There has been so much in the news lately about online or gaming addiction. The World Health Organisation has listed “gaming disorder” as a mental health condition. I have to say, these gaming companies, are doing an amazing job at using persuasive technology to keep us all hooked. I know from my own experience, that I am addicted to my phone; I automatically take it everywhere I go. I have to work hard at just leaving it at home. But my life will not end without it.
I was at an event a few weeks ago and I was chatting with a colleague about technology addiction. We both went into our phones and changed the settings so that our scenes were black and white. It felt completely
strange, almost boring and I didn’t feel engaged. I lasted about an hour with my settings; my friend lasted longer, but we both reverted to the colour scene. We have been trained to see a phone in colour and to be notified every time something happens. I am sitting in a café now, watching the world go by, as I type this blog. I would say 8 out of 10 people are on their phones; they could be listening to music, reading messages or on Social Media. What we are failing to realise, or maybe choosing to ignore, is that technology companies are deliberating building tech to be addictive. All of these companies are commercial enterprises and are earning money from our usage. They want us to spend more time online; the longer we stay connected, the more money we are worth.
Technology companies apparently use psychology, including using the anticipation of a reward to our actions to create habit forming behaviour. The 3 dots which appear when someone else is typing are put there to keep you hooked. You are waiting for that response. Our phones refresh automatically, yet, we pull down to refresh, because we anticipate pleasure from receiving a new message. You do not need to, it is making us stay on our phones for longer. When that Red 1 appears, our human instinct wants to get rid of it, resolve it and make it disappear. Once it is cleared, we are happy again. I think Facebook get the gold medal for keeping us hooked, with likes, loves, memories and much more. That Red 1 has a lot to answer for. We should look at our own habits and not be surprised when our children seem addicted to their screens.
An NHS Trust is launching a partly NHS-funded internet addiction clinic and it is great that they will provide for support for those small number of extreme cases where lives are severely impacted by gaming. Most of our children are not addicted to that extent but many parentsare concerned about the amount of time they spend online, be it gaming, watching YouTube or on social media. We know it impacts on their sleep, eyesight, social interaction, physical activity, reading or doing homework. Yes, it might help their hand/eye coordination but so would hitting a ball outside!
I was with a friend at the weekend and whenever she takes Fortnite away from her son, he literally wrecks the house and starts smashing things up. Yes, he has an addiction but at some point, my friend gave into his demands. He has learnt that if he kicks off enough the parent will give in and he wins. Where has our backbone gone regarding managing our children’s internet or gaming usage. We have become lazy.It is easier just to leave them on the screen, where they are quiet instead of having a battle or, dare I say it, engaging positively with our children.
We also need to set a good example. 64% of children want their parents TO PUT DOWN THEIR DEVICES. I get we all have busy lives but,
come on, what happened to good old-fashioned parenting. We really do have to try to curb our own addiction and lead by example. I have switched off all my notifications on my social media: it stops me waiting for those “likes”. As a result, I visit Facebook, Instagram less. At night I put my phone on Do Not Disturb. I do not receive emails, phone calls or texts from anyone that isn’t on my favourites list from 8pm – 7am. We also, have to, at some point, stop blaming the companies for everything that is happening to us and our children; we have to start taking responsibility for ourselves. After all business is business and although there are useful campaigns to change their behaviour, ultimately it is up to us to be aware of and help our children to resist their ploys.
Here’s a challenge for you. This week go out without your phone, go for a walk, get your children to come with you and ALL leave the phones behind.
Let’s teach ourselves and our children that it is great to disconnect from the online world every now and then. Life is short and there is a wonderful, physical world just outside the door.