Q: I am the mother of three daughters (15, 13, and 11). Although I try to set limits, technology is ruining my family life. My oldest daughter in particular is addicted to Facebook, Skype, texting, etc.—whenever I try to reduce or eliminate her access, she finds a way to be in touch with her friends. Plus, when she does interact with friends via technology, she gets anxious, which leads to increased use. What do you suggest?
-Anxious about Addiction, Metro West suburb, MA
A: Dear Anxious,
As a teenager, your daughter is pursuing key developmental tasks through her media use—seeking experience, establishing individual identity, and connecting with peers. But the amount of time she is devoting to it, the exclusion of family, and the anxiety she is experiencing when interacting via technology—and the fact that she responds to it by increasing her use—are cause for concern and could be symptoms of addictive behavior. Although the formal diagnosis has not been established in this country, Internet Addiction Disorder is a recognized and serious problem in parts of Asia and Europe, and it is causing real problems for American adolescents and their families.
Address this issue quickly, directly, and with compassion. First, at a time when things are good and you are not in open conflict about your daughter’s media use, sit down and have a conversation with her. Ask how she feels about her media use. Listen to her. She may be unhappy or uncomfortable and may say so if she doesn’t feel criticized or attacked. Then, when the opportunity presents, tell her that she seems anxious when she communicates online, and that you are concerned for her. Ask her what she thinks might help.
It’s possible that she’s feeling lots of pressure to be constantly available. If she acknowledges that that’s the case, enlist her help in finding peace for herself and your family, but be prepared to help her with concrete guidance and boundaries. Offer to take the blame if her friends criticize her for not being available at all times—she can complain that mom takes the phone away to charge it between 9 pm to 6 am, or for even longer if she uses it too much. This way, she can save face while reducing her anxiety, as well as learning to manage her media use in the context of everything else she needs to do in a day.
It is possible, though, that she will resist any and all of your attempts to address the situation with her. If nothing you try works—if she really can’t stop and it continues to wreak havoc for her and your family—you may need to seek professional help.
Enjoy your media and use them wisely,