We all know a teen — or a lot of teens — who have their face buried perpetually in their phone. Teens engage in an average of about seven hours of screen time every day, according to a report from Common Sense Media. Listening to music, watching TV and videos, and playing games are rated as the top activities.
These forms of entertainment are designed to provide steady streams of dopamine to a child’s developing brain. It feels good and keeps users engaged, by just like with food, alcohol or drugs, this instant gratification can create a habit that may lead to full-blown addiction.
Is my child addicted to technology?
But how can a concerned parent tell the difference between typical teenage behavior and something more troublesome? Technology addiction is a very real problem, but it’s not always clear to parents when the line has been crossed.
In our work, we look for the following signs that indicate a teen might be slipping from enjoyment into dependency:
- Neglecting personal needs: Refusing food, skipping showers, or staying up to all hours using their devices or playing games.
- Preoccupation with technology: Thinking obsessively about the next game they’ll play or video they’ll watch, or how many likes their last post has received, even when doing other activities.
- Binging: Engaging in prolonged, excessive periods of time on their devices.
- Shame and anger: An angry or ashamed response to any effort made to inquire as to their screen-time activities, control their usage or ask them to disengage.
- Lying and keeping secrets: Concealing device use or not being truthful about screen-time.
- Withdrawal: Irritability, anxiety, boredom, cravings, or sadness while offline or away from their games
- Jeopardizing in-person relationships: When time spent online replaces in-person engagement and causes deterioration of relationships.
- Refusal to separate from devices: Holding on to their phone during meals, reaching for it first thing in the morning, or being unable to leave a room without it in hand.
- Irresponsible financial behaviors: Making repeated and excessive in-app purchases to buy virtual commodities like skins, dance moves, Loot-Box “chances,” for example.
What can I do if my child has a problem?
The good news is, there are treatments available to help teens break the dangerous cycle of tech and gaming addiction. The most effective approaches combine efforts to disrupt and understand teens’ dependent routines, with proactive development of self-esteem and life skills to reduce their need for escape into technology.
At Reset Summer Camp we offer an immersive, four-week clinical program that does just that.
Our campers often arrive irritable and unhappy as a result of being separated from the perceived lifeline of their devices. This digital detox phase usually lasts a few days, as they learn the rhythms of camp: cooperating with their bunkmates, eating healthy meals, getting enough sleep, attending group and individual therapy, and exploring entertainment and exercise options in the physical world.
As they are learning more about how to cope without their devices and how their dependency took root, they also receive instruction in important life skills that will help them find confidence in themselves instead of seeking validation in the cyber-world. We teach them how to create a healthy routine, from making their beds in the morning and doing their own laundry to planning and preparing meals. There are also lessons on financial literacy and money management.
What happens after camp is over?
In any treatment program, it is essential that teens have robust support during the transition back to their old environments. Sending a child off with nothing more than a plan or an occasional phone call to touch base is not sufficient.
For 90 days after campers head home, Reset provides weekly therapeutic video calls with a member of our clinical team who has worked with them during their stay. These conversations allow teens to bolster their recovery by reconnecting with the positive progress they made at camp and discussing any ongoing issues with a professional who knows them, their personality, and their journey.
Facing the reality that your child has a dangerous dependence can be scary and overwhelming for any parent. But rest assured that effective treatment is available and your teen can soon be on the road to recovery.