This is the second of a three-part series I am writing on technology addiction. Part I focuses on technology addiction in adults. This post, Part 2, focuses on technology addiction in children. Part 3 will focus on how we can break technology addiction.
As parents, I feel we are in a quandary. We want our children to be able to communicate and compete in the technological world we believe they will inherit. But we also want them to become well-adjusted adults who can establish healthy, face-to-face relationships with each other. Sometimes it feels like these two goals are mutually exclusive.
Many kids today are missing meals and sleep because they are preoccupied with texting, Facebook, Twitter, or video games. Bullying is being driven out of schools, only to resurface on social media. Stressed parents of two-year-olds hand over their iPhones rather than teaching their children how to wait patiently in line at the grocery store. How will these kids cope with the frustrations of life and relationships when they grow up?
“But the wild things cried, ‘Oh please don’t go–we’ll eat you up–we love you so!'” (Maurice Sendak, Where the Wild Things Are)
If you don’t think technology addiction is a real problem for children, consider the fact that there is now a rehab clinic in the UK for children addicted to technology. In Japan, children who don’t respond to text messages on their cell phones within thirty minutes are ridiculed by their peers; and the government is asking manufacturers to limit features on phones made for children to voice calls and navigation. Closer to home, the American Psychological Association may soon be adding Internet Use Disorder (IUD) to the Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders (DSM-V).
According to the American Psychiatric Association, the crafters of the DSM-V, a person with IUD will experience “preoccupation” with the internet or internet gaming, withdrawal symptoms when the substance (internet) is no longer available, tolerance (the need to spend more and more time on the internet to achieve the same “high”), loss of other interests, unsuccessful attempts to quit, and use of the internet to improve or escape dysphoric mood. (Internet Addiction: The New Mental Health Disorder, Forbes, 10/2/12)
So what effect is this obsession with technology, the Internet, and social media having on our children?
We don’t know.
Amber Case, a self-described cyborg anthropologist, claims that we are all cyborgs. She defines a cyborg as a person who interacts with a machine, rather than a being that is physically part human and part machine. Yet she does not see our obsession with technology as threatening or even unhealthy.
I hope she is right.
But so many children are so lonely and isolated. Childhood depression, drug use, alcohol abuse, and suicide are national issues. Granted, these were problems long before the Internet. But shutting off from each other will only make them worse and bring us closer to becoming the unfeeling cyborgs of science fiction.
Schools.com recently created an infographic asking the question, “Is Social Media Making Us Socially Awkward?” Here are two disturbing statistics from their graphic:
- 24% of respondents have missed experiencing important events because they were too busy reporting them on social media
- 39% of respondents spend more time socializing online than in person
It appears that their statistics are the results of a survey. While I can’t determine the ages of the respondents, or the reliability or validity of the results, these two statistics and others I have seen concern me – more for my children than for myself.
Relationships are hard enough already. While technology makes it easier to connect to more people, the relationships are usually shallow. How will our children relate personally to their friends and lovers? Will they even try? Will they face someone, apologize, and give them a hug? Will they tell someone they love them, and get down on one knee?
Or will they send a text message?