Healthy Digital Technology Use

The other night I attended a very informative session given by Dr. Clifford Sussman about Healthy Digital Technology Use. I wanted to attend this session because I often hear from a lot of parents who are worried that their children play video games too much and are disengaged. Dr. Sussman has a private practice in psychiatry for children, adolescents and young adults. He is known to use a technique known as Motivational Interviewing. He has written an article for Attention Magazine and interviewed for an article in Time Magazine for kids. He has over 100 screen free activities in his office. Most importantly, he is a specialist in treatment for internet and video game addiction.

I wanted to share these take aways from his talk…

Digital Addiction is Addiction and comes in many forms for child and parents alike

Whether it is looking at your phone every two minutes, playing fun games on your phone, playing lots of video games, watching videos, forgetting to add attachments to emails or hanging out on Facebook, Instagram or Twitter too long. All these things, when done for a long time, can lead to addiction. It rewards the same part of the brain as drugs, alcohol and other not so healthy habits do.

What does digital addiction do to our brains?

It stimulates are brains with dopamine which short term makes us feel better but long term can harm out brain. Other words, immediate gratification in the long run is not good. Also, withdrawal or let down can be bad for us. It can affect our attention spans, create anxiety and fog our planning. When the too many dopamine molecules go to the receptors, the receptors can actually decrease in number often leading to withdrawal symptoms for days ahead.

Can digital addiction be improved?

Within just one week of removing all screens, half of the dopamine receptors in the brain of a heavy user can come back. But this may not be enough to change addictive behaviors for good. In this day and age, we all need our cell phones and computers for work, pleasure, and socialization. It is like food, we just can’t stop having it. So, what are we to do? The good news is that a life with an appropriate balance between online and offline time can be achieved. There are several guidelines for healthy screen use, including temporary digital detoxifications, regularly scheduled offline blocks, adding structured offline activities, setting and implementing screen limits and rules, and parents leading by example. Delaying immediate gratification can be an important learned behavior.

What are regularly scheduled offline blocks?

What Dr. Sussman recommended was that we eliminate extra-long blocks of screen time. For example, if our child plays a video game, limit the playing time to only one hour at a time and then follow it with an hour of screen-free activity. I guess our moms knew more than we thought forcing us to go play outside when we were kids.

Setting/implementing rules on digital technology

Dr. Sussman recommends that you set family rules and be sure to comply with them on digital technology. Some examples of rules are no cell phones while eating meals, leaving cell phones in a handbag or glove compartment when driving, only checking email a few times a day and delaying responding to a text until you have time to process the information. Also, as mentioned above, limit video games to one-hour increments of playing time. If your loved one refuses to get off the video game when an hour is up, or uses screens during an offline block, then they may lose their next block or multiple blocks of screen time. Set visual timers to remind children of the time left available. Lastly, make sure the consequence is known and transparent up front before the digital activity starts.

Setting examples for others

Dr. Sussman discussed how it is important that parents and other family members should abide by technology rules as well to set a good example for their children. The parent should set an example for their child by not always being on their phone, computers, etc. and being present, by turning off/or dimming their phone at night and have tech free weekend or vacation days. Parents often get frustrated with their children for lack of engagement and it is important that they model the behavior that they wish to see by being more present and less distracted. Also, an important thing to remember is that setting examples of healthy digital use can eventually lead to a child self-regulating their own digital technology when they are older which is really what we want for our kids.

So, what non digital technology activities can people do?

So, you may be wondering what non digital technology activities you or your family can do? There are many. For young children, there are blocks, Legos, dress up, crafts, etc. For adolescents and teens, there are sports, playing instruments, board games (even some that are inspired by video games are available), reading, creativity projects, clubs, places of worship groups, camps, etc. Lastly, for adults, there are hobbies, projects, crafts, sports, etc. To learn more about Dr. Clifford Sussman, go to http://www.cliffordsussmanmd.com/


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