DEFINING EXCESSIVE TECHNOLOGY USE
The definition of ‘excessive technology use’ is not just based on the absolute quantity of exposure; instead, it is based on how it impacts different functions (Howard-Jones, 2011). For example, a child who has to complete an assignment on the computer may spend six hours getting the assignment done. This is different to a child who spends six hours a day after school video-gaming and surfing the internet at the expense of face-to-face interactions with family, interaction with peers that are calling, exercising, and doing schoolwork.
It is important to note that excessive technology behaviour exists for a variety of reasons, and is particularly prominent in people with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder, Autism Spectrum Disorder, Depression, Anxiety disorder, personality disorder and other emotional and behavioural disorders.
TECHNOLOGY USE AS PART OF NORMAL DEVELOPMENT
Using technology such as televisions, mobile phones, computers and tablets to send mail, chat, use social media, play games, watch videos or go on visit websites is part of the daily routine for most children. Technology has resulted in exciting new ways for children to communicate, learn, socialise, play, stay informed, relax, entertain and foster creativity.
TECHNOLOGY USE AS BEHAVIOUR OF CONCERN
Technology use can become “problematic” or “excessive” when the content, duration (length of time), frequency (how often), and the posture that is adopted during its use (Mustafaoğlu, et. al, 2018), leads to the following problems:
- A variety of health risks including:
- Developmental problems (e.g. behavioural, learning and attentional problems, language, social/emotional delays) (Martin, 2011; Pagani et al, 2010),
- Musculoskeletal problems (e.g. headache, neck and wrist pain and backache) (Borhany et al., 2018),
- Reduction in physical activity and exercise and increased sedentary activity (Rosen et al., 2014),
- Increased obesity due to poor eating habits and/or lack of exercise (Rosen et al, 2014),
- Inadequate sleep quality, quantity and timing (Shochat, 2012), and
- Adverse mental and social health (e.g. loneliness, depression or depressive symptoms, withdrawal and anxiety and family relationship dynamics) (Martin, 2011; Villegas, 2013).
- Interference with normal day-to-day functions.
- Becomes difficult to control (Howard-Jones, 2011).
IMPACT OF EXCESSIVE TECHNOLOGY USE
When a child begins to persistently exhibit excessive technology use, the climate of the context (e.g. childcare, early childhood, primary and secondary school, disability support and youth services) can change dramatically. A considerable amount of time and energy can be spent on the child showing the excessive technology use, which can have a deleterious effect on the quality of the learning experience for all the children. Research consistently shows that managing behaviour is linked to staff experiencing high levels of stress, burnout and job dissatisfaction.
Ethan is a fifteen-year-old teenager who has always enjoyed technology use. As soon as he would arrive home he would quickly do his chores and homework because it would be followed by technology use. His parents would set him a time limit and most of the time he would stop using the technology when the time was up. His parents realised that without scheduling outside activities he would stay on the technology all day. So during the week they booked Ethan into cricket, swimming and music classes. After those activities, no matter how late they arrived home, Ethan had to have some time on technology.
During the COVID-19 pandemic he had to do online schooling for eight months. Ethan struggled with online schooling and found the work extremely difficult. He kept falling behind in the weekly assigned tasks and it got to a point where he felt there was no point in even trying. Due to the social distancing laws Ethan could not leave the house which left him with a few options of things to do in the day. This resulted in Ethan spending an excessive amount of time on his iPad playing games, watching videos and surfing the internet. It almost got to a point that it was only during mealtimes, going to the toilet and showering that Ethan did not use technology. Over time his parents found it hard to get him to stop using it and move onto something else. Whenever they asked him to stop using his technology he would snap, yell, or become aggressive and refuse to stop. A battle would then ensue, but if his parents did not ask him to stop, he would continue playing all night without taking any breaks. Also, Ethan’s parents could see Ethan becoming withdrawn, less interactive and not willing to go outside the house.
When school re-opened Ethan refused to go back to school. The only way his parents managed to get him back to school was to give into his demands of purchasing better technology and certain games for his birthday. When Ethan returned to school, over the first couple of days he appeared to sit quietly at the back of the class working on his laptop. However, the IT department of the school reported to the teacher that he actually spent most of the day watching videos, playing games and looking at websites. The school worked with his parents to identify ways to limit his access to the laptop. If Ethan did not have access to his laptop within a class, he would often leave the class without permission within the first ten minutes. When in class he would distract other children and when told to do his work he would become easily upset, annoyed and revert to excessive technology use. During recess and lunch time he often would go to the library or the computer room to access technology. He also started skipping days when he couldn’t access the library or computer room. His parents and teaching staff are extremely concerned.
Hence, excessive technology use affects everyone involved and the child who is engaging in excessive technology use requires necessary help to learn positive ways of behaving and managing their emotions.
POSITIVE BEHAVIOUR SUPPORT AND EXCESSIVE TECHNOLOGY USE
Positive Behaviour Support (PBS) is an evidence-based approach that is used to eliminate or minimise the occurrence of challenging behaviours.
PBS recognises that there is no single cause for excessive technology use. It is a complex behaviour that is a product of the interaction between multiple factors contributing to its development and persistence.
Excessive technology use is like the tip of the iceberg so it is essential to look beneath the surface to work out the why before we can address the problem.
