By Becky Dwinell
With everything online nowadays and accessible through our phones, kids and cell phone addiction has become a common problem. One that, when not intentionally addressed, can negatively affect our kids in big ways without them even realizing it. Here are five bad habits cell phone addiction can cause in kids, and five ways you can start teaching kids about emotions by helping kids unplug.
Bad Habit #1: Instant Gratification
The first bad habit experienced by kids and cell phone addiction is the lie of instant gratification. “If I want something, I must have it now!” Many kids today have instant access to their favorite food and drinks, instant access to the people they want to talk to, or instant access to entertainment through technology. Without realizing it, they’re being shaped to believe what they want should come quickly. When every development in today’s world is to make something faster and easier to obtain, kids are becoming impatient, anxious, and easily angered when their expectations are not met right away.
In a world where instant gratification is expected and attention spans are being subliminally shortened, we need to help kids value patience and the reward of hard work. God has things to teach us in life while we wait for the answers or situations we want, and we’ll miss out on those important milestones of faith and growth if we’re so busy being annoyed by what we don’t have, that we miss what God wants for us instead. As a friend once said: “It’s always good news when God says ‘wait’. It means He’s working things out to be even better.”
Even better, teaching kids about emotions and how working for something can help them feel even more fulfilled when they finally get it, instills lifelong resiliency, gratefulness, and independence. Practice teaching kids about delayed gratification and how to master patience when waiting on God in all things.
Bad Habit #2: Lack of Genuine Connection
With the whole world just a tap away, it’s so easy to text or call a friend whenever a child is feeling bored, lonely, or needing advice. So easy, in fact, they can neglect talking to God first. When kids and cell phone addiction mix, a lack of genuine connection with others is often a result. As human beings, we’re designed by God to desire connection with Him and others. But that connection loses power when cell phones are designed to keep us glued to their screens and not out enjoying the real world and humans in it.
When a kid feels disconnected from their true heart needs, they’ll seek that connection from outside sources like social media. The problem with this, however, is that “quick fixes” like this don’t actually fulfill our soul’s longing for deep connection with God and each other, but rather trains kids to treat their friends like commodities, share more than they should online, grow dependent on others rather than dependent on God, or become anxious and frustrated while chasing a constant dopamine high.
God wants to be our #1 friend. He is the “friend who sticks closer than a brother” and the only One who truly fills our soul. You can encourage kids to become closer friends with God by guiding them to talk to Him first when feeling an emotion before they post it online, to listen to what the Holy Spirit says when reading His Word, or by helping kids to unplug and go on prayer walks.
You can also help kids feel a deeper connection with others around them by encouraging them to ask their friends how they’re really doing, talk with them about God, or pray with and for them. Be sure to set up opportunities for your kids to socialize with other young believers and foster lifelong friendships, as well!
Bad Habit #3: Entitlement
Another way kids and cell phone addiction can have a negative impact is by instilling an attitude of entitlement. Perhaps the kid in your life already enjoys many benefits and lives a comfortable life, so they expect things to always go as they want. Or maybe they see how others live on social media and want that for themselves too. Regardless of the source, entitlement can cause kids to complain, confuse “wants” as “needs”, not show gratitude, or fall apart if things don’t go well for them.
While it’s good for us to have our basic needs met and to experience happiness in life, entitlement can grow quickly with kids and cell phone addiction when all they’re seeing is how much better off others seem to have it. However, it’s important to recognize that social media is curated to show only the good parts of life and never the ways we all struggle, while having access to technology in the first place is a privilege.
Help kids recognize God’s goodness to them and point them away from entitlement by helping kids to unplug, enjoy what they have over fixating on what they don’t, and accept the difficulties of life as opportunities to grow and care for others.
Bad Habit #4: Wasting Time
The fourth bad habit kids and cell phone addiction can develop is a habit to waste time and take it for granted. With everything curated to either revolve around their schedule and happen exactly when they want it to, or to help them forget the world around them for a while in mindless distractions, kids may think that time is theirs to spend. The result is often a habit of laziness, poor focus, or neglecting personal responsibilities.
This lie can be damaging because you never know how much time on this earth you have, and every second—every action we take—matters. But you can point them to ways they can spend their time that have eternal impact. Help kids realize that they can have a positive impact on others every single day, even by doing their chores or homework, simply by doing it with a good attitude and choosing to focus on God. When honoring Jesus is our focus, every action, every thought, and every second can become a form of worship—creating a happy heart in you, God, and others around you! You can also encourage greatness from children by sharing stories of people from the Bible or the mission field who used their time to honor God and bless others.
Bad Habit #5: Self-Centeredness
Finally, another bad habit that can form within kids and cell phone addiction is an attitude of self-centeredness. “Self-care” is a popular term in our culture nowadays, and while taking care of your emotional, physical, mental, and spiritual needs is an important lesson worthy of teaching your kids, it can turn into an ugly weed if the purpose behind it becomes self-centered. “Self-care” taken too far can often look like isolation, a selfish or rude attitude, an unhealthy “me first” mindset, or an unwillingness to care for others.
As a beautiful creation of God, you should always be teaching kids about emotions and how to take care of themselves, but never at the cost of neglecting to care for others. Healthy self-care looks like filling your own cup so you have even more to pour out for others. In Matthew 22 God says, “You shall love the Lord your God with all your heart and with all your soul and with all your mind. And…You shall love your neighbor as yourself.” Encourage kids to memorize that verse to help them weed out an attitude of self-centeredness. When loving God and others has first place in a kid’s life, practicing self-care can become a tool that helps increase their effectiveness as Christians and love others as they love themselves—well!
Help kids weed out these sneaky lies and bad habits brought on by technology before they choke out God’s truth in their lives. Teaching kids about emotions, helping them to unplug and enjoy what is present right in front of them, is the first step towards battling unhappy kids and cell phone addiction.