10 Signs of a Potential Digital Dependence Problem
- Increasing frequency of staying online longer than intended or expected
- Avoiding or ignoring other activities, tasks or work in favor of spending more time on-screen
- Delaying activities, including mealtimes, to first check emails or messages
- Consistently becoming irritated or annoyed if someone interrupts your online or smartphone activities
- Preferring to spend time communicating with people online instead of face-to-face
- Constantly thinking about the next time you can get online when you’re off-line
- Feeling criticized by family or friends when they mention how much time you spend online
- Excitement when thinking about when you can next go online and what you’ll do once there
- Preferring on-screen activities to real-life activities
- Being defensive about or hiding your online activities
The ’72-Hour Digital Detox’
Parents concerned about their anxious children’s digital use, abuse or possible addiction may do well to go for on a “digital detox” for a 72-hour period. The suggestion comes from Capio Nightengale Hospital psychiatrist Dr. Richard Graham.
Three days may seem like a reasonable amount of time to go without the Internet, smartphones, iPads and the like, but it can feel like a lifetime to children, or anyone, suffering from a digital dependency.
A 2011 study mentioned by Live Science looked at what happened to college students when they went without their digital fix for a mere 24 hours. Participants consisted of 1,000 students across the world who willingly engaging in a daylong abstinence from the Internet and their smartphone and mobile device use. Anxiety and depression were high on the list of outcomes. One student admitted to such a strong desire to use a phone that the student was “itching like a crackhead.”
The Withdrawal Phase
The early stages of digital detox can mimic those experienced by addicts detoxing from alcohol or drugs, complete with a lineup of similar withdrawal symptoms.
Signs of Digital Withdrawal
- Becoming tense and upset
- Distress and anger
- Being greatly affected by the smallest things
- Anxiety and depression
- Irritability, agitation and sadness
How you handle the withdrawal symptoms largely depends on your child’s personality and your own instincts. If things get too terrible to bear, outside help may be a feasible option. The general rule is to not give in, and perhaps set up a schedule of alternate activities to distract your child from his or her desire for technology.
If you do happen to cave from incessant pleas, a surefire signal that something is amiss is the instant calmness and apparent happiness that disappears the moment your child’s fingers hit the keypad or screen.
Keeping your child away from digital devices for 72 hours may be tough, but you have to be tougher. Setting limits on digital use is a must to keep the habit from blossoming into an addiction. This counts for children of all ages, with no special treatment given to the youngest set. In fact, they may be easiest to handle, despite their potential for Oscar-winning temper tantrums. And, as Toronto psychologist Oren Amitay tells LiveScience:
“If parents can’t intervene with a 3-year-old,” he said, “good luck with a teen.”
The Re-Introduction of Digital Devices
Once digital devices are out of the system, it’s essential you re-introduce them carefully and in a controlled manner. A balance of activities is the key, including a mix of physical activity in there.
Setting up time frames and activities where children are focused on the real-world and interacting face-to-face with other children is a wise idea. Since that idea may be tougher to set up with the always-online teens and their peers, setting aside family time when devices are off-limits can help.
Perhaps dinner time is a time for everyone to shut down their devices. Maybe half a day on Saturday can be designated a no-digital zone for family activities and endeavors. And children of any age do best by avoiding digital devices right before bedtime, as studies suggest the backlit screen can suppress the body’s melatonin production and interfere with sleep.
Another reason to keep devices out of the bedroom is to help children avoid the temptation they can pose in the middle of the night or as the first thing children reach for when they wake up in the morning.
Children are also big on mimicking what they see, so your own digital use should also be curtailed when appropriate. While the techniques may stir up some groans from your children, or even make you groan, they can help keep the balance between real-life and cyberlife and ensure proper development in the former while avoiding addiction in the latter.