How my teenage daughter overcame her digital addiction

By now she was signed up to Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. We didn't even know about half the accounts she had.

The amount of time kids spend on screens is a growing concern for many parents. It often feels like whatever we try to do to moderate them is not working. While there’s no simple solution to curbing kids’ obsession with screens and social media, this story about my own teenage daughter turning a corner and walking away might give you hope…

Digital addiction among kids has become a real and worrying trend. Even Apple’s own investors have begun urging the company to do something about it.

My oldest daughter, now 16, began her love affair with screens at age 11. When she started intermediate we were encouraged by her school, at a parent evening, to provide her with an Ipad for learning and a phone to stay in touch (as our kids were becoming more independent).

Not wanting her to ‘miss out’ we obliged, giving her both – as many parents do.

In hindsight I would say we began to notice a change in her almost straight away. While she still socialised with friends and her schoolwork didn’t suffer, we found ourselves nagging her more and more to get off her phone/Ipad.

Over time she began spending more time socialising online than in person, then eventually it became perfectly normal to see her lying on her bed looking at her screen every single time we walked past her room.

Sometimes she was doing homework. But more often than not she was on Snapchat, playing Minecraft or watching Youtube videos.

I would call what we witnessed a growing addiction, which seemed to really take hold from age 13 or 14. By now she was signed up to Snapchat, Instagram, Twitter, Facebook and Tumblr. We didn’t even know about half the accounts she had.

Have you heard about streaks? On Snapchat if you exchange ‘snaps’ or messages with someone for more than three days in a row, a number appears by their name, signifying you have “a streak” going with them. Every day you keep the streak going, the number counts up and after 100 days, the 100 emoji appears.

If that’s not a ploy to keep kids coming back to the app, I don’t know what is.

Our daughter admitted to me that she had Snapchat streaks going with 100 people. She also had six Instagram accounts and one of them had a following of 50,000.

The amount of time she would have spent managing those accounts!

As terrible as we sound as parents for letting it get to that point, it’s not like we didn’t try to get her off her screen. We had time restrictions on when she could be online, we turned off the wi-fi, we took her screens away at night, we confiscated her devices for disrespectful behaviour.

We supported her to play sport so she’d at least get some time out of the house. We enforced family outings. And I nagged.

“Life is passing you by,” I would tell her. “You’re not living.

“To make real connections with people you need to actually spend time with them.”

And then one day not very long ago, completely out of the blue, she announced she was bored with spending so much time on her phone and would be quitting social media.

I almost crashed the car.

What had changed? She claims it was a slow awakening that she experienced over a period of a few months.

She had recently landed a job at a supermarket and was working up to 40 hours a week over the school holidays. As well as getting her out of bed every morning, the job kept her off her phone and then she’d come home, tired, and – I now realise – not in the mood for managing all of those streaks and accounts.

The new job also seemed to make her happier and I believe her interactions with the customers reminded her of how much she enjoyed people.

From the six Insta accounts, Facebook, Tumblr, Snapchat and Twitter she is now down to one Instagram account (we can live with that), and says there’s no looking back.

While her work clearly had an influence, she also attributes a ‘30-day minimalism challenge‘ she completed to the turnaround.

“There’s a bunch of them on Google and a lot of them say to clear out online stuff,” she says.

For some reason, the messaging struck a chord.

Did my nagging have any effect?

“I guess your nagging could have put the idea in my head or helped it along,” she conceded, “but I got rid of these accounts really slowly. It took me like six months to get to where I am now and I did it without realising. It was a subconscious thing.

“Working definitely helped though because I realised I didn’t have time and didn’t want to waste time on things like streaks.”

So what advice would she give to parents? With respect, let’s put the parenting experts and internet safety groups to one side for a moment. What does a kid who has turned a corner have to say?

“If you are nagging your kids to get off social media they’ll just continue without telling you and probably be more interested in joining more social media instead,” she says. “It’s better to just let us grow out of it I think.

“But if we have a distraction like work or sports or other hobbies it’s a lot easier for us to stay away from social media just because we don’t have time.

“I also think it’s a maturity thing, like I’ve grown out of the silly things I used to do on social media like streaks because I now see them as pointless and a waste of time.”

For the cynics out there, I asked her whether she’d just reopen her accounts in a month’s time?

“I don’t think I will reopen my accounts in a month because I’d still be working and have even more on with school and have even less time for things like that.”

I am under no illusion that she will now be offline 24/7. This is the 21st century. But I can see she has turned a corner and come to a new way of thinking.

I have never felt more relieved.

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