How to Help Your Kids Manage the Pull of Technology

The rabbit-hole went straight on like a tunnel for some way, and then dipped suddenly down, so suddenly that Alice had not a moment to think about stopping herself before she found herself falling down what seemed to be a very deep well.— Lewis Carroll

In conversations with parents about their kids’ use of technology, I hear the word “addiction” all the time. The media and a plethora of books about technology and youth reinforce this association of kids, technology, and addiction. In my observation, a rush to label young people’s complex relationship with technology as addiction is not getting us where we want to go.

Where do we want to go with our kids? Let’s think about that. A few words that come to mind are well-being, agency, autonomy, growth, connection, authenticity, curiosity, awe, enthusiasm, play, empathy, choice … mindfulness …

What if we got a little more nuanced and helped our kids to think about where they are on a continuum at any given moment?

The point is not to avoid ever going down the rabbit hole—it’s to notice where we are on a continuum of awareness/choice to unconscious/automatic—either right in the moment (ideal), or after the fact (way better than not noticing at all). So how can we help our kids grow their capacity to self-reflect amidst the intense pushes and pulls of social media and mobile games?

Here’s an experiment. Strike the word “addiction” from your vocabulary for a month. Consider when you last found yourself down the rabbit hole. Reconstruct what you were doing before. Rate your rabbit hole experience on a scale of 1 to10 with one being a total waste of time that left you feeling more empty than full, and 10 being a positive experience that might be summed up with words such as discovery, serendipity, playful, restorative, calming, or enlightening.

Rabbit Hole

Remember, it’s okay to go down rabbit holes. The more you reflect on what happens there, the easier it will be to notice the choice points … Ah, that looks like a rabbit hole. Do I want to go down it now, wait for a time when I have some open space, or skip that one altogether because I remember that one is a soul sucker?

Share what you discover in your next family conversation about technology. Get personal. Take the focus off your kids’ technology use and really get intimate with your own. Be kind to yourself. Model the process of curious, non-judgmental reflection. As you take the focus off your kids, you might just find them sharing more about their own experiences with technology. In particular, listen to how they use the word “addiction”—if they do.

What I’m Reading:
Common Sense Media just published a new report, Virtual Reality 101: What You Need to Know About Kids and VR. Co-author Jeremy Bailenson founded and directs the Virtual Human Interaction Lab at Stanford University. I’ve attended his presentations on VR and education at Stanford. I am reading Jeremy’s new book, Experience on Demand: What Virtual Reality Is, How It Works, and What It Can Do. He’s been doing research on VR and education since the late 1990s. In the introduction to the report, James Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense Media, writes:

Research—including that of this paper’s co-author Jeremy Bailenson—has found that VR is one of the most intense mediums we’ve encountered.

As someone who has been involved with VR since the 1990s, I agree with Jeremy and James. VR is one intense medium. So get ready if you’re not already immersed in your household. (According to the report, 1 in 5 U.S. parents today report living in a household with VR.) With Steven Spielberg’s film Ready Player One (based on the book by Ernest Cline) in the theaters as I write, I know your older kids are thinking about it, if not already in VR themselves.

Claudia L’Amoreaux helps parents and young people navigate the social and emotional complexities of “digital life.” She has worked at the intersection of technology and education as an international consultant, speaker, curriculum designer, and coach for 25 years. Claudia writes the weekly Mindful Digital Life blog.

(updated for 2019) Join Claudia for the online Parents Place workshop: Rethinking Technology this Summer for Your Family, Mon., June 3, 1 — 2 pm, PDT.

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