THE CONVERSATION: How parents' internet addiction can fuel their children's - and what to do about it

THE CONVERSATION: How parents’ internet addiction can fuel their children’s – and what to do about it

Teenagers are often accused of being addicted to their mobile devices, but new research shows that they often just model the behavior of their parents.

Sure, we all use digital devices for work, fun, and socializing, but too much screen time can be harmful. There is “digital addiction” and it is characterized by excessive and obsessive attachment to technology coupled with harm to users and those around them.

Parents are often seen as part of the solution when it comes to their children’s technology addiction. However, in my team’s recent study, we discovered that parents may be part of the problem. The study involved 168 parents of teenagers living in Qatar.

We investigated whether there was a link between the intensity of Internet addiction among parents and their children. The parents answered a questionnaire about themselves and a second about their adolescent children.

The results showed a direct relationship: the more the parents were dependent, the stronger the compulsions of their children. Leading by example is a powerful form of parenting. The way parents use technology is no exception.

There are ways to fix the problem. We analyzed the first parent survey and conducted additional research involving a questionnaire with over 500 adolescents and interviews with 44 parents, 42 adolescents and 13 health and education practitioners in Qatar to better understand the issue. and get guidance on best practices.

1. Focus on linking

An effective approach to parental digital addiction is to strengthen your bond with your child. Although it may seem simple, our results showed that low levels of emotional engagement in both authoritarian (like turning off wifi) and lenient parenting styles worsened digital addiction in their children.

Almost all (94%) of the parents in our study followed an aggressive, assertive or lenient digital parenting style. Yet most of their teens were either at risk or already tech-addicted.

Internet addiction increased among teenagers who did not have a warm relationship with their parents. Instead, family cohesion and low levels of conflict were linked to low Internet addiction scores in children. Planning enjoyable family activities gives teens something rewarding to occupy their time and increase their sense of social support.

2. Let’s talk about it

Setting limits on when teens can use the internet, penalties for breaking the rules, and rewards for reducing technology use is not, in and of itself, a strategy that works. What was clear was the value of meaningful dialogue with your child about how to manage screen time and online activities.

You need to understand the issues behind their addiction. Build on what you have learned by listening to your child. Once you’ve agreed on a goal, be consistent. Setting goals and limits, incentive programs, and regularly reviewing technology worked in combination with constructive conversations.

Image: Kojo Kwarteng for Unsplash

3. Self-discipline

Our results suggest that regardless of the frequency of parental monitoring, there was no decrease in dependency levels. Change can only happen if the child wants it. Low levels of self-control are linked to Internet addiction in children and adults.

A sense of belonging and engagement will make teens feel in control and more willing to take action. Allow teens to decide the limits of their digital usage (for example, how much time they spend on a device and which mobile apps to delete).

4. Turn the tables

When children teach others about a problem, they are more likely to change their own behavior. Let the teens guide you in developing a plan to manage your own internet use. Work with your children to create an atmosphere of trust and shared responsibility.

For example, if you decide to create a weekly schedule to record your family’s Internet usage, include a column for yourself. This approach shows a commitment on both sides to solving the problem. Being a role model is essential to teen success.

5. Don’t rely solely on parental control tools

The levels of digital addiction we see in teens indicate that parental software controls aren’t working. A 2017 study found that 22% of its teenage participants used the internet excessively.

Tools are limited in what they can do. They lack important features, such as setting group limits.

The word “control” has negative connotations, especially in the minds of teenagers: something to move around with rather than to work with. People think it’s a threat to their freedom.

Digital addiction is associated with a wide range of negative life experiences such as lower test scores and job loss. But good, old-fashioned family ties might be the answer.

This is a collaborative project that brought together researchers from four member institutes of the Qatar Foundation: the Doha International Family Institute (DIFI), the World Innovation Summit for Education (WISE ), World Health Innovation Summit (WISH) and Hamad Bin Khalifa University (HBKU). DM/ML

This story was first published in The conversation. Raian Ali is a professor at HBKU Qatar and a visiting professor at Bournemouth University.

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