There are three main setting-related factors which impact the child and their behaviour:
- activity, and
These factors place different demands on the child and when any of these demands outweigh the child’s skills to cope with them, the child engages in excessive technology use.
In the previously discussed case of Ethan, as he had not been participating in online schooling, when he did return to school, he actually had regressed in previously learnt skills and found the classwork too advanced and difficult. As he had not been participating in the online sessions during the lockdown, he also had become isolated from his peers. When he returned to school, he did not have the same sense of belonging and connection. As Ethan had spent most of the time alone in his room engaging with technology, the return to the classroom where there were lots of people, noise, movement and clutter was creating sensory overwhelm and overload for him.
The example highlights that excessive technology use is not without purpose. It is never too late to address excessive technology use, even if it has been occurring for a while.
Developing a comprehensive and individualised PBS plan to address the excessive technology use involves three stages: Assess-Manage-Prevent.
- ASSESS: How to identify the reasons for the excessive technology use,
- MANAGE: How to respond when excessive technology use occurs, and
- PREVENT: How to minimise or eliminate the occurrence of excessive technology use.
Assess Stage Aims
The Assess stage aims to identity:
- Activities during which the excessive technology use occurs,
- Environments in which the excessive technology use occurs, and
- People dealing with the excessive technology use.
Assess Stage Checklist:
- Child’s profile – Gather information about the child to create a comprehensive picture of the child, their abilities and needs.
- Behaviour data collection forms – Record measurable details (e.g. frequency, intensity, duration) about the child’s excessive technology use.
- Functional Behaviour Analysis (FBA)- Systematically reflect on an incident by analysing the antecedents (what preceded the excessive technology use), describing the excessive technology use, consequences (what happened after the excessive technology use).
- Hypothesis – Determine the purpose (function) that the excessive technology use served.
Manage Stage Aims
The Manage Stage outlines how to effectively respond to the behaviours that occur before the excessive technology use and after. Appropriate responses can help to safely defuse, redirect, and de-escalate the situation in the least disruptive manner.
Manage Stage Checklist:
- Escalation stages – Help those supporting the child to recognise the number of stages the child exhibits as their emotion rises (i.e. mild escalation, moderate escalation, extreme escalation and recovery stage).
- Escalation profile – Help those supporting the child to recognise what non-verbal and/or verbal behaviours are exhibited in the different escalation stages and how long it can last.
- De-escalation plan – Help those supporting the child with guidelines on how to immediately respond when the behaviour occurs, safely defuse and de-escalate the situation in the least disruptive manner.
Prevent Stage Aims
This stage aims to prevent the occurrence of the excessive technology use by minimising or avoiding the triggers that cause it and teach the child alternative behaviours.
Prevent Stage plan
The plan details strategies to minimise or avoid the triggers that contribute to the excessive technology use by providing the child with:
- Supportive environments – Tailoring environment related aspects to minimise or avoid triggers that set off excessive technology use.
- Supportive activities – Tailoring activity related aspects to minimise or avoid triggers that set off excessive technology use.
- Supportive interactions – Tailoring interaction aspects to minimise or avoid triggers that set off excessive technology use, and
- Teaching the child – Teaching the student positive ways of communicating their messages and managing their emotions and behaviours.
E FOR EXCESSIVE TECHNOLOGY USE: POSITIVE BEHAVIOUR SUPPORT GUIDE
Use the practical tools (checklists, forms, and strategies) in E for Excessive Technology Use: Positive Behaviour Support guide to develop comprehensive PBS plans that can be used to support children of all ages consistently in all settings.
This invaluable guide is useful for parents, caregivers, educators in childcare, early childhood, primary and secondary schools, disability, mental health, allied health, and supervisory professionals.
- Borhany, T., Shahid, E., Siddique, W. A., & Ali, H. (2018). Musculoskeletal problems in frequent computer and internet users. Journal of family medicine and primary care, 7, 337–339.
- Howard-Jones, P. (2011). The impact of digital technologies on human wellbeing: Evidence from the sciences of mind and brain. Nominet Trust, Oxford, England.
- Martin, K (2011). Electronic Overload: The Impact of Excessive Screen Use on Child and Adolescent Health and Wellbeing. Department of Sport and Recreation: Perth, Western Australia.
- Mustafaoğlu, R., Zirek, E., Yasacı, Z., & Razak Özdinçler, A. (2018). The Negative Effects of Digital Technology Usage on Children’s Development and Health. Turkish Green Crescent Society, 5, 13-21.
- Pagani, L. S., Fitzpatrick, C., Barnett, T. A., & Dubow, E. (2010). Prospective associations between early childhood television exposure and academic, psychosocial, and physical well-being by middle childhood. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine, 164,425-431.
- Rosen, L. D., Lim, A. F., Felt, J., Carrier, L. M., Cheever, N. A., Lara-Ruiz, J. M., Mendoza, J. S., & Rokkum, J. (2014). Media and technology use predicts ill-being among children, preteens and teenagers independent of the negative health impacts of exercise and eating habits. Computers in human behavior, 35, 364–375.
- Shochat, T. (2012). Impact of lifestyle and technology developments on sleep. Natural Science Sleep, 4, 19-31.
- Villegas, A. (2013). The Influence of Technology on Family Dynamics. Proceedings of the New York State Communication Association: Vol. 2012, Article 10. Accessed on 2nd of November 2020 from at: http://docs.rwu.edu/nyscaproceedings/vol2012/iss1/10