Dr. Gabor Maté, an addiction specialist from Canada, has a beautiful statement about the need for these external “coping” mechanisms aka addictions.
He states that the question is “not why the addiction, but why the pain?”
Addiction is caused by an unbearable source of inner pain. When a basic childhood need is not met, the child’s brain will feel threatened by the environment, learning to “adapt” or cope with its environment to deal with the lack of attention to its needs not being met. This need to adapt can follow the child into adulthood— if they’re lucky enough to get there. (Read about failure to thrive here.)
Maternal emotional and physical deprivation is crucial to brain development in early childhood. When the child is exposed to consistent deprivation, “coping” mechanisms are set in place for the child to be able to adapt to the lack of connection. Has our society set our kids up to be perpetually disconnected from their maternal caregivers, leading to a new cohort of addicted kids and increasing rates of lack of mental health within children?
Excessive stress to the human condition has numerous poor health outcomes. Childhood is a largely unconscious process for the brain. Children rely solely on conscious, available parents to guide them into health-conscious behaviours not just in childhood, but so they can take that said healthy behaviour into adulthood.
When a parent is unconscious, primarily due to their own adaptive patterns of “coping” with stress, they unknowingly pass their inability to meet their own adult needs onto their children.
Have you ever walked around a shopping centre and noticed the number of children under the age of five sitting in a pram with a phone in their hands just so mum or dad can have some “peace and quiet” while they shop? The inner narrative being “so long as you don’t throw a tantrum or disrupt my ‘me’ time.” This is not coming from a place of judgement; it is a fact many parents use this excuse to justify their own behaviour.
We have become so scared of what people might think of us as parents or of our kids with their outward behaviour. We have all had those stares from someone—the, get a hold of your kid kind of stare. When my child was younger, those stares and the shame-inducing guilt that followed me was horrendous.
Is it any wonder kids can’t control themselves in big shopping centres? It’s sensory overload! Kids are wondrous creatures, and a whole world of colours, flashing lights, and pretty shiny toys is before them. People are laughing, yelling, walking fast in a hurry. So we put a phone in front of their face to distract them from the sensory overload of the shopping centre and overload their brains with something not much different. While it may calm them at that moment so you can have some peace to do your shopping, the effects are longer lasting than a simple conversation with the child about expectation and causation of behaviour.
The stark reality of technology’s effects on our children’s brains is devastating. A wide variety of studies now show the invention of the mobile phone, especially the most popular phone released in 2007, has exponentially increased the rates of mental distress, self-injurious behaviour and suicidality among youth. Their ability to develop and maintain interpersonal relationships has diminished insanely.
We are human beings, not human doings. Our lives have become so stressed and over-scheduled. We as a society have simply forgotten the need to disconnect to reconnect to humans, not technology. The sad truth of the last few years has meant human disconnection, and as a result, poor mental health rates soared.
A beautiful movie on YouTube called “The Earthing Movie” is science- and medically-backed, showing what technology is doing to the human form and our health.
Drug and alcohol addiction has gotten a bad wrap in the past. An “addict” is often seen as this unruly, scary, maladaptive person who “can’t control themselves.” No one ever wakes up one day and says, “Hey, I’m going to become an addict today.” Addiction is a slippery slope, a craving from temporary pain or stress, where the brain seeks momentary pleasure. Anything to gain relief from an internal stressor and therefore craves, yet suffers adverse outcomes due to the chosen solution.
Ever tried to take away your child’s iPad or technology time after they have spent five hours devouring kids’ YouTube or whatever the latest thing it is they are addicted to? The kids yell, scream bloody murder until you give in to them because you can’t bear to hear them scream that loud anymore. That, my friends, is an addiction. Scary stuff.
Technology isn’t going anywhere. That’s a fact. As humans, we choose to put healthy boundaries around the interaction and its time. Our job as parents is to awaken and remember our unconscious behaviours until we become aware of them.
We can then make the healthier choice to place in boundaries as we would with any diet and exercise program. Yes, the cutting back feels painful at first, but our inner narrative becomes like a soothing conscious parent. Shhhhh, it’s ok; we need this to keep our bodies healthy, and well. Our brain will adapt, and everything will be alright.
See what I did there? I met an inner need for soothing. Kids do not possess this need yet; therefore, they need a parent or primary caregiver to complete that need until they learn how to inwardly soothe.
Tips on how to place technology boundaries for your kids.
1. Become conscious of the fact we may be handing our phones over to our most precious little beings unconsciously as a way of coping with our own stress. The secondary trauma is passing the pressure onto our children.
2. Be kind to yourself; unconscious behaviour is not a blame game, only an awareness exercise.
3. Set firm boundaries and stick to them. Now that we are conscious of the behaviour, remember it is never easy to give up an adaptive addictive behaviour. The brain needs constant rewiring (just like those two weekly app updates).
4. Make time to switch off all devices and connect with each person in your family individually, including yourself.
5. Remember, as a parent, you need to set boundaries with your friends and family members around how you fill up your own energy resource.
6. Define, delegate, delete. Define what needs to go, delegate tasks, and delete unnecessary time-wasting.
7. Enjoy the time of human connection. The human body thrives on the natural, free connection that allows the body to produce its natural chemicals and hormones.
8. Try something new together; make the commitment for 30 days to do the digital detox and make a note of the changes in your behaviours and your kids.