All Kinds of News for June 05, 2019
Whether intended or not, wilderness therapy is one of the oldest interventions to tech overuse. From gaming addiction to simply too much time viewing screens, it is becoming clear that all of us, especially teens, are spending too much time immersed in technology. Research is showing that the consequences can include deficits in the development of fine motor skills, significant sleep disturbance, delayed social skill development, exposure to highly toxic online “relationships” (think cyberbullying and premature sexualization) and, at the very least, time spent with technology at the expense of time engaged in the face-to-face world of relationships and experiences. All too often it becomes an escape to sooth depression, anxiety, ADHD, and other internal struggles. In these cases it provides immediate relief, but worsens what it is soothing. At its worst, overuse can become addiction. The World Health Organization now has a classification for “Gaming Disorder”. The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders is sure to follow as we develop a better understanding of how tech use can be a process addiction.
It should be no surprise that humans find ourselves drawn into the tech world. In fact, it is difficult to imagine the world without computers and the screens that help people interface with the virtual world. With best intentions, parents put devices in the hands of infants and toddlers to keep them occupied, believing they are giving them a head start in a world where tech is ubiquitous. Researchers are finding that a child focused on a screen rather than reaching, grabbing and exploring the solid world around them is losing the opportunity to develop fine motor skills. Again, with good intention but without evidence, adults encourage children and teens to get a head start in a competitive world by learning as much as possible, as early as possible, about computers. Yet, studies show overwhelmingly that this does not actually result in an advantage later in life. Western culture has grown to believe that it is safer for a teen to be sitting on the couch playing videogames than being out of the house, outside of adult supervision, in an increasingly dangerous world. But what is being discovered is that teens are at far greater risk in the virtual world than they are out exploring the real one. In fact, despite popular belief, the real world is safer for children and teens than it has ever been.
Once the “screen beast” is out of its cage, what are responsible adults to do? It is nearly impossible to avoid technology altogether. But students of relationship and mindfulness are seeing great benefits from “tech fasting” (taking periods of time away from tech) as a way to reset the nervous system and to become aware of how dependent we have become on staring at screens, getting updated on social media, and relying upon technology as a means to cope with stress and loneliness.
Relatedly, professionals are experiencing strides in treating tech overuse in ways that bring about a new and healthier relationship with this “beast” that can be tamed into a useful tool.
Some good news from experience at SUWS: while the vast majority of students describe significant overuse of technology, most of them have little struggle with its absence in the woods. Field instructors and therapists do occasionally see students who experience withdrawal symptoms, including cravings and urges, mood swings, irritability, feelings of apathy, headaches, and lethargy, amongst others. But not most. Of course, the not-so-great news is that a return to overuse is almost guaranteed without a plan to curb it. That is where awareness — the student’s and the parents’ — and a solid home agreement can help continue the momentum towards a healthier relationship with tech. SUWS is talking about this with students in their care. It is important for that conversation to continue when they leave.
If you are a parent whose child rages at the interruption of a Fornite session, stares at a screen rather than attending to the face in front of them, has few in-person friends but hundreds of virtual friends, or cannot fathom a dead cellphone battery, the wilderness experience may be the best opportunity to reset and engage. And while they reconnect, we— parents and SUWS staff—can examine our own relationship with tech. Perhaps we could all benefit from more walks in the woods.
Kardaras, N. (2016). Glow kids: How screen addiction is hijacking our kids--and how to break the trance.
About SUWS of the Carolinas
SUWS of the Carolinas is a licensed, CARF International-accredited mental health facility, committed to helping families rediscover their strengths and fostering growth for young people. Operating in the Pisgah National Forest outside of Asheville, SUWS delivers wilderness based therapeutic interventions for 10-17 year old boys and girls with compassion and excellence.