Why boot camp can’t fix your child’s screen addiction
ARE your kids driving you nuts with their screen use?
Have you tried everything to reason with them and just can't seem to get on top of the situation? Never fear, screen detox camps will solve that problem for you, right?
In 2019 I've seen a significant increase in parents telling what has become an all too familiar story. It goes a little something like this: "I don't know what to do, our family is at breaking point. We spent thousands of dollars sending my son to a boot camp over the holidays and thought that would fix him, but within days of being home he was as bad as ever."
For those of you scratching your head at this new phenomenon, let me elaborate. As parents struggle to manage their children's screen time and find a healthy balance, some extreme cases are seeing screen addictions escalate to the point of violence. That is, children breaking things, punching walls and even assaulting family members when limits are placed on their devices.
And while this is not the norm, I hear all too often from parents and police officers how serious this can get.
So when an understandably desperate parent is presented with an option like a military-style boot camp to cure their children of their new-found addictions, they're often willing to try anything to break the cycle, even if that means parting with thousands of dollars for the week long experience.
Will these camps succeed in detoxing your child from screens or gaming for the period they are on camp? Sure! Will it have any meaningful impact on the choices your child or teenager makes when they arrive home? In my experience, no.
As adults, many of us are able to take on the kind education offered at boot camps in a way that sees meaningful change. But for children - who are developmentally less equipped to manage their impulses, urges and emotions - this is a huge ask.
After a recent run of parents contacting me frustrated with their child slipping back into old habits, I reached out to some of these camps to have a chat. Nothing too full on; I genuinely wanted to talk about their programs and offer some friendly suggestions.
Being fully aware that I may come across as a jerk telling them how to run their camp, I was as polite and tactful as I could be. Despite that, I was surprised at the reaction I received. They were far from warm and welcoming. One camp wouldn't respond at all, and one camp that did went to painstaking lengths to point out that they are not a digital detox camp, and that there is nothing on their website or promotional material that claims to be.
So how did all these parents assume this camp was right for their child?
It turns out there are many articles and media reports promoting these camps as a possible solution. Camp organisers have not promoted themselves that way, of course, but they are certainly not going out of their way to set the record straight.
In fact, while they claim not to promote the camp as a treatment solution, they do, strangely, have a lot of materials for parents on their website focused on how to manage screen time.
The shame of it is these camps represent a great opportunity to make meaningful change in a child' life. But in order to do that, this style of camp would need to also incorporate two key steps: education around healthy screen and gaming use and developing an awareness around how their current use is impacting on the family, and creating strategies for the parents to implement before their child arrives home.
You see, parents need time to recuperate and devise a new game plan to break the cycle at home. In my experience sending a child back into the same house with the same patterns will simply reap the same predictable outcomes.
Sometimes in this busy modern world, we parents are prone to jump at an opportunity to outsource a problem (and potential solution). Unfortunately, this particular one can be a mirage. And an expensive one at that.
So, before you consider that expensive digital detox camp, look beyond the activities offered and the military accolades and ask the staff what support and strategies are offered to the family to devise a new game-plan.
Overall as parents we need to remember that we are not perfect, and that that's okay. An imperfect solution from you as a parent is often better than a "perfect" one that is outsourced.
Brad Marshall is a Psychologist and Director of The Internet Addiction Clinic @ Kidspace.