Roseway Waldorf school recently hosted well-known child psychologist Tim Barry for a discussion about the effects of technology on children, education, families, and communities. Last month we looked at an overview of technology and its effects on our children. This month we’re looking at the warning symptoms of a tech-addicted child.

Is your child addicted to technology? Or at risk of becoming addicted?

Most parents would agree that one of their worst nightmares is the idea of their children becoming addicted. To anything.

Even  so, many of us blithely overlook the potentially addictive nature of technology – especially on our children’s growing minds.

Know the Signs: How to Spot a (Potential) Tech Addict:

At a Family Therapy Networker symposium some years ago, child psychologist Ron Taffel described the typical profile of a child at risk for becoming addicted to technology, or already in the grip of a technology addiction.

  1. Pseudomature – young people who spend unhealthy amounts of time using their various devices often come across as sophisticated and worldly-wise on the outside, but once you spend some time getting to know them, there’s little substance on the inside.
  2. They tend to be aliterate – these youngsters are not illiterate. They can read. They are simply not interested in reading. Reading introduces our minds to the idea that the world is ponderous and complex. On the other hand, technology promises us that everything is fast and easy. It’s probable that most of us would choose fast and easy if we felt we had the option. But life is complex and nuanced. Without the preparation for that depth offered by reading a range of books on a number of subjects, children can’t hope to be prepared for the world they will inherit.
  3. They have lost the calculus of wonderment – Tech-addicts seem to coast through life in a jaded haze, showing no sense of awe or wonder anymore – no sense of amazement. Nothing is new to their eyes. Nothing is bright, original, incredible. They tend to be disengaged from the world around them, and natural beauty elicits little amazement or joy.
  4. They avoid rule-driven pursuits. With technology, there’s seldom a consequence for getting something wrong. If you’re playing a game online, or even building a programme, no one knows about your mistakes and failures if you don’t tell them. No one gets hurt (including you – despite your fragile ego’s protestations to the contrary).

    In the real world:
  1. There is a consequence for failure – and the opportunity to learn from it … not to mention the motivation to do so.
  2. Success plus practise leads to a genuine sense of mastery – not so with technology. We may feel accomplished for having levelled up in Candy Crush, but it’s a hollow victory with no real-world benefits or application.
  3. There is a real element of danger, either to your body or your ego. It may not seem courageous to play the piano, for example, but doing so in front of a packed Royal Albert Hall takes a good deal of courage – and requires enormous amounts of discipline and practise.
  • At-risk and tech-addicted young people use a lot of “pop speak”. Joseph Chilton Pearce, author of Magical Child, describes the loss of vocabulary of the average teenager something like this: “They can’t carry on a conversation. Standard words have been subsumed by ‘like’ and ‘whatever’.”
  • Children addicted to technology tend to have lost respect for adults, and are unlikely to have adult mentors. There’s a cautionary tale about a marketing conference once convened with the sole purpose of countering the parent veto. The goal? To make kids buy more. The story goes that these marketing executives determined that if you portray adults as idiots, kids will dismiss them. They will prefer to be raised, effectively, by corporations.
    Children who are raised by their parents, who have clear boundaries and social expectations, and who have a low view of worldly success tend to be grateful – they know what their parents have given up.
  • They are fascinated by famous people – especially the vapid, famous-for-being-famous types. To the tech-addicted youngster, popularity is key: being popular is more important than doing right.

Virtual Fast Food

Those children whose free time is saturated by screens are essentially subsisting on an entertainment diet of fast food. But technology can never take the place of healthy social interaction, and the kinds of adventures that develop us into the adults we need to become. After a while, the hi-tech entertainment no longer fills the hole it used to … so they fill it with more tech. Soon it becomes addictive. The cure becomes the disease.

Taffel explained that children in danger of becoming addicted or in the grip of this addiction don’t live within their bodies. In fact, they see their bodies as some kind of mobile billboard, always being updated for a critical audience.

We have all heard stories about how an “innocent” online prank or even a simple digital interaction can go horribly wrong. The consequences can be devastating. When it comes to living online, things can easily (and quickly) get out of control. What makes many of those stories even scarier is that often it’s well-meaning, intelligent adults making those mistakes online. How, then,  can we expect our kids to navigate the web safely?

Building Tomorrow

For both parents and teachers, it’s key to remember that we are raising tomorrow’s adults. We need to give them critical thinking skills, and the ability to discern what’s good for them. This doesn’t happen on a steady diet of digital media and no adult intervention. It can only grow in the fertile, healthy soil of a childhood filled with play, adventure, real experiences, and opportunities for genuine mastery.

So: is it an addiction?

If your child says, “I’ll just watch this or play that for an hour, then I’ll do something else,”  but then spends a good deal more time on it than they said they would, that should sound a warning siren. They may not feel like they can stop. And they probably don’t feel like they want to. If that’s the case with your child, then it’s a problem. Talk to them today about healthier habits, or speak to a professional for help.

Roseway Waldorf school advocates keeping young minds free from the effects of technology for as long as possible, to allow their natural growth processes to flourish. To find out more about our research on the subject, call us on 031 768 1424 and we’ll put you in touch with the right person to answer your questions.

Tim Barry practices in Hilton, Pietermaritzburg. He can be contacted on 082 577 7128, or via email at