Understanding Kid Screen-Time Attachment


The book "Hold Onto Your Kids"  by Dr. Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate, contains so much wisdom about why parents are of such vital importance to kids. The book explains all that is lost when children learn about life primarily from other kids. Peer-orientation and parental attachment are so important to understand. As a parent, it took my breath away.

This article from the Guardian sums it all up nicely, if you haven't had the opportunity to read it yet. The tips at the end about how to reattach and how to nurture attachment are spot on.

'If you focus on control, you have lost the battle: how to win back your kids'

One thing I would like to add, though, regarding technology: that is not solely about peer attachment and peer orientation. Children overuse devices and protest screen-time limits long before they use a device to connect with friends.

What is going on there?

Consider the way your child reacted when you took their beloved stuffed animal or blanket away to be washed. Consider the anxiousness they had when it was misplaced, begging you to find it NOW. Being without their beloved brought on some intense feelings!

Compare that to the meltdowns when a device is taken away. The anxiousness with which they ask when they can use it again. 

Children become attached to the device itself. It isn't a random toy, it becomes their best friend. Only, it's even more than a stuffed animal or blanket. It responds to them, always. It always has a game or a show or something to soothe or distract or entertain them. It is never working or busy or distracted. You tap on that screen, you have its full attention and engagement

Kids crave responsiveness. Kids will do almost anything to get attention. A device will always give it.


I don't say that to discourage the use of technology. I say that to help you think about it a
little differently, and manage it more effectively as a result.

Restoring Healthy Attachment.

Recognize how important it is to nurture the attachment between you and your child.
Dr. Neufeld and Dr. Maté are correct that the parent-child relationship is all-important.

When you took your child's lovey away for washing, you comforted them. You probably reassured them and had empathy for their anxiousness.

When you take your child's device, recognize that they love it. It may not be cuddly or cute or soft, but they love it.

If they are old enough to also be peer-oriented and are using the device to connect with friends, then it also represents all of their human-friends also.

Unless you have taken great care in the curation of what is on the device, chances are it has the added impact of having apps that are designed with cutting edge brain science to be addictive and to drive compulsive use.

Understanding and having compassion for that can help you to manage it without yelling so much. If you didn't yell at their sadness over losing their bear, don't yell at them for being out of sorts for being without their device.

Helpful Practices

To minimize their attachment to their device: Mind your own tech use. Many kids in therapy state, "My parents love their phones more than they love me." Kids equate attention with love. Notice how often you make eye contact with your phone and smile at your phone, and your child. If the phone gets more engagement, consider the impact of that. Your children will do what you do, more than what you say to do. That's still true, even with technology use.

Help them make conscious choices with their technology use. Ask them to choose what they want to do on their device before they pick it up. This helps them form the habit of mindful technology use and makes them less vulnerable to coercive design.

Help them plan and think about their whole day, and where technology use fits in with their day. Talk with them about having a balance of activities: physical, creative, learning, entertainment, and so on.

Treat device-use like they are leaving the house when they are on a screen.
Make sure they are prepared before they go.
Connect with them when they return: check in about how it was, and if there is anything to process or discuss.

Be interested in their journey, in their experiences.

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