Wednesday, July 11, 2012

State of the Art Strategies for Healthy Cyber Habits

Pearls of wisdom from Kevin Roberts, author of Cyber Junkie and Movers, Dreamers, and Risk-Takers: Unlocking the Power of ADHD

I recently had the great pleasure of interviewing Kevin Roberts. When I first became concerned about technology addiction within the autistic spectrum teens in my social skills groups, the very first book I read was Cyber Junkie. Kevin Roberts tells a personal story of his journey through videogame and cyber addiction and describes how technology addiction unfolds in the lives of children, teens, and adults. Kevin also explains how he conceptualizes gaming and cyber addiction and provides a detailed discussion of support and treatment options.

In addition to being a nationally recognized author and public speaker on technology addiction, Kevin is located in Bloomfield Hills, Michigan and offers a variety of treatment and support services to teens and young adults with ADHD, Asperger's syndrome and cyber addiction. Kevin offers study skills and executive functioning skills groups for teens and college students. He also offers individual executive functioning coaching and provides parents with education and support so that they can understand and work constructively on a variety of issues including homework, executive functioning, and healthy videogame and cyber/social media habits.
Kevin's cyber addiction groups are comprised of 16 to 30-year-olds who struggle with video gaming, YouTube, social media sites, and net surfing. The majority of Kevin's clients are young men  -- however he does see females (teens and adults) who also struggle with technology addiction, particularly social media.

In interviewing Kevin, I was particularly interested in how he recommends parents approach “multitasking” during homework sessions. Parents I work with commonly complain their teen has multiple screens open on their computer and is moving from a Facebook post, to Twitter, to an instant messaging, to downloading music, to watching a video on YouTube, to reading an article for school. Kevin explained that when he is running his study groups, he uses a website that is available through Firefox called LeechBlock. Leechblock is a simple productivity tool designed to block “time wasting sites” that can distract teens and young adults.

The site allows parents to specify which sites they would like to block and for how long -- and then the computer is free from the enticement of multitasking. Kevin recommends this product over downloading software. Software can be complicated to install and many tech savvy teens can uninstall the software or develop strategies for disabling the software. By using a website that remotely controls the computer, the teen cannot change the settings, thus allowing for maximum productivity.

Another area of interest that I pursued with Kevin was whether parents should block or deny all access to technology for children and teens that are having significant problems regulating their access to technology and may be showing signs of compulsive/addictive behavior. In general, Kevin suggests that parents use technology as an incentive for academic productivity. Kevin also explained that teens with Asperger’s syndrome, and to some extent ADHD, do not respond well to blocking all access to technology. Kevin said that blocking access to technology often creates meltdowns and power struggles that prove to be destructive to the parent-child relationship and do not effectively modify technology-related habits and patterns.
Rather than adopt a strategy of blocking access to gaming or the internet, Kevin recommends parents link positive behaviors to gaining access to technology. 

So, for example, during Kevin's study groups, if a student is able to complete his/her assignment within a specified period of time, he/she is able to gain access to a favored website or game. Kevin recommends the same process at home --  that is, parents should construct clear productivity contracts that allow the child/teen to know exactly what they need to do in terms of completing school related or home related chores and tasks in order to gain a specific period of access to computers or video games. Kevin also recommends that when a child or teen is having difficulty with completing homework due to procrastination, then it is best for the parent to become an ally and try to help their child figure out a way to get their work done and earn their screen time. This is obviously a different approach than many parents take which is to become punitive and adversarial.

I also asked Kevin what he recommends when a teen cannot accept any limits on video gaming or computer use. Kevin said there are teens that need to get “unplugged” from all technology and suggested that wilderness programs are ideal for this type of teen. Not only do wilderness programs unplug the child/teen from technology, but they also address the social isolation that comes with technology addiction. In a wilderness program children/teens are required to be part of a social group and must collaborate with their peers in order to build shelter, cook food, and carry food and supplies. Kevin acknowledged these programs are very expensive and therefore may not be financially feasible for many families. Kevin recommends that parents look into local programs that may offer wilderness or outdoor programs on weekends sponsored by mental health organizations or nonprofits organizations.

I asked Kevin who he sees as most vulnerable to technology addiction. As is discussed in Cyber Junkie, Kevin stated that teens with Asperger’s syndrome, ADHD, depression, and bipolar disorder are most vulnerable to having problems regulating their relationship to video games and the Internet. Kevin made the incredibly important point that technology addiction “is always a poor attempt at compensation for a problem that is not being confronted off-line.” As the research clearly states off-line problems lead to online problems.

I then asked Kevin where we are as a culture in terms of understanding the potential risks of technology addiction for children and teens. Kevin believes we are a culture enamored with technology and that using new forms of technology is a very strong current in our culture. Kevin believes that technology addiction is viewed as affecting extreme minority of our population. Kevin thinks that technology addiction affects a significant percentage of the population and therefore believes that we need to teach healthy-positive cyber habits at a very young age. Kevin said we need to focus on prevention, just as we now do with drugs and alcohol. Kevin concluded by saying that unfortunately, at the present time, we are not teaching this lesson to children or teens.

I concluded my interview by asking if Kevin if he has seen an increase in problems related to viewing cyber pornography. Kevin said that he has seen as significant increase in cyber pornography problems. Kevin said that cyber porn is part of a “package of teen cyber compulsivity” and believes that in many cases compulsive use of pornography is not about sex per se, but rather about seeking increasing levels of stimulation. Kevin reports that he knows many teens who became involved in perverse and unhealthy cyber porn websites that were seeking greater levels of excitement and stimulation that sadly created and addiction to pornography.

Overall, Kevin has seen the good, the bad, and the ugly in gaming and the internet and believes that with education and prevention children and teens can develop healthy technology habits that can lead to the very productive use of both video gaming and computer technology. As stated above, Kevin believes the key is to provide education and appropriate boundaries beginning in early elementary school so that the next generation of gamers and net surfers will maximize the benefits of technology, while avoiding the potential problems and pitfalls related to technology addiction.
For more information on Kevin Roberts go to

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