When do you start talking about addiction?

district of Nienburg. Anyone who has children of a certain age or looks after young people, for example, should know this: As soon as they smartphone or tablet, it’s hard to pry them away. The attraction of is too strong tik tok, Snapchat and Co. But at what point do parents and caregivers actually have to worry? Is it just “normal” these days for a child or young person to spend most of their free time with their smartphone or game console? And when does one actually have to speak of an addiction?

When could actually be a media addiction?

“An addiction cannot be determined by hours,” explains the psychological psychotherapist Catherine Tannahill, who heads the specialist service for counseling centers in the district of Nienburg. Rather, adults should pay attention to certain symptoms and behaviors: Are social contacts neglected? Are everyday duties being neglected? Does the child no longer go to football training or to the fire service? Does the teenager skip school? Can he easily do without his smartphone or will he become aggressive if it is taken away from him? Are there physical symptoms such as sweating when cell phones are banned?

Even if students in the School show certain behavioral problems, this can indicate a media addiction. “Children complain of headaches or stomachaches and ask to be picked up from school early. Or they run out of the classroom and disrupt the lesson. The teachers don’t know what to do. Then the student is dismissed after the second or third period,” says Tannahill, describing the experiences from her work. At home, the children would then use the time to devote themselves to their mobile phones or games consoles. It is not uncommon for parents to give up – especially when the offspring react aggressively to prohibitions.

Tannahill and her team look after families who are looking for help because of difficulties at school, truancy or domestic strife, for example. “In 99 to 100 percent of cases, increased media consumption is a problem,” says the psychological psychotherapist. She and the team leader for advice and diagnostics, social worker Franziska Böse, observe that children already have a smartphone in elementary school. “The reason is that the child must be available,” says Böse, who does not accept this reason: “The child can also make calls to the school office.”

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According to the two experts, the main problem with media consumption is that mothers and fathers do not set any limits. Although parents are aware of the possibility of limiting, they are often not so technically savvy that they can also set it up on the devices. Nevertheless, Tannahill appeals to the adults: “Follow what your child is doing, stay tuned.” And it is at least as important to show the children consistently that you don’t have to have your smartphone in your hand all the time. A sign in the playroom of the counseling centers sums it up. “Please deal with your children, not with your cell phone,” reads there.

Franziska Böse (left) and Catherine Tannahill offer parents and single parents professional help with family conflicts or acute crises. In the playroom of the counseling centers there is a sign with the appeal “Please keep your children busy, not your mobile phone.”

But for many fathers and mothers this is not easy. “The parents have the idea that the child is quiet when it consumes media, and that is a relief for the parents,” says Böse. But the child must also deal with what it consumes and process it. “And the parents should look at what the children are doing,” emphasizes Böse.

Under no circumstances should adults take it lightly when children and young people are often stuck on their smartphones or sitting in front of the game console. “Increased media consumption has a negative impact on children’s ability to regulate themselves emotionally and concentrate,” says Tannahill. Emotional self-control is about, for example, how people deal with unpleasant situations and how they cope with criticism.

What length of use is not a problem for young people?

The willingness to make an effort also decreases as a result of increased media consumption: “It’s easier if I just have to click to buy something or if I want to know something,” Böse gives examples. Another problem, especially in social media, is the impact on self-esteem when young users define themselves through likes and comments.

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But what is increased media consumption, and what length of use is not a problem for young people? According to Tannahill, the rule of thumb is that the child is allowed to consume media for as many hours per week as their age – so, for example, an eight-year-old boy is allowed to spend eight hours a week on his smartphone.

Total ban doesn’t make sense

The two experts know from experience that this rule of thumb does not apply in all families: “What we experience here is much more,” says Tannahill. She recommends parents to make a clear agreement with their children about the weekly usage time and to put it down in writing. In addition, it should be clearly defined what counts as usage time – when students are doing their homework on a laptop or tablet, this time should be excluded. “But that has to be checked,” emphasizes Tannahill.

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Both counseling center employees do not consider a complete ban on digital media to be sensible. “That would be unrealistic, after all there are iPad classes in schools, for example,” says Böse. But there should be times in family life when nobody uses media, not even the parents. Tannahill advises moms and dads not to give in to every no their child says. “There shouldn’t be any long discussions, but there should be clear consequences in the event of misconduct,” says the psychological psychotherapist. “One possibility, for example, is to take your cell phone away for a whole day.”

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Parents who feel helpless and need support because of their children’s media consumption can contact the counseling service. The employees are subject to confidentiality. The consultation is free of charge and can be done over the phone or anonymously. For more information, call (05021) 967676 or email bkje@kreis-ni.de or under www.lk-nienburg.dekeyword: specialist service advice centers.

This article first appeared in The Rake.

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