Is Your Daughter Addicted to Technology?

The signs she’s addicted and what you can do about it.
Is Your Daughter Addicted to Technology?
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Remember when you used to come home from school, drop your backpack on the floor or the kitchen table, and make a beeline for the phone? It didn’t matter that you’d just seen your best friend at school, not 15 minutes earlier. You had to talk to her, and the phone was the one thing you had to connect you to your social life.

Technology has come a long way since then. Now girls forgo phone calls to text, IM or Facebook (yes, it’s now a verb) day and night. Technology helps them feel included and in the loop. It allows them to share every detail of their lives as it happens, and to get immediate feedback.

But it’s not always a good thing.

Ask any mom of a tween girl, and you’ll probably hear that tech-use has gotten out of control. More than a few moms have torn open a phone bill only to find that it’s hundreds of dollars more—or even thousands more—than they expected. Some complain of family dinners or outings interrupted because their daughters can’t bear to wait to check or answer text messages. Others note that their girls have problems getting chores and homework done on time, now that Facebook has become an obsession.

What’s the solution? While some parents opt for banning cell phones, e-mails, IM-s and social networking sites for as long as possible, others have decided that since the technology is here to stay, it makes more sense to try to deal with it by setting up strict (and clear) rules. A few that they live by:

  • No texting while you’re talking to someone else, during family outings, meals etc.
  • No phone, texting, or computer after bedtime.
  • Tech privileges directly coincide with behavior. Homework not done on time? Phone is gone. Talking back? Say goodbye to Facebook. 

Clearly communicated guidelines like these are essential—there’s nothing more effective. But it’s also important to understand where our girls are coming from. Family therapist and mom of two girls Stacy Kaiser says that at this age, our girls are trying to separate from us, building a support network outside our home and also bringing it in, allowing them to branch out and stay safe at the same time. This gives us the perfect opportunity to support that while creating an even better relationship with them—a relationship that’s more open and trusting. 

Being in tune with our daughters’ emotional needs can help us determine whether the excitement and anxiety around technology is part of their normal growth process or something more—possibly even an addiction. How can we tell the difference? 

Ask yourself:

  • Does she use technology to avoid her life? Is she suddenly late for school, missing activities or not getting her homework done? Are her grades slipping?
  • Do you find yourself dragging her to the dinner table? Nagging her to finish chores?
  • Is she overly-stressed, withdrawn, or anxious? Difficult to get along with?

Kaiser says any of these signs can mean a potential problem. “I can spot the tech-addicted girls….[they] show up to school—hair a mess, they haven’t eaten breakfast, they’ve forgotten their lunch—they can’t pull themselves away from being online and don’t have time for the everyday things they need to do.”

Talk…and Listen

Finding out what your daughter thinks her needs are can be a great first step in opening up the lines of communication. Asking her “What’s the worst thing that could happen if you don’t answer a text right away?” or “Why do you think it’s so hard to disengage?” can lead you to great insights into where she’s coming from. For example, she may think that logging on relieves her stress, but it’s likely that she’s more stressed because of her constant need to connect. By asking questions—without sharing opinions or judgments—you can not only understand her better, you can help her think about her actions in a different way.

As many of us have discovered, conversations with our daughters can be an eye-opening, exhilarating and often-frustrating process. But remember: You don’t have to go it alone. We help girls look at their tech use in “Is Technology Ruling Your Life?” in our October/November 2009 issue.  It will get your daughter thinking about what she might be missing out on if she rarely unplugs, and how she can go about setting limits on her tech use—even if her friends object. (After reading it, she may even enlist your help to do so!). It’s also a great conversation-starter.

Make a Plan

If you’ve decided your daughter is spending too much time with her tech, it can be tempting to just pull the cell phone and computer away entirely. End of problem, right? But by doing so, you’re missing the opportunity to teach her an important life lesson. Prioritizing work and leisure time is a skill even adults struggle with. Learning it at a young age will help her create healthy habits for a lifetime to come. A better approach:

  • Identify blocks of time throughout the day when she’s allowed to plug in as she pleases—texting, going online, playing video games, etc. Maybe she even gets extra time on weekends.
  • As long as she’s still meeting her responsibilities and sticking to house rules, that time belongs to her.
  • Special occasion? Go hog wild. Let her decide her priorities. When the day is over, it’s back to the rules.

Let’s face it: Our girls aren’t the only ones often spending too much time online. More and more moms are turning on the computer or reaching for the cell phone before they even have that first sip of coffee in the morning. “Do as I say and not as I do” just doesn’t work. If you’re challenged by a lack of balance in your life, your daughter will follow your example. So log off, step back, and find balance together. The whole family will benefit.

 

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