Josh is only nine years old, yet he’s an addict. How is that possible? You’re wondering where he gets his drugs from, how does his addiction manifest itself and if there are treatment plans.
I’ll answer all of those questions, but first let me explain that Josh is not addicted to drugs, but rather to technology – an addiction that is becoming more common as our technological advancements improve.
Today, children of all ages have easy access to smartphones and tablets – and most libraries have free WiFi.
Technology addiction is still an addiction, but not the kind most of us think of. There is a fine, though discernible, line between an addiction and a passion. In fact, any passion can become an addiction. In a recent conversation with a colleague, it became clear that there is a lot of denial when to comes to this type of addiction, but we are seeing more children missing school, disassociating from their peers and displaying aggressive behavior. When children begin to play violent games at a young age, the violence they are exposed to becomes the norm.
Let me tell you about Josh. His behavioral issues extend beyond addictions, as is so often the case. In fact, we often have to ask if the addiction is causing the behaviors or do the behaviors lead to an addictive personality. Josh is nine years old and the younger son of a single mother. Josh’s mother is limited in her ability to mother her children and they take advantage of her weaknesses. Josh disappears for hours at a time; he spends his time using a computer in the library or at friends’ homes. He is usually alone and vulnerable when he roams the neighborhood to and from his destination. Nevertheless, Josh doesn’t think about that, his only focus is getting back to a computer. Working with these types of children is difficult, but we can use the years of research and experience with drug addictions to help families.
The first thing we have to understand is that parents are enablers: We begin with the premise that we love our children. Therefore, we will do anything to protect them when we see danger in their paths. Over the past 38 years of working with parents and children, I have learned that we are not good at teaching them how to make good decisions – probably because no one ever taught us. We just assume it comes naturally. The focus here is not on teenagers, but on children as young as those in pre-school. While for the most part children at this age need to have decisions made for them, they need to be taught how the decision-making process works. Otherwise, we raise dependent children who do not know the intricacies of problem solving.
The second thing is knowing that we cannot fix everything. We love our children and so we want to make everything better for them. However, the stronger the addiction, the more the addict closes his mind to outside help. When that happens we get angry and frustrated. It’s important to remember that only the addict can take the necessary steps to fix what is wrong. And professional help is a must; objective outsiders have a much easier time getting the addict child to cooperate. Nevertheless, there are things parents can do – before the problem gets out of control.
First, whatever technological devices the child is using cannot be used in his or her room, only in the public areas. Two, show an interest in what he or she is doing; ask him or her to show you how it works, what he or she is doing and why it’s so interesting. The benefits are twofold: You get to see what he or she is doing and get to spend time with a child who may need extra attention. Three, be sure the device is age appropriate.