There is no doubt that cyber-powered living is a game changer for being a kid and parenting. As with any invention from the wheel and guns to prescription medications and smartphones, every individual must own the consequences of their choices to use or abuse these tools. So the challenge for parents in this seemingly device-and-app-centric landscape is to train our children to use the tools wisely.
And yet still there is so much we are learning about the neurological affects of living with screens as extensions of ourselves that impact the mental health of youth. According to a recent MedScape article, Sree Jadapalle, MD, a second-year psychiatry resident at Morehouse School of Medicine in Atlanta, Georgia, told reporters that Internet Addiction Disorder (IAD) is prevalent among 26% of American youth, wherein the blood centers for the pleasure centers of the brain are increased. Most parents would recognize this disorder as their children's hostile, perhaps inconsolable response to attempts to regulate and limit use of the tablets or smartphones which consume most of their time and attention.
Having overcome bipolar disorder and alcohol addiction, Diane Mintz is a Sacramento region resident who has navigated the challenging and frightening world of mental illness in her own life and with her husband’s mental illness, schizoaffective disorder. She is an author and mental health advocate who shares their story of triumph in her book, In Sickness and in Mental Health – Living with and Loving Someone with Mental Illness (2013). Last Thursday she served as a panelist at a convening of The Coalition for Placer Youth in Rocklin (dedicated to developing community strategies for youth substance abuse prevention). The topic of the panel is removing the stigma of mental illness which often involves addiction.
“We need to shed the shame associated with mental illness,” she said, “Because it is not reasonable for someone with a broken brain to fix itself and know how to fix it.” Knowing this from personal experience, she explains that she and her husband were able to recognize and provide mental health care for their children who experience some anxiety and attention deficit. Her insights are helpful for the modern parent who may encounter mental illness in youth whose brains are vulnerable to adverse impact of mobile connectivity.
In particular, Mintz cautions that overcoming mental illness and addiction requires compassion not condemnation. And it is through compassion, that loved ones can help those suffering from addition and other mental disorders find their own power by expressing confidence in the individual who is suffering to take responsibility. “Powerlessness doesn’t mean non-responsibility,” she writes. “…Our loved ones need to have firm boundaries.” This experience of empowerment as choosing how to respond to mental illness and addiction comes from her faith in the sovereignty of God who grants individuals free will. “Free will is the basis of human dignity…God met me where I was, but didn’t leave me there,” she writes.
This is the same mustard seed of faith that also makes it possible to govern the cyber-powered home with certain authority - to encourage children to exercise free will as their own decision to embrace healthy boundaries for use of cyber tools. And if they are suffering from addiction, bullying or exploitation, it is important to express confidence that they have the power to choose their response (without finding fault) so that they do not allow circumstances to define them. “We can’t live as victims and expect to get well,” she writes.
Help for children suffering from anxiety, depression and/or substance abuse: Therapeutic Solutions 360
Creating a home that empowers cyber-safe kids: A Google World in the Garden of Eden – Five Family-Safe Strategies for Texting and Social Media.