We keep our kids safe from stranger danger, and the dangers of alcohol and drug abuse. We understand, in part from our own experience, the inherent risks. Who has not felt relief that the kids were indoors in front of the computer screen, or plugged into their smartphone instead of out there doing who knows what, with whom?
We did not know that the real, hidden danger within our homes and their school bags was that computer screen, that smart phone. How do we warn our children of the dangers they face as digital natives in this unfamiliar, uncharted territory?
Suddenly, and scarily, the threats are revealed. The rise in digital addiction is stark: 23% of teenage boys gamble online; indeed, teenagers are more likely to gamble than they are to smoke or do drugs.
Most parents would not know how to spot the symptoms or understand what makes online gambling or digital activity addictive, making it difficult to have meaningful conversations with their children. You can tell your child to “just say no” to drugs; but how can they say no to online interaction?
Growing number of young people have online addictions. We must show them better ways to deal with life than by hiding in a digital cave.
We must be realistic. The virtual world is here to stay. Removing all access to online gambling and the digital world is impossible. Teaching the poor odds of a gambling win is of little value in stopping a gambling addiction that is about more than money.
What is possible is teaching children emotional intelligence: how to normalise uncomfortable feelings and manage them. We need to practise what we preach and provide good examples for them. Rushing in, stressed from work, we can choose not to pick up our tablet to self-sooth. Rather, why not take a walk in the park with our children and talk about how our stress reduces as a result?
Online addiction in our children may be new territory, but the pathway to it is familiar – an attempt to manage seemingly unmanageable emotions. We reduce the risk of addiction when we teach our children the best way to deal with them.
– Liz Karter