Electronic gadgetry and social media have become part of all of our lives. Everyone is “doing it” to some degree or another. I believe we all benefit from being conscious and cautious about electronic media in our own lives and about how to introduce and control it in the lives of our children and teens.
I’d like to share three “stories” with you to make this point.
STORY 1 – Playing with Fire.
It’s really important to learn how to handle fire. When a 5-year-old boy got curious about playing with a box of matches he thought he knew what he was doing. He had fun throwing lit matches out of his bedroom window until his house caught on fire. He had not foreseen these consequences because he was too young to understand what it meant that he was not yet mature enough to play safely with fire. So, he got burned.
STORY 2 – Developing Sexual Awareness.
Learning about sex and how to handle sexual arousal is obviously an important aspect of our development. A 12-year-old girl became curious about certain body parts and decided to “explore” with her 12-year-old neighbor boy. They followed through with their plan. She got aroused and she wanted to do it again. She got pregnant at age 15. She had not been mature enough to deal with sexual arousal. She didn’t understand that sexual arousal for a 12-year-old is as exciting as playing with fire is for a 5-year-old and that playing with fire or playing with sex before one is mature enough to handle it can lead to dire, unforeseen consequences.
The same can be said to hold true regarding exposing kids and teens to the seductive excitement of the “high” from electronic stimulation and social media, Kids and teens may think they know what they are doing; but they are not mature enough or knowledgeable enough to understand possible negative consequences on their personalities or on their social or cognitive development.
STORY 3: – Dealing with Digital/Social Media
There was a wise woman who lived on a hill preparing to go down into town for her yearly visit. On the morning of her departure she dreamed of a goose enjoying himself in a tub of slowly boiling water. The goose didn’t realize he was being cooked until a Queen pulled him out of the tub and saved his life. She wondered about the meaning of this dream.
Upon her arrival in the town she noticed some things had changed since the last time she had been there. Almost everyone she encountered was constantly checking their favorite mobile devices, much more than they had been doing before. They were either responding to a beep or a chirp or a tweet, looking up some information or trying to contact someone, often avoiding or ignoring relating with the ones they were with. At times, she wasn’t sure if someone was really crazy or not because while they appeared to be talking out loud to themselves she realized they were talking to a robot on a phone.
She went shopping, visited with friends and returned to her home on top of the hill.
A year later, prepared for her yearly visit to town, she again awoke remembering a dream in which the drinking water of the town was gradually being turned into Kool Aid. Everyone who drank the cool aid was slowly losing their mind. An old wise man had a vision of what was about to happen. He tried to warn the town folks but they didn’t believe him. They ostracized him because he appeared to be the crazy one, being so different from everyone else. After years of alienation he decided to drink the Kool Aid. Everyone in town soon came to believe that he had experienced a miraculous discovery (SEE http://www.seekeraftertruth.com/when- the-waters-were-changed/)
She wondered what the meaning of this dream might be.
Arriving in town she observed what she had seen the previous year was happening even more than it had been the year before. Even kids and teens were constantly plugged into their devices. She now heard stories from parents about how they never saw their kids anymore because the kids were up in their room looking at pictures or sending pictures of themselves on Snapchat or Instagram or watching pornography or playing war games on the computer, together, in cyber space. They had become addicted to the excitement of electronic stimulation.
Many adults were still unable to tear themselves away from their own obsessive electronics and social networking habits. She even saw moms and dads on cell phones while pushing their two year olds playing with iPads in a baby carriage.
Some parents didn’t notice or didn’t care or denied there might even be a problem at all. Others noticed and nicely asked their kids to stop or to decrease the time spent with social media. But the kids and teens wouldn’t comply because they couldn’t comply because they and their friends and the parents of their friends had all become addicted to electronic stimulation. Everyone had become seduced and addicted to the electronic High from social media.
She now understood her two dreams. Social media was gradually “cooking the gooses” of the townspeople, especially the kids and teens who were being exposed at too early an age. Their addiction was interfering with their normal social and creative development. The “Kool Aid” was their unwillingness or inability to deal with their craving for constant access to the internet whenever they felt the need. They had come to believe they shouldn’t, couldn’t or wouldn’t be denied. They were fearful over risking being cut off, out of the loop, alone, left to their own devices, sans social media.
Coming back to real time, to their credit some parents become sufficiently alarmed that they attempt to control the time their kids and teens spend with these gadgets or online. As we all know, gaining control over an addictive behavior ain’t easy. Therefore, when parents take charge kids and teens predictably rebel, like any good addict who resists giving up their addiction of choice until they got over their initial period of withdrawal.
It requires understanding and courage for parents to risk being the first ones among the families in their kids’ school or community to step up by taking a stand against electronic addiction by weaning their kids and teens from time spent on their electronic devices. But all the kids and teens whose parents do muster the courage to take control over social media seem to benefit, even from short periods of time away from their electronic “juice” and the parents who step up always feel it was worth while making the effort to deal with all the resistances and the rebellion. As I’ve said before, detox ain’t easy. It’s challenging enough for us adults to deal with our own addictions. Kids and teens are too young to be expected to learn to control their addictions by themselves. They need the benefit from parental structure and support to learn to engage with electronics and social media in moderation. The earlier the issue of electronic stimulation is addressed, the more likely kids and teens will learn to use it appropriately and the less likely they will be to “burn the house down” by becoming swept up into an addiction. Without the distractions of electronic social media our children and teens will be better able to take on their natural developmental challenges of adolescence which include learning about relating with others while developing other parts of their Mind.
Dr. Steve Wolf
Wolf Training Institute