Kids Need These 3 Things, but Parents Aren't Delivering

Public Domain. Unsplash / Hal Gatewood

It's one thing to criticize kids' tech habits, but what alternatives do parents offer them?

Parents are fed up with their children's addictions to technology. According to Nir Eyal, an author and instructor at Stanford's Graduate School of Business, there are YouTube videos of parents storming into their kids' rooms and smashing devices in a desperate effort to break their habits. But as Eyal explains in an excellent article for CNBC, getting rid of the devices does not address the root causes.

Kids are addicted to video games and social media because there's so little else to capture their attention these days. Just look at how they're being raised – by parents who are so fearful for their safety that they cannot let them out of sight! They are not allowed to go anywhere on their own, play with anything remotely dangerous, manage their time on their own, or even choose their own friends. No wonder they retreat into online worlds, seemingly 'protected' within the four walls of their bedrooms, and yet arguably at far more risk than if they were out wandering the world.

Eyal says there are really only three things that kids need and that most modern parents are not providing. He likens them to the macronutrients that human bodies need to survive:

"The human psyche has its own needs in order to flourish. Distractions satisfy deficiencies. So when kids aren’t given the 'psychological nutrients' they require, they are more likely to overdo unhealthy behaviors and look for satisfaction — often in virtual environments."

These three requirements are autonomy, competence, and relatedness. In order, these mean that kids have to be free to make their own choices and choose where to direct their attention. They have to feel like they're achieving success, even if they don't fit into the standardized mold of the American education system. And they need to feel important to others, which develops through free play and time spent making in-person connections.

This is a powerful reminder to parents who might be feeling concerned about how much time their kids are spending online; and it goes to show that other parenting habits may need to change beyond simply withholding or limiting screen time. You can read Eyal's full article here. I am intrigued by his writing and have just ordered his book, Indistractible, from the library, so I'm sure you'll be hearing his name again on this site.