My husband is a software engineer who telecommutes and is passionate about technology. As you can imagine, our home hums with machines and gadgets powered by the latest and greatest software. One positive about this is our ongoing conversations about technology addiction. When he worked for a large video game company, I would (somewhat jokingly) tell him he did “the devil’s work,” because of the negative impact technology had on some of the children and families I worked with in my private practice. My husband and I continue to exchange opinions and facts about what we find in the news and/or research concerning how technology is used, and what we each feel is balanced for our lifestyle.
My clients have offered many conflicting opinions about the signs and symptoms of technology addiction in their families. Is this due to an increasing generational divide with regard to technology use and values about what is “normal” vs. “dependent,” or is there a consistent set of criteria that all of us can evaluate as we monitor our children’s use as well as our own?
The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, Fifth Edition (DSM-5) is the handbook used by health care professionals in the United States as the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders. There is insufficient evidence to warrant inclusion of Internet Gaming Disorder/Internet use Disorder/ Internet Addiction as an official mental disorder diagnosis. Without official criteria, I look for the following traits when working with families:
Reviewing the above behaviors, I am reminded of the power of wilderness. Living in an environment free of technology encourages students to face the thoughts, feelings, and behaviors that negatively impact them. After 24 years as a professional counselor working with children and families, I believe all behavior has meaning. The powerful wilderness setting provides the student with a testing ground to experiment with positive coping skills to address the underlying reasons for their technology addiction behavior. We use the Open Sky Student Pathway to guide this process:
Because technology is not available as a coping mechanism at Open Sky, students can address their underlying reasons for avoiding connection, feelings, or responsibilities as well as identify what needs they hope to meet through the behavior. Dr. William Glasser identified five Basic Human Needs; survival, love and belonging, power and control, freedom, and fun. In looking at this list, it is easy to see why technology would be addictive! It has the potential to meet many basic needs. My role as a therapist is to help students identify what need(s) technology is attempting to meet and mindfully evaluate if it is, in fact, meeting those need(s).
As humans, it’s easy to overlook the long-term impact of our behavior. Through their wilderness experience, students will learn to look at ALL behavior through two concepts often mentioned in therapy: mindfulness and intention. When a student evaluates their technology use with mindfulness and intention, they do so with greater awareness and are able to self-assess the short and long-term impact of their behavior. Just as students learn to make fire out of support, skill, and a few pieces of the earth, they also learn to make an internal ‘fire’ with support, skill, and a few pieces of awareness.
Our reality is that we live in a world of technology. My cell phone and tablet are within arm’s reach as I write this. We can use these devices to add to our lives in a positive manner or use them to escape from living a mindful and intentional life. It is a topic I look forward to continuing to assess and discuss with my husband as we navigate how we use it in our lives.