That word ‘addicted’ is one guaranteed to cause cold chills to run up any parent’s spine. The idea that your child could be dependent on something unhealthy is a real worry, especially as they get older.
You can’t wrap them in cotton wool and protect them from the world, you just have to hope that you’ve educated them sufficiently well that they won’t be tempted to dabble in nicotine, excess alcohol or drugs. But what happens if you’ve actually provided the catalyst for their addiction?
You wouldn’t dream of putting your child at risk of addiction, would you? But you may have done that already without realising it.
If your child has access to a computer, tablet or smartphone, they may very well be playing video games. If they have an Xbox or PlayStation, they definitely will be. How many hours a day does your child spend on games?
If they spend hours a day and most of the weekend with a games controller in their hand and get bad-tempered when you try to reduce the time they spend playing, you may have an addicted child on your hands.
If your child spends half their life on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram or Snapchat, they could be addicted to the online social scene. Some kids think that it’s a measure of their acceptance to be always available online. They can’t bear to be parted from the means of getting onto their favourite social platforms and take pictures of everything they do to load online.
The statistics say that 15-19 year olds spend an average of three hours a day online.
Whether your child is a social media addict or a games addict, the signs to watch out for are:
- A preference for the digital activity in the face of doing ANYTHING else, even activities they used to enjoy.
- A defensive or angry response if you suggest reducing their time spent with their gadgets
- Homework not done because they haven’t been able to stop playing/chatting.
- School grades dropping.
- Few, if any, friends actually appearing in person and the breakdown of former friendships.
What can you do?
Open the lines of communication.
Encourage them to do something that involves fresh air at least once a day – even if that’s a brisk 10-minute walk or jog. Fresh air helps to get release ‘happy’ chemicals.
Find a way to remove all electronic equipment from their bedroom so they’re not tempted to play or browse instead of sleeping – and that includes their smartphone. You might have to make it a family rule – no smartphones in the bedroom.
You could even have a Sunday Smartphone-free rule – applying to the whole family. Unless someone has a job that requires them to be on call, this will be good for everyone.
Teach your kids to set themselves goals – 1-hour game playing per day, whether in one hit or several shorter ones. Get them a timer that beeps when their time is up. You might need to build a reward system so there’s something they get if they achieve their goal every day for a set period.
Remember there’s nothing like praise for achievement too. They may not respond positively to start with, but if you tell them how proud you are of their ability to get control of their lives, it will eventually sink in.
There’s plenty of information about games addiction, social media addiction and smartphone addiction on the internet – if you need support, see what’s available.