Viewing posts for the category addictions
Parents are increasingly worried about the endless challenges of technology in the lives of their kids: texting, social media, inappropriate content, distraction, sleeplessness, gaming — the list goes on. The sheer volume of screen time seems to be edging out so much of what used to be fundamental to family and adolescent development: chats in the car with parents, conversations over dinner, shared activities outside. And kids are worried too. They're sleeping less, on devices more (much more), and stuck in a loop of constant digital immersion.
Typically I don’t get fired up about online conversations. I’m busy (aren’t we all?), I have actual conversations to attend to, and I prefer not to be drawn too far down the infinitely deep well of digital discourse. But recently, a question on Quora — Should homeless people be allowed to have children? — provoked me into a lengthy rant:
Technology addictions obey the same principles as substance addictions; that is to say, the addiction involves uncompleted impulses and fractured imprinting typically derived from childhood experience (this is not universally the case, but is almost universally the case). The nature of the addiction involves the way in which the addiction completes, temporarily, the unfinished imprinting. The more childhood difficulty an individual experiences, the more likely the individual is to seek multiple substances in adolescence.
After a public presentation on addictions a mother approached me, in that familiar way — hushed, conspiratorial, a sliver of shame buried in the hopefulness of her manner — and asked me what she can do about her son. Her boy is fifteen, plays online games for countless hours each week, hides himself in his locked room, screams at her when she tries to enter, seldom attends school, and seems to be sliding ever farther from her. She is terrified that he will simply forget everything and everyone, will become a ghost, and will disappear. She has heard these stories, and the many others that twist within her. And she is terrified. But she knows that most people will blame her for what has happened — her parenting must be at fault, they will say — so she downplays, even to herself, the seriousness of her son's predicament. She tells me about her family coming here from abroad, when her son was seven, and his subsequent struggles at school. She wonders if this might have played a role in what has happened. Possibly it has. Not only the exodus itself, which must have been terrifying for them all, but what came before and after: the tension and suspicion and hiding, then a long and uncertain journey, then a new culture, clashing values, poverty. Yet if they had not come, if they had not fled on motorcycles at night across the mountains, into a safer country and then across the sea, that boy would now be dead, or in prison with the rest of the family, or an expert, by now, in the firing of rocket propelled grenades.
For many parents, the cultures of technology — gaming, social media, texting — seem foreign, strange, and uninviting. At the same time, our kids have transferred much of their interpersonal developmental into the online world, where parents don't see what's happening. For the first time in the history of humanity, young people are growing up in a world their parents don't understand. In turn, those parents — whose fundamental job is to guide their kids through the labyrinth of childhood and adolescence — have themselves been drawn into a world of digital distraction: smart phones, television recording devices, DVD players in the car. The cultures of technology have created their own gravity, and we are all pulled inexorably toward it.