Step Away from the Computer: Exit the House, Now!

I just completed an article for a guest blog post I committed to. An impulse rumbles in my abdomen: PLAY A GAME. I feel energized by having finished an article, but yet have a powerful urge to piss away that energy playing a video game. “I deserve it,” the powerful voice that seems to live in my abdomen tells me.

After finishing the last sentence, I eyeballed the “Steam” icon on my taskbar. Steam is the game-hosting site I, and most game-addicted people around the world, use to indulge our compulsion. I can choose from hundreds of different games. I’m not going to do it, but if I stay in the house, that could quickly change, so right now, I am going to get in my car and drive somewhere. I need new sheets and have several items to return to Lowe’s. I will go to the shopping center immediately, and will report back below. When the urge to game, or mindlessly surf the Internet, hits me, I just need to get out, as if there were a gas leak or fire inside of my house.
[Two hours later]
I purchased the sheets, Peacock Alley brand. The saleswoman told me, “These sheets are like silk at one-fifth the price.” I could not argue with that logic, so I bought them. It was at a closeout store called Tuesday Morning, so they were at a deep discount. My other sheets had a huge coffee stain that I could not remove (Stains, another under-reported hazard of ADHD!).

Anyway, I went out and did something that needed to be done, then came back and did a load of laundry. If I had stayed home, I would have gone into cyber communion with my computer screen and wasted away the whole evening without handling any of the details of my life. I find that forcing myself to do one thing helps fuel me to do others, but I have the type of ADHD that causes this apathetic funk to take hold of me. When it grips me, I find it almost impossible to take action. Over the past decade, however, I have become increasingly successful at breaking the pattern. I stay away from technology long enough for balance and reason to reassert themselves.

Luckily, I do not get an addictive charge from playing games on my smart phone, so I dodged a bullet there. If you are a Candy Crusher, Clash of Clans, or Fruit Ninja junkie, leave your phone behind. Leaving our phones behind is a good way to have a mini “techfast.” I do a 3-day techfast every month and my best ideas and most productive writing come during these times.
It is really difficult to balance technology in our lives. So, learn to say no to technology and consider doing a techfast. STEP AWAY FROM THE COMPUTER!

Kevin’s Top Five Family Technology Tips
1. Have at least some tech-free time as a family. Don’t allow smart phones at the dinner table, for example.
2. In addition to tech-free time, have tech-free zones. Many families I work with choose to use the family room for this purpose. Cell phones, video game consoles, laptops, iPads, and computers are not allowed in there.
3. Set a maximum time allowed on video games and the computer. I recommend no more than two hours a day.
4. For each minute spent on the computer or video game, require a corresponding minute of exercise. This will allow you to combat the tendency for technology to create sedentary and obese children.
5. No TV’s, computers, or video game consoles in the bedroom.


Technology and School: The Power and the Peril

It is a new school year with new opportunities for your child to grow, but the cyber world could get in the way. Today’s electronic amusements captivate the minds of young people, leaving the comparatively mundane rhythms of school in the dust. Even the best teachers struggle to hold the attention of children who are entranced by the instant and multifaceted gratification offered by video games, cell phones, iPods and the Internet.  The brains of today’s children are tuned to a different channel.  Some of us have brains, on the other hand, that make us susceptible to tech addiction.

When I grew up in the seventies, the pace of life instilled patience. There was no television before 8am. I remember waking up with my brother on Saturday mornings to watch the colored bars on the TV, as we patiently, albeit with great anticipation, awaited the start of our weekly four-hour-cartoon marathon. There were so few TV offerings that when Charlie Brown television specials aired, everyone in school watched them and talked about them the next day. Children now have an endless array of electronic entertainment opportunities and waiting is not required.

Cyber adepts are often creative and highly intelligent people. The great danger is that they will lose themselves in cyber land and not develop their social and intellectual skills. They also risk a sedentary lifestyle. Interestingly, research suggests that high rates of physical activity in boys correlates with higher grades in school.   I give parents a 10-question quiz to help them determine if a problem exists.   Three or more of the following could indicate a problem:

  •       Time warp: inability to determine time spent in cyber activities.
  •      Changes or disruptions in sleep.
  •      Withdrawing from family and friends.
  •      Losing interest in other hobbies and recreational activities.
  •      Spending more than three hours a day.
  •      Physical pain: backache, carpal tunnel syndrome, nerve pain, eye strain.
  •      Emotional disturbance when access to the cyber world is taken away.
  •      Withdrawal symptoms like headache, malaise, light-headedness.
  •      Continued excess despite serious adverse consequences.
  •      Ever-increasing amounts of time in the cyber world.

When children make their way to me in my practice as an academic coach, three-fourths of the time their poor grades are accompanied by excessive cyber activities (i.e., three or more of the above symptoms). I often discover that children had been texting prolifically during the school day and not, as a result, been paying attention during class. Young people are remarkably clever at concealing their phones.  In many cases, I have had students come to me who seemingly had sleep issues, only to find that late night gaming and Internet use kept them from slumber. Some play fantasy games like World of Warcraft until the wee hours of the morning, while others stay in touch with friends on Facebook, Twitter, and texting.  Parents are usually shocked to learn of their children’s nocturnal activities as well as the full scope of what goes on during the school day.

For many kids, access to cyber privileges can be a potent motivational carrot. It is not easy to find such tools with children, so I encourage parents to take full advantage. If you are an involved-enough parent to realize your child spends too much time in cyber land, you will probably agree that other responsibilities at home and school get neglected.  The solution to this situation is simple:  link cyber privileges to successful completion of chores, fulfillment of responsibilities, and performance in school.

If you get involved when they are young, you will help ensure that the cyber world enhances your child’s potential for success instead of destroying it.