We live in an amazing era of high-speed technological discovery. Tech is everywhere we live; in our schools, in our homes and in the hands of millions of youth worldwide. Our children’s dependence on tech now starts before they can walk and talk.
For better or worse, we only know what we know. And what we know now about digital media use is that it masquerades as acceptable youthful behavior in a variety of settings. In reality, dependency on screens may, in fact, be the root cause of academic, emotional, physical and social failures facing children and families today.
Thus, it requires a different mindset and clinical approach than what we’ve grown familiar with.
Educational Consultants play a critical role in matching struggling families with appropriate models of care in the treatment community. Consultants are ideally positioned to connect their clients to resources that can focus on a client’s anxiety or depression, while also addressing screen use and dependence. At this point of emerging awareness, we must rely on professionals within the industry to assess for both mental health and screen dependence. Currently, many mental health professionals do not test for video game or technology overuse or dependence, have not received formal training in process addictions, and struggle to keep up with the ever-changing digital landscape. Their assessment results may indicate a variety of alarming mental health problems such as depression, anxiety, ADHD, or trauma, but will likely miss the key markers associated with problematic screen use or dependence.
As professionals, we find ourselves chronically blindsided by a whole new paradigm of brain changing, behavioral altering devices which leave even the best professional at an utter loss for measuring this new phenomenon. Therefore, once we begin to address screen dependence in those seeking our services, it is incumbent upon us to ensure that we, as the referring professional, adequately screen for problematic digital use, regardless of professional trends. The Brief Internet Game Screen (BIGS) and the Brief Internet Game Screen for Parents (BIGS-P), designed by ReStart, are effective screening tools for use in your practice.
The results of the BIGS-P screen may indicate struggles with problematic tech use occurring in the family system.
When dealing with parents of teens and emerging adults with problematic tech issues, be sensitive to the following:
- Parents may feel alone in the struggle to help manage their child’s media use.
Talking Point: Listen, offer support, and educate family members on the nature of problematic tech use. By doing so, you likely become the first professional who truly “understands” what they’ve been going through. Connecting with you offers families a sense of hope.
- Parents may feel a sense of shame or guilt about their son or daughter’s problematic tech use, believing they have failed as parents.
Talking Point: Assist family members in understanding their pivotal role in their child’s ability to embrace healthier, sustainable tech use.
By recognizing the problem and taking action now, families join you as pioneers in this new digital arena. You’re in it together, and you’ll find solutions together. Not by avoiding the problem, but by understanding how screen use plays a crucial role in their child’s academic achievement, mental health, family, and future relationships.
- Parents may not know how to communicate their concerns about digital media use to their children.
Talking Point: Model healthy awareness and start the dialogue with young people and their parents on the importance of sustainable tech use, and the need to recognize problematic use early. Dig deeper during the assessment process regarding the ways digital media is used to avoid dealing with family or academic problems.
- Parents may not understand the extent to which their children are engaging with digital media.
Talking Points: Encourage parents to be curious about their son’s or daughter’s activities online: Ask questions, observe and make notes about the trends they identify in their child’s tech use.
- Parents may be in conflict with each other around what constitutes problematic use, and thus, what next steps for treatment looks like.
Talking Point: Encourage each family member to educate themselves on the addictive nature of digital technology. (See Adam Alter’s book, “Irresistible: The rise of addictive technology and the business of keeping us hooked.”) the film “Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital World” and 60 Minutes recently had a segment called “Brain Hacking”.
When speaking with young people, be prepared for the following:
- Youth resist terms used by professionals to describe treatment for problematic tech use, like “rehab”, “treatment,” and even the idea of “addiction” itself.
- Emerging adults often understand their use is problematic, but would rather not address it. They often hope that it will resolve itself naturally. Clearly, there is a lack of understanding among young people regarding the addictive nature of digital media use in general.
- It is difficult for young people to grasp the idea that their screen use is problematic when they observe others close to them (e.g., family members, peers, and other adult role models) over consuming digital media.
- It is more beneficial to focus on phrases like “balanced use”, “readjust priorities”, or “sustainable use” than “addiction,” “dependence,” or “abstinence.”
Technology will continue to advance at a staggering pace, and parents are desperately seeking solutions to guide them and their children toward a future of limitless possibilities and enduring family ties. As a first responder to this technological crisis, we act as a lifeline to parents who feel as if they are watching their child’s life slip away. Treating technology over-dependence requires a clear understanding of the complex interactions between mental health and digital media use. Without screening for problematic tech use, we run the risk of missing a determining factor in directing struggling families to the appropriate model of care.
Note: The BIGS and BIGS-P screening tools are available upon request by contacting Johnny Tock reSTART, firstname.lastname@example.org or by phone at (800) 682-6934 extension 5.
Screenagers, Growing Up in the Digital World: https://www.screenagersmovie.com
“Brain Hacking” 60 Minutes, http://www.cbsnews.com/news/brain-hacking-tech-insiders-60-minutes