What do we really need to know about technology?
- Technology is addictive
- Reduces social and emotional skills – such as, not looking up, eye contact, listening, problem-solving, hugs, social interaction, out and about but not really looking or taking it in. This can cause a barrier in your relationship with them
- Might be linked to their childhood – maybe they were put on technology to keep them quiet, or maybe they had no other way of occupying their mind such as play, family time, or talking.
- Can cause sleep problems
- Can cause higher anxiety and stress – it actually increases stress hormones in the body
- Can cause hyperactivity
- Not good for mental health and wellbeing – as there is no time to relax on technology. They are not being taught to be still or mindful or present in the moment and this will cause issues in their day-to-day lives.
- Can affect concentration – because it is all fast pace and full of instant gratification. This can impact their experiences at school and can often mean they struggle to concentrate and pay attention to their work and the tasks they are given.
Why might children and young people be using technology
- As a means of avoiding their feelings and thoughts- maybe they get intrusive negative thoughts when they are alone, maybe they don’t feel comfortable in the stillness or quiet. They may experience a rise in anxiety when there is nothing to do. so they fill that gap with technology/gaming/ phones but this can also increase feelings of anxiety and stress. It’s easier to be busy and bombarded with things on technology than It is to face uncomfortable thoughts and feelings.
- If your care is calmer, safer, less chaotic- then sometimes children feel very unsettled. It sounds counterintuitive but if you are used to stress, fear, and high levels of stress hormones, and your body is programmed to survive, those levels of hormones stay in the body just in case to protect you, in case you need to go into survival mode. Ie. if you are a child in care, maybe you have a good week in the children’s home or at your foster carer’s house- but you know that on Thursday it is contact. You can’t fully settle and allow your stress hormones to leave your body because they prepare you to survive. You know when you go to contact you have to slip back into old patterns of behaviour and you don’t know when something bad might happen so your stress hormones are high. When you are used to that level of stress, you find ways to keep you working at that level because that is where you are comfortable.
- They can’t get off – They might want to but they can’t. The addictive nature means they need that fix and like adults who turn to drugs, technology can have the same effect on young people. They need it. When you take drugs, certain areas of the brain light up, the same areas of the brain light up when you are on technology. When you come off it, your brain sends a message to the brain to prompt you to get the next fix, you need that quick high again. The only thing is it’s hard to maintain that high and so they stay on for longer or change games, which makes them more drained, anxious, and tired.
- Connection – they feel connected to friends and peers via headsets and need that social interaction to feel validated and wanted
“Just like anything you need to teach them how to use technology and develop healthy habits around it.”
What can you do?
Just like anything you need to teach them how to use technology and develop healthy habits around it. You wouldn’t let them eat sweets all day and you shouldn’t let them play on their games or technology either. Teaching them how to use technology well is better than challenging them about it.
1. Set boundaries
You may need to consider withdrawal symptoms and a desperation to be on it. This isn’t bad behaviour-this is a chemical reaction, so, take it slow at first. Reduce it slowly, Set a time limit of something like 2 hours, and then set a timer so they have a physical representation of how much time that is. Reduce this over time. Explain your intentions and explain what they CAN have long term such as 1 hour a day. Allow them to manage that time for themselves but keep an eye on it so you can monitor it. Tell them once the time is up – they need to come off and do something else. Suggest things like drawing, writing songs, walking, going on their bike, lego, reading, listening to music. Whatever they can do( age-appropriate) don’t be afraid to encourage a young person 11 years and over to do something like mechano- it’s for adults too! Activities like this will help to calm their brain and regulate their emotions. It will also help regulate their breathing and heart rate and give them some reflection and relaxation time.
2. Have clear boundaries
About when they can use their device. I.e. one hour on the weekend and one hour in the afternoon. Or maybe they get a certain number of hours per week if they are older and they manage those hours- they could have a chart and manage their hours themselves.
- Set boundaries and expectations
- Put them up somewhere
- Make sure you do this every single day and you do not back down
- Expect them to make a fuss at first, you are reducing their time on their coping mechanism and they will struggle – they will struggle with letting you have control too but this is your role. You need to take it slow, be empathetic, and aware of their feelings around this.
If you give in and change the rules about time frames at any point, they will push and push for you to give in again. Get every adult to be consistent with this approach you are all working from the same guidelines and creating a consistent, reliable approach for the young person. This is when they will feel safe most.
3. Explain why you are helping them
- Show them it’s about supporting them and not managing or controlling them. Use reflective language and be honest “You’re a bit stressed and worried. The iPad/Xbox/ phone can make that worse. Spending too much time on them can make you feel more anxious and more angry. Have an hour on it and speak to your friends etc but then it would be a good idea to come off and allow your brain some time to relax.” Then when they are playing with Lego or reading say things like, “You seem really calm and relaxed” Continue to verbalise the process for them so they can learn from it and not just get something taken away with no context. This is about developing a life skill. You are teaching them how to manage their own wellbeing and mental health for the future- when you are not there!
- Get involved! A great way to start this is to get involved. Say something like ” Right let me have a go” and let them guide you through what to do. Do a bit of research into their favourite game and get involved. If you can play two players that is even better. Or you could buy some two-player games and say“ I have got us some games for the Xbox- I know how much you love to play, but togetherness is important too. – so I thought it would be good to play together for a little bit” – make this a weekend tradition for an hour in the morning to build a relationship with the young person and also help manage their usage from a place of connection!
- Building up a positive relationship is important so alongside this, introduce a weekly tradition that you can all do together. It could be a – movie night, games night, walk, etc. During this time make a conscious effort not to be on your phone or distracted by other things and explain to the young person that this is a no phones activity. Allow them to connect to you and their surroundings for a bit. This will have a positive impact on their wellbeing and mental health.
- Finally, have boundaries around everyone’s technology, explain it is important to be present and be in the moment- and help them learn through doing/experiencing.