on the playground. Those we can’t relive.

5. Be the master, not the slave

Another question to ask of yourself is, am you constantly being driven by this device? Kristy says we should all focus on not being a slave to the screen, but a master of it.

Overall, it’s not about quitting technology forever. Be alert, not alarmed about devices and be gentle on yourself as you figure out the balance.

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