Detoxify Your Family
Technology is turning our children into addicts.By Robert Morley
There is a drug ravaging our children, and most people are oblivious. Parents desperately need to be aware of its addictive and destructive nature. More and more children are becoming obsessed with computers and other electronic gadgets—and the consequences can be as real and damaging as crack cocaine.
Experts report that schoolchildren are increasingly showing signs of addiction traditionally exhibited by drug abusers: Symptoms such as obsessive and compulsive urges to constantly be online, fixations with virtual worlds, and withdrawal from real-life relationships with family and friends. Those who are addicted often get defensive about their usage, yet have trouble limiting how much time they spend on the activity. They often get distracted and have difficulty completing tasks. They “lose” track of time.
Does that sound like any children you know? Do they get angry when you tell them to put away the iPhone and eat their dinner?
“Far too many children, and particularly boys, become quite addicted to computer use,” says Barnaby Lenon, chairman of the Independent Schools Council. It is damaging their long-term development—especially their conversational ability and literacy.
Lenon warns that parents need to tightly control children’s access to computers and televisions, and that computer usage should be strictly limited to only one hour a day for children aged up to 12 and a maximum of two hours for older pupils.
Parents should refuse to buy their children smartphones until they are at least 15, he says. The dangers are just too great.
The warning follows an August 2011 study that found that children ages 8 to 17 are more likely to have a mobile phone or computer in the home than a book. The researchers said that the most likely forms of reading for children were text messages, followed by e-mails and social networking.
The most common form of reading is now text messaging?!
Just go to any school that allows students to bring phones. They are everywhere. In the United Kingdom, almost 9 in 10 students carry a mobile phone (compared to fewer than three quarters who say they have their own books in the home), according to the National Literacy Trust.
And in case you are still living in the last decade, phones today go way beyond dial and talk. They are a very real, very visual doorway from Joe’s website to your child’s mind. You know Joe? Conspiracy theorist, homegrown terrorist, bomb-making, Columbine-celebrating, pornography-distributing, cop-killing, gangsta wannabe, self-mutilating, Satan-worshiping, general all-around-fun-guy Joe? Yes, that Joe! The one you unwittingly introduced your 9-year-old daughter to when you bought her the latest smartphone to take to school so she could call you if she ever got herself into trouble.
And unlike the desktop at home, which you can keep an eye on, the Internet-exploring smartphone, iPad, or laptop in your child’s backpack can be a 24-hour open door into your child or teenager’s impressionable mind.
The average age at which children watch their first pornography is now just 11, according to Australian researchers Maree Crabbe and David Corlett. “Porn is our most prominent sex educator,” they said. It is the milieu in which “young people are understanding and experience sex” nowadays.
According to the study, pornography is becoming a normal part of life for many young people. “Growing up watching porn—that’s sort of where you get your grasp of what’s normal and what’s not,” said one teenage boy. “A lot of what I know about sex is because of porn,” said another.
And when do you think these youths are watching porn? At home on the centrally located desk computer? Or on the phone they carry in their pocket, or their friend’s iPad after school?
Porn is just as addictive as cocaine or heroin. Just one exposure may follow them for the rest of their lives, affecting their relationships, marriages, character development, mental health and so much more.
Do you understand the risks involved?
Parents: We are living in a different world than even a couple of years ago. Technology is with us 24/7. It is a virtually inescapable and in many cases necessary part of our lives.
But know this: You must control it—or it will control you and your family.
Modern technology, including Internet connectivity, is an awesome tool, but it isn’t one that you should turn loose on your children without adequate training and protection. You wouldn’t throw your car keys at your 15-year-old without teaching him to drive. Giving him a smartphone or similar technology is like throwing him the keys to joy ride on the potentially much more dangerous Internet superhighway. He will get in an accident. It could be deadly. And you will be responsible.
As parents, it is our job to control what is in our homes and what our children are doing. We need to teach our children how to handle the technology we give them. We have to make sure that its use is supplementing, not hindering, child development. And we need to put safeguards in place until they are ready to head out on their own.
If your children already have an addiction problem, take action immediately, before it gets worse. Throw out the video games. Replace the smartphone with a basic calling-only version. Monitor computer usage. If necessary, detechnologize your family. Don’t wait for a “crash” to happen.
Your children may not like you for it now. They may kick and scream and even say they hate you. Detoxification is never easy. But they will love you for it later! •