3 Ways Tech is Ruining Your Child’s Life [And How To Prevent This From Happening]
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At the Modern Parenting Solutions office in Redlands, California, the other mental health therapists and I see kids for a variety of reasons – from everything from ADHD, anxiety, depression, self-harming behaviors, self-esteem struggles, etc. – but there is one issue that seems to be a factor that needs to be addressed in most all of our cases: The Tech Monster.
What is the Tech Monster? It’s that invisible enemy whose overarching goal is to steal your child or teen’s most valuable internal assets: their motivation, energy, self-esteem, and interesting personalities. And it does all of this by sucking your child in through its irresistible tech influences.
I’ve been battling the Tech Monster for the past decade professionally, but I also battled it daily when I was a mom to my two young kids too. Every day was a challenge to create a balance in my home between online activities and offline ones. After a long day at school, all my son and daughter wanted to do when they got home in the afternoon was to relax with a tech device. If I didn’t have a structure set up in my home, homework and chores would never have gotten done, and we would never have had connection time with each other.
And I get how allowing our kids to spend their time with tech is tempting for the Modern Parent too. When our kids spend their time with tech, they’re not fighting with each other, giving us attitude, or messing up the house. As parents, we get peace and quiet when our kids are plugged into tech – but this peace comes at a cost. All this tech isn’t healthy for our kids physically, mentally, or psychologically.
Look, both extremes of tech aren’t realistic. We can’t put our kids in a bubble and keep them away from tech altogether, and we can’t let them be plugged into tech 24/7. We’ve got to create a healthy balance between online time and offline time. Today’s article will make you aware of the three biggest areas of concern that I see first-hand with the young people in our office – and how you can ensure that the Tech Monster doesn’t win when it comes to destroying your child’s life.
Tech Distracts Young People From Developing Their Natural Talents and Interests
The first area – and I think this is the most important area, too – is that tech distracts our young people from discovering and developing their natural talents and interests.
Every young person is born with their own strengths and weaknesses. The Tech Monster wants to distract your child from the work they need to do to investigate who they are as an individual.
What are their interests?
What are they good at?
What brings them joy?
It’s so much more fun to play a video game or to zone out with YouTube than it is to work on developing yourself as a person. Developmentally, kids and teens are hard-wired to choose easy tasks over hard ones, so as a Modern Parent, you’ve GOT to work with your young person to help them understand why it benefits them to choose hard tasks over easy ones.
In order for young people to discover their interests and talents, they need to participate in activities that aren’t as fun as what the Tech Monster is offering. They need to struggle with uncomfortable feelings like boredom, frustration, and embarrassment, as well as to experience some not-ideal situations like being a newbie and getting better at something over time.
Let me share some of my first-hand experiences working with teens with low self-esteem. One of the first things that I do is to encourage their exploration of their natural talents and abilities, but do you want to know one of the biggest reasons many teens fight against exploring something new? They don’t want to look like they’re not good at something. Many of the teens I work with expect that if they’re not immediately good at something, then that thing isn’t worth doing. Avoiding the short-term, immediate feeling of embarrassment for being known as a “newbie” or having to try hard to get better over time becomes more desirable than pushing through these uncomfortable feelings to earn the long-term reward of competence and mastery in an area.
In my experience, young people who have started the journey of developing their natural talents and abilities become successful, confident, and happy young adults, while those young people who avoid the uncomfortable work of self-development remain stuck. They seem to struggle with getting their lives in order and they’re always unsatisfied with life.
Tech Gives Young People a False Sense of Purpose and Meaning
The second area where I see the Tech Monster doing its most sinister work is in the area of purpose and meaning.
As I noted in the previous section, when young people spend most of their free time with tech, they don’t develop their natural talents and abilities, leading them to be confused about their purpose within their family, peer group, and the bigger world around them.
Purpose (the reason why we exist) and meaning (how we make sense of the world) are at the core of all we do: these constructs guide our decisions and goals, as well as influence our happiness and mental health (more on that in the next section).
Here’s how purpose and meaning work: when people develop their natural passions, talents, and abilities, they believe their life purpose is to use these innate gifts in some way. The way people view the world influences how they use their talents and passions.
For example, let’s say someone has a natural interest and talent for playing the violin, which satisfies their sense of purpose. This person perhaps also believes that they contribute to the world by using their talent to touch individuals. Thus, they become a violin teacher teaching young children the basics of the violin. On the other hand, if this person believed they should expose their music to as many people as possible, they might have chosen to be a concert violinist over a violin teacher.
Do you see how important developing a sense of purpose and meaning becomes to our young people?
Unfortunately, the problem is that tech gives our young people a false sense of meaning.
When the gamer wins a level…when a teen posts an image on social media…or when a viewer watches the drama happening on their favorite YouTube channel, they automatically experience a feeling of accomplishment… but what really did they accomplish?
Certainly nothing of substance. And these “accomplishments” weren’t earned using the young person’s natural passions, talents, and abilities either. All they had to do was show up, put forth a tiny amount of effort, and they were rewarded with the feeling of accomplishment.
On the other hand, when young people earn accomplishments based on their natural talents and abilities, they experience a truer and more intense sense of pride. These feelings inspire the young person to continue growing as a person and contributing to the world around them.
When young people believe that they have an important role to play within their families, peer group, and the world around them, it becomes easier for them to put aside tech and focus on more worthwhile activities. Tech activities become less important when this happens, and they tend only to use it for downtime, leisure reasons – and this becomes a healthy online/offline balance.
