In my therapy office, I often have to ask kids to put away their electronics. And for many, putting their phones away for 50 minutes is a struggle. Digital devices now occupy much of children's time, energy, and brain power. According to research by the Kaiser Family Foundation, kids use their electronics an average of seven-and-a-half hours each day. And it's becoming clear that too much screen time isn't just bad for kids' physical health; it's also wreaking havoc on their mental muscles.
Why Kids Need Resilience
At some point, every child will face adversity, stressful experiences, and emotional pain. Helping them build mental strength prepares them to deal with challenges in a healthy manner. Kids who grow up lacking resilience become adults who struggle to deal with hardships like failure, rejection, health problems, and relationship troubles. Consequently, adversity prevents them from reaching their greatest potential.
Fortunately, resilience is a skill that can be learned. But it takes extra effort to help kids build mental muscle in a digital world. Here are five ways technology makes it harder than ever to raise mentally strong kids:
1. Kids use their devices to avoid discomfort.
Kids don't have to be bored anymore; they can just reach for their tablets to entertain them. And they don't have to cope with sadness, anger, or frustration, either. They can escape reality by scrolling through social media or mindlessly playing games.
Rather than learning from their pain, then, many kids instead become pros at distracting themselves from discomfort. Consequently, many lack confidence in their ability to step outside their comfort zones or deal with tough circumstances head-on.
2. Families are less connected.
The ironic thing about having more phones is that families are less connected than ever. Kids are more likely to retreat to their rooms to watch TV on their personal devices than sit with their families on the couch.
Car conversations have been replaced with earbuds that stream music. Family vacations are often more about looking like you're having fun in the Instagram photos than actually enjoying quality time together.
Human connections and family bonds are integral to raising resilient kids, and quality time together is becoming overrun with screen time.
3. Kids don't spend time alone with their thoughts.
Alone time is an integral part of building the skills that help kids become resilient. But for alone time to be effective, kids have to learn how to be alone with their thoughts. Rather than learning how to be by themselves, however, most kids stare at their devices whenever they have a free second. They aren't problem-solving, reflecting on their mistakes, or practicing self-compassion.
4. Kids play less.
In between piano lessons and lacrosse practice, kids aren't playing outside with their neighborhood pals. Instead, they're more likely to unwind and relax with a movie or a video game. But unstructured play is pivotal to child development. Kids gain emotional and social skills when they're given an opportunity to play with friends without adult intervention. They learn how to compromise, express their feelings, share their opinions, and resolve conflict when they're given an opportunity to do so on their own.
5. Smartphones make kids less independent.
At first glance, you might think a smartphone would mean kids can have more freedom, because they can phone home in the event of an emergency. Sadly, smartphones have become more like electronic leashes that prevent kids from solving problems on their own.
A child who forgets his soccer cleats can call Mom and ask her to deliver them delivered to practice. Or a child who gets bored at a birthday party can call home for an immediate pick up. And many parents oblige such wishes.
Building Mental Strength in a Digital World
Despite the challenges of technology, today's world is also filled with mental strength-building opportunities, if parents are open to looking. Raising a resilient child requires a proactive approach to parenting, and a willingness to give up the bad habits that tend to hold kids back. Pay attention to how technology is affecting your family, and prioritize using electronics in a way that will help your children turn into mentally strong adults.
Want to learn how to give up the bad habits that rob kids of mental strength? Pick up a copy of 13 Things Mentally Strong Parents Don't Do.
The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation: Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18-Year-Olds