Both May and Louise are professional members of the IECA – Independent Educational Consultants Association. Every two months, they receive a newsletter called IECA Insights in which the IECA discusses issues of importance to members of the IECA. In the latest newsletter, there was an interesting article about video game and Internet addiction. At The Price Group,we have certainly seen a share of students with problems relating to technological devices, and we wanted to share this powerful article with you.
“Kids and Young Adults with Video Game and Internet Addiction” by Hilarie Cash, PhD, LMHC, Co-CEO, reStart: Internet Addiction Recovery Program
We are all affected by the ubiquitous presence of digital media in our lives. WE all use computers and most of us have smart phones. So do the kids and young adults we serve: you, as independent educational consultants; I, as a therapist. You and I, however, have a huge advantage over all those young people; we did not grow up with a heavy diet of digital technology in our lives. And, because of this, we have minds that function well out in the world. We have good social skills, we can delay gratification in order to achieve our professional goals, we know how the world works and maneuver in it comfortably, we try hard to get enough sleep, and we have intimate relationships with our family and friends.
But this is not the reality for many of the youth we serve. They have been using digital media since they were very young (most of them). As a result, their neuro-development has been profoundly impacted, for good not so good. They certainly have a great facility with the medium and are completely at home in the digital world in a way most of us will never be. They tend to be great at doing online searches for information they need, they know where to go to be entertained, they can be involved in some wonderfully creative endeavors (creating music, writing, programming, etc.), and these are just a few of the ways they are benefited by the digital technology at their disposal.
But, there is a dark side to the technology and too few adults appreciate what is happening as a result of over use and too early use, not only by the children, but also by their parents. Let’s start with the parents. There is increasing evidence that many parents are, essentially, neglecting their children as a result of paying more attention to their digital devices than to their family members. And the problem now begins at birth, with a nursing Mom reading and responding toe mail and messages rather than making eye contact, smiling, cooing, and doing all the interactive things that create that most important first bonding experience, an experience which, if done poorly, will affect the child in profound and negative ways. Limbic resonance is a term that refers to this energetic exchange between two living creatures where each feels loved and safe. The attachment bond created between them helps to regulate both of them physiologically and emotionally and lays the groundwork for healthy child development. Children who never attach well are dysregulated, fail to thrive, and if the situation is severe enough, can die (as can happen, for example, in understaffed orphanages). Here in the United States we don’t often see that level of neglect, but parents who pay more attention to their own technology than to their children are bringing up insecure children who feel competitive with digital media and turn to it themselves to fill the void in their psyches.
If children are allowed to make this turn toward digital media, then a whole host of developmental problems follow over time that affect a child, potentially, for the rest of their lives. A heavy diet of digital media tends to wire the brain in a variety of ways such as short attention span (resulting in what may be diagnosed as ADD), poor social skills and social anxiety in face-to-face interactions (resulting in a potential diagnosis of Asperger’s Syndrome), mood dysregulation (resulting in depression and anxiety disorders), and addiction (resulting in oppositional/defiant disorder), etc. A recently published book called i-Disorder, by Larry Rosen, describes the personality disorder that often develops by the time a digitally addicted young person reaches early adulthood. I can personally testify that his description is very close to the constellation of traits that we see out at reSTART: Internet Addiction Recovery Program. Our young adult men tend to be dependent, socially avoidant, narcissistic, passive/unmotivated, and antisocial in their values. They often have traits of Asperger’s and/or ADD, often undiagnosed, leading to school and social failure. They usually are anxious and depressed when they arrive. Once they have detoxed from their addiction to digital technology, they start to feel much better and to think clearly enough to begin making a good plan for how they will live a healthy, sustainable lifestyle with the technology. Once that plan is completed, they can go into our aftercare program where they have to handle themselves in the real world and this is the time when they begin to stumble as they bump up against not only addictive triggers all around them, but also the severe limitations o f their own personalities which are wired in the way I’ve been describing. Crazy as it may sound, drug addicts and alcoholics of the same age are often better prepared for dealing with life as sober adults than our sober tech addicts. The drug addicts and alcoholics have usually started their addictions later (age 12-14, or so) and have some street smarts as well as greater comfort with social situations.
I would say your number one task is to be able to correctly ascertain whether or not you are dealing with a video game/Internet addict. You may or may not be a clinician, but, either way, you can ask the right questions to find out what you are dealing with. If you send the child to someone for a psychological assessment, keep in mind that that person may not ask questions that would tease out Internet addiction and may not even believe in or understand the problem. You may get back a diagnosis of depression, anxiety disorder, ADD, or something else, their having entirely missed the real problem. So, it may be up to you to ferret this out. For a more comprehensive list of questions, I suggest you visit our website at www.netaddictionrecovery.com, but here are a few questions which will quickly help you learn if you need to dig deeper:
1. What digital media do you own?
2. What are the things you mostly like to do with that media (they will not tell you about porn unless you ask specifically)?
3. How much time do you think you spend in each of these activities (you can be sure they will underestimate, so, if they say 4 hours, it is more like 6 to 8)?
4. What time do you get to bed when you’re at your computer doing the things you like to do? How much sleep are you getting? Do you have trouble getting up for school or staying awake in school?
5. Do your parents get mad and try to make you use it less?
6. What do you do to get around their controls?
7. Tell me the history of your use of digital devices (be looking to see at what age they began)?
8. Do you spend more time with online social media and gaming or face to face with your friends?
So, to summarize, many of the teens and young adults with whom you work may be addicted to some form of digital technology, may have been addicted for many6 years, and therefore, have a neuronet that is ill suited to living well in the real world. These young people need help. They need to have the situation assessed correctly and help finding effective schools or programs that will truly be effective in helping them detox and learn to live a healthy, sustainable lifestyle.