Monday, March 24, 2014

Early Screening and Early Intervention for Technology Overuse

In my last blog I discussed the need to conduct early technology screenings and the need for early intervention - by "early" I am referring to preschool and elementary school. Due to the proliferation of tech devices young children are saturated with digital media which creates change resistant patterns of technology consumption.

The key is for parents to carefully regulate technology use in order to prevent change resistant patterns from emerging. How much time should children be using technology?

0 to 2 years NONE

3 to 5 years 1 hour per day of non violent TV/DVD (no handheld devices or video games!)

6 to 9 years 2 hours per day of  total screen time (non violent TV/DVD and non violent video games such as Wii Sports or Resorts - no handheld devices of any kind!).

9 to 12 years 2 hours per day of total screen time (non violent TV/DVD 60 minutes, non violent video games 30 minutes, handheld devices 30 minutes).

13 to 18 years 2 hour per day of total screen time (non violent TV/DVD 30 minutes, non-violent video game, violent video games 30 minutes, hand devices 30 minutes).

No technology in bedrooms!

Rule of screen time use: for every one hour of screen time your child/teen must engage in 2 hours of physical activity.

In my next blog I will discuss 5 ways to successfully unplug children and teens from technology with the aim of maintaining a balance between offline life on cyber life.

Monday, March 3, 2014

The Importance of Early Screening for Technology Overuse

It is a common place occurrence in my practice to receive a phone call from a parent describing a teen -- usually a son -- who is in a video game addiction free fall: failing grades, social withdrawal, weight gain or weight loss, sleep deprivation, depression and anger when unplugged from gaming, and ever increasing preoccupation with gaming.

The first question I ask is "What have you tried to decrease you son's gaming?" In many cases the parent has tried many different strategies, including removing computers and tablets, gaming consoles and even unplugging wifi. Many parents have imposed restrictions on the amount of time and many have tied their son's grade point average to access to gaming. In short, most parents have made a good faith effort and, yet, their son's gaming only seems to increase over time.

When I ask how long their son has had a problem regulating gaming, the answer is typically 3 to 5 years. Parents often explain that their son was able to figure out a way to continue gaming, no matter what steps they took and no matter what barriers they put in place.

I explain that all is not lost - that we can work together to figure out a new way to decrease gaming and thereby restore balance between technology use and engagement in 3D reality. I also explain that changing gaming habits/patterns is a difficult process and requires time and focus and energy -- especially when the teen is fully opposed to change.

Parents often express frustration with the fact that no one gave them any warning or raised the issue of technology overuse or addiction. I then explain that in an ideal world there would have been some form of technology use screening early in their son's life so that they, as parents, could have put in place a structure or system that would have addressed the need for balance.

Unfortunately, with the possible exception of a pediatrician asking about screen time, very young children are consuming vast quantities of digital media and are developing what looks very much like a form of addiction to technology.

The key piece that is missing is early screening and early intervention. We need to treat digital media or "screen time" as a public health problem and put in place routine screenings - as we do with food and physical activity in order to prevent childhood obesity. As a society we need to understand that children are now growing up in a media saturated world that badly needs limits and structure in order to help prevent all forms of technology overuse and addiction.

If we can screen and intervene with a child rather than a teen, we stand a far greater chance of preventing the negative impact of technology overuse on development and mental health. Who would be responsible for this screening process: parents, pediatricians, mental health professionals, and educators.What is currently missing is information on the screening process. In my next blog I will review how to screen and intervene with children. In the meantime, go to my website and complete my technology screening test. This test will give a clear picture.of your son's current use and the need to intervene.