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Are your kids addicted to online games and social media? Here's why and here's how to break the spell

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By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)
6/15/2018 (1 year ago)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)

Too many kids are getting hooked online.

As summer reigns, most children in the United States are home from school. For the kids, this means an opportunity to play online, all day, every day. They forget chores, post silly things online, and generally ignore the world around them. Is this healthy and can it be stopped?

How much screen time is too much? That's for you to decide.

How much screen time is too much? That's for you to decide.

Highlights

By Marshall Connolly (Catholic Online)
Catholic Online (https://www.catholic.org)
6/15/2018 (1 year ago)

Published in Marriage & Family

Keywords: Online, social media, gaming, kids, addiction


LOS ANGELES, CA (California Network) - Social media and gaming are designed to be addictive. This is how the business model works. More engagement means more revenue for the company. This is why both children and adults can spend hours staring at their screens like zombies. Behavioral psychologists have provided tech firms with the information they need to hook their customers. 

Generally speaking, social media and online gaming are not bad interests. How many children are not getting into mischief on the streets because they are indoors playing online, preferably in a place where you can watch them? That's not bad. 

Online games in particular also teach problem-solving skills, teamwork, critical thinking, basic logic, and more. Kids can forge friendships with like-minded personalities from around the world, which might be a good thing if the kids on the block are less suitable company. 

And kids who are playing online are not out smoking or engaging in other activities you might not know about. 

However, it's still a concern when a child is playing online all day and never sets down the controller. It's a real concern when the game takes all of their time and attention, when they neglect chores and responsibilities, and when they cannot bear to be away from the game for more than a few minutes.

The same goes for people who use social media, even when dining out, or visiting with family or friends, there's that one person (or several!) who spends most of their time staring at a little screen. 

Here are some tips to restore balance.

The Power of the Purse - Kids don't often have their own money. The gaming console, computer, the iPad or phone probably came from you or another adult. Their internet access also depends on you. You can cut the cord at any time. Make sure kids understand that being online in your house is a privilege and privileges are earned. 

Responsibility First - It's okay to talk to your friends on social media and to play online, but never at the expense of your responsibilities. Be clear with your children on what chores and responsibilities they have. Make it clear that their access to the internet and their devices is contingent upon their fulfillment of responsibilities. If responsibilities are not met, cut the cord without hesitation and leave it that way until you are satisfied. 

Schedule - Schedule time to play and be online. This means that at other times, the devices switch off or get put away while other, more important things take precedence. Be clear what times are for play and which times aren't. Understand that online multiplayer games cannot be paused as we could do with old video games. Sometimes your kid may ask for a few minutes before interrupting their play, which is common when they are playing with others. You decide if this is a reasonable request and if you wish to grant it; your kid will appreciate the understanding. However, you are the boss, no matter what. 

Set the Example
- Don't ask your kids to fast from social media while you use it obsessively. Asking your kid to put away their phone at the table while you scroll through your feed is hypocritical and sends the wrong message. The rules should include you to a large degree. There will be exceptions, especially if you use your device for work or need to take a call. But don't play when you expect your kids to interact with you at the table. 

Keep it Overnight
- Many parents let kids keep their devices overnight. That leads to nighttime use when they should be sleeping. If this concerns you, ask to have the device overnight. Keep the charger in your room and plug it in. In the morning, both kid and iPad should be ready to go. 

Find Alternatives - I cannot tell you how happy I was to see my kid playing with a stick. No iPad, no phone, just a stick. The primary responsibility of a child, especially a small child, is to play. Playing is critical to proper mental development. Children should have chores commensurate with their age, but much of their time should be spent at play, not work or even study. This changes as they age, and is reversed for teenagers, but even then, teenagers need to play. Even adults need to play to stay healthy. A lack of play has been linked to a decline of creativity and even criminality

Finding alternative ways to play is great. Summertime is pool time. No pool? Turn on the sprinklers or a hose. Play outdoor sports. As a child, I played countless innings of baseball with only one cousin by making up rules to account for the lack of players. Football went the same way. Countless battles were fought with sticks instead of rifles. Dirt clods made wonderful grenades. 

Indoors, Monopoly made for endless fights, Battleship taught me algorithms, and books provided endless adventure. The library was always a treat, and I often did chores just to earn a trip to the library or bookstore. Model airplanes taught me patience and how to make small, delicate things with my hands. 

Find the Good Things Online - Find the good things online. For example, Catholic Online has countless videos about the saints and other important news, information and lessons. Learn about a saint each day during the summer. Have your child watch a video and find a couple facts about the saint to share with you. It's different, it's educational, and it's healthy. 

Alternatively, you can also learn just about anything on YouTube. Ask your kid to find a video that teaches them how to do something. If you approve, give them the materials they need and let them teach themselves a new craft or skill.

The Goal
- The ultimate goal is to restore balance. It's no problem to play a game online or to take a selfie now and then and to laugh online. But there must be a balance between God, the family, school, chores, rest, and play. All these ingredients are necessary to make a person whole. If you see the balance is wrong, adjust it. Be fair, firm, and consistent. And remember, you are the parent, you control the access. You set the boundaries. 


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