“Daaaaaad! Stooooop! Let me finish!”
My son turns 14 in a few weeks. In the last few of those years, my wife and I have noticed an unpleasant trend: the more time he interacts with any sort of digital content through his laptop or mobile phone, the more difficult it is for him to control his negative impulses.
Of course, the word “addiction” didn’t cross our minds for most of this time. After all, one of these toys – his laptop – was mandated by his school for “educational purposes.” But all parents these days have heard the debates about screen time limits for children, pro and con, and it’s difficult to reconcile what to do given prevalence of technology in our everyday lives.
Then I stumbled on a book about a year ago called Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked by Adam Alter, a professor of marketing and psychology at NYU. It offers some stark warnings about personal technology designs such as how interfaces in our computing/mobile devices are saturated with constant lure. If you haven’t read it yet, please do. He also offered concise thoughts in several interviews, which are available on YouTube.
My wife and I feel very lucky to have caught this addictive technology issue early and to have accepted the reality of the gadget-saturated world we live in. We consider ourselves lucky because we understood the negative influence of “smart” devices on our kids’ behaviors early enough to be able to actively curate it – as best as we can. We’re even more lucky to have enough stoicism when setting rules for use of tech in our house and listening to our son — and now our daughter, who just turned 8 — lament about restrictions. (No, we’re not saints. Not even close. I am quite susceptible to pings, buzzes and beeps of my work and personal phone. I also use the LinkedIn business app as my digital newspaper and thought leadership channel – all through my devices.)
Combating addictive technology everyday
Based on our experience, we can see two clear bright spots:
- We never stop talking to our kids about the dangers of addiction to devices. We also set passwords and time limits as an additional layer of control. Begrudgingly, they have come along. This helps them develop stronger emotional core.
- We make it a point to get our kids involved in extracurricular activities like sports and arts – anything to make them do and feel things in the real world. In parallel, we try our best to curate their consumption of digital content. We don’t kid ourselves – it doesn’t always work. Just recently our daughter was watching what we thought was an innocent YouTube video of someone playing Minecraft. I was lucky enough to be near when I noticed how the character decided to …. amputate his arm!
It’s not and won’t be easy in the foreseeable future to manage our children’s exposure to technology. The pace of innovation in that field is far outpacing our cognitive abilities and ethical design is only now coming into focus. So my final word of advice is this: Pay attention and be addicted to a balance in your kids’ engagement with tech.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
Ilya Umanskiy, a father of two, lives in lower Manhattan. His family recently relocated from Hong Kong after five years abroad. In his professional life, Ilya helps clients manage operational and reputational risks and advises young and aspiring professionals on soaring above mediocrity. His family time includes soccer, ballet, running and yoga.