June 6, 2019
By Rhett McKenzie, MAMFC, LPC, NCC
Special to The Alabama Baptist
For some families summer break is a welcomed relief from the rigorous activities a busy school schedule creates, while for others it can be the root of even more stress as parents now have the task of keeping their children entertained for two and a half months.
Many of us have grown dependent on the “built-in babysitter” — electronics. While electronics can serve a good purpose, many parents have come to rely too heavily on technology when it comes to entertaining our children. If not monitored closely, this over-reliance can lead to addictive behaviors and can affect our children in a harmful manner.
During the past few years alarming research has been reported related to the dangerous effects electronics have on a child’s brain.
Dr. Peter Whybrow, director of neuroscience at UCLA, refers to screen technologies as “electronic cocaine.” Other researchers have called electronics “digital heroin” because they have the same addictive effects on a child’s brain as drugs.
Ironically technical designers and engineers are often among the most tech-cautious parents.
Steve Jobs, co-founder of Apple, was a notoriously low-tech parent. Many Silicon Valley tech executives and engineers choose to enroll their children in no-tech Waldorf Schools. Bill Gates’ family policy was no phones until 14.
If the creators of screen technology are taking measures to distance their own children from technology this should be an indication of just how much of an issue screen technology can be. And sadly the addictive qualities of screen technologies are only part of the problem.
Since the iPhone was introduced in 2007 levels of anxiety and depression in children and adolescents have increased exponentially. A growing number of children today report feelings of anxiety, depression, loneliness and low self-worth. Children are constantly bombarded with lies from society of what they should look like and how they should dress, act and believe in order for society to accept them.
Not only does this kind of social media pressure produce great anxiety and create unrealistic expectations and ideals but it also leads to a higher level of depression due to not being able to live up to expressed societal expectations.
The research concerning the correlation of increased anxiety and depression in children and adolescents, along with the addictive nature of screen technologies, can seem overwhelming. The good news is additional research shows what it takes to help a child become a happy and healthy adult.
Several recent studies suggest children who receive affection from their parents are happier and healthier overall. Children who feel safe and secure in their family relationships tend to have higher self-esteem, improved academic performance, better parent-child communication and fewer psychological and behavioral problems.
The summer break presents parents with an opportunity not a burden. Summer provides a chance to “detox” our children from screen technology and opportunities to make and strengthen connections with our children — to go on vacations together, to find new “adventures” around town and to invest emotionally in our children, which can carry over for generations to come.
What Scripture told us first — “Children are a gift from the Lord; they are a reward from Him. Children born to a young man are like arrows in a warrior’s hands” (Ps. 127:3–4, NLT) — and what science now confirms is this: children need affection from parents in order to have happier and healthier lives.
Just like the “warrior” or hunter who spends a great deal of hands-on time aiming his arrows so they accurately hit the mark so must we as parents invest in intimate time with our children to help them hit the mark of emotional health.
EDITOR’S NOTE — Faith & Family is a monthly look at important spiritual, cultural and relational issues facing today’s families. For more articles on contemporary topics like these go to PathwaysProfessional.org/blog.
Rhett McKenzie is a nationally certified licensed professional counselor serving Birmingham and central Alabama for Pathways Professional Counseling, a sister ministry of Alabama Baptist Children’s Homes & Family Ministries.