Tech Contributes to Increased Anxiety and Depression
So now that you’ve seen how The Tech Monster can distract your child or teen from developing their natural talents and abilities and how it also robs them of experiencing true purpose and meaning, it probably comes to no surprise to you that all of this is directly related to your child’s mental health. Specifically, young people who are seriously overcome with the Tech Monster experience higher levels of depression and anxiety symptoms.
And research is on my side here. There is overwhelming evidence now that the more young people are connected to tech, the more mental health struggles they experience. But the correlation is also true – quick improvements in anxiety and depression can be seen when kids unplug from tech. A new study describes how taking a half-hour break from social media in order to get physical exercise – just a half-hour break! – significantly reduces anxiety and depression.
I’ve also experienced this phenomenon with the young patients in my office. I’ve seen too many young people come to me for help with their anxiety, depression, low self-esteem, or lack of motivation and it becomes apparent in our sessions that they spend most of their free time involved with The Tech Monster. Once I work with their parents and we put boundaries down around tech and the young person develops a better online vs. offline balance, their negative symptoms also decrease.
I also noticed that when my son or daughter was a little extra irritable or moody in high school, it was usually because they were too involved with tech. Sometimes my daughter would get too involved in following peer drama play out on social media or my son would get too invested in winning a multi-player video game. When this would happen, I would insist on taking a break from tech and we would do something together – take a walk, play a game, or do something else my kids liked to do.
When The Tech Monster tried luring my kids into its dangerous trap, I stepped in and made sure that didn’t happen.
So, If The Tech Monster Has Taken Hold of Your Family, What Can You Do Now?
So now that you know part of Modern Parenting is ensuring The Tech Monster doesn’t win in your household, what do you do next? How can you win The Tech Monster war?
In order to instill a healthy online/offline balance in your home (the antidote to The Tech Monster), follow these three steps below.
STEP 1: Get clear on your PVBs when it comes to tech in your home.
Your personal Passions, Values, and Beliefs (PVBs) guide all of your parenting decisions, so when you’re not clear on these important concepts, you’re setting yourself up for failure.
In order for any new parenting strategy to work, you’ve got to be clear on WHY you’re creating the strategy. Your child – no matter what age – will most likely give you a lot of pushback when you start the new strategy and your PVBs will help you get through this frustrating time and be successful.
So one of the most powerful weapons you have to battle the Tech Monster is your clarity on your PVBs. Not clear on your PVBs? I can help. I’ve created a free workbook to help you identify – and use – your PVBs. You can download that free resource HERE.
STEP 2: Begin to set boundaries using your PVBs
Using your PVBs, determine what boundaries need to be set.
Do you need to set a time limit with video games?
Do you need to implement a rule that phones will be taken away if you notice your teen getting too caught up in drama (at the expense of homework getting done or friendships dissolving)?
Do you need to better monitor the shows your child watches on YouTube because you’ve caught them watching inappropriate material?
Determine where you need boundaries and communicate these new boundaries to your child. Be prepared that your child might not like the new boundaries, so remind yourself of the WHY behind your new strategy. Your PVBs give you the WHY, so lean on this for strength.
STEP 3: Consistently reinforce these boundaries and model a healthy tech diet yourself
Boundaries only work if you consistently use them. Listen, the number 1 reason why parenting strategies don’t work is that parents give up when things get a little tough.
And I know you’re a strong Modern Parent who can push through these uncomfortable times, right?
There’s a psychological concept called Extinction Burst, which is the term used when your child or teen’s behavior gets worse before it gets better after instituting a new parenting strategy.
I always remind the families I work with to be on the lookout for the Extinction Burst because most parents think of this stage as a bad thing – it’s annoying, frustrating, and irritating to have to go through – so many parents give up at this stage…BUT…you should be GLAD when your child’s behavior gets really bad because this means it’s the stage RIGHT BEFORE it gets BETTER. You just can’t give up at the Extinction Burst!
Another way to really ensure the Tech Monster stays in his lane is to model healthy tech behavior when you’re around your child. If you’re clear on your PVBs – especially when it comes to tech – then you’ll use these PVBs to guide your behavior when using tech yourself.
Do you look at your phone instead of your child when they are talking? Model to your child how to make PEOPLE and not TECH the focus of your life.
Do you know you should put down your tablet and take the dog for a walk around the clock for a while? Model to your child how to balance online activities with offline ones.
Do YOU get caught up in family or friend drama that is playing out on social media? Model to your child how to avoid letting this unnecessary drama take out your life.
The Take-Home Message
Parenting is hard work; sometimes, we can get so busy that we don’t even notice that a negative influence is working its sinister magic within our family.
That’s exactly what the Tech Monster does if you don’t reign him in with boundaries and consistent parenting strategies.
So what should you do now?
Start the journey of reining in the Tech Monster by taking the first step: putting boundaries down with tech. I created a free resource to help you with this. The tech contract bundle contains three parent-child contracts to help communicate the boundaries you’ve built around smartphones, video games, and social media.
Because you know that I believe that all parenting strategies need to be tailored to fit every family’s unique circumstances, I’ve made these contracts customizable for you. I set up a good structure on the contract, and then YOU get to fill in the specifics.
In addition, if you download any of my free parenting resources, you’ll automatically be signed up for my weekly email newsletter which contains even more helpful information on all things Modern Parenting.
Right now, I’m working on a brand new online course for parents called – believe it or not – Taming The Tech Monster, and everyone on my email list will be the first ones to know when it becomes available (and they’ll probably get a discount on the course too!). I’m hoping to publish the course in the next week or two, so sign up for the tech contract bundle now so that YOU”LL be the first to know when it gets published.
I hope this article gets you thinking about the tech use in your home. Your child was born with so much potential for great things – don’t let the Tech Monster steal that away from them!
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