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About the Author
Pamela Ovwigho, Ph.D., is Executive Director of the Center for Bible Engagement, a division of Back to the Bible. She has spent the past seven years analyzing the spiritual lives of more than 130,000 people. When she’s not asking people questions, Pam is busy fixing up the 100-year-old Nebraska farmhouse she shares with her husband and children.
Read an Excerpt
Managing Your Family's High-Tech Habits
(From Video Games to the Dark Side of the Web)
By Arnie Cole, Pam Ovwigho, Michael Ross
Barbour Publishing Inc.Copyright © 2015 Back to the Bible
All rights reserved.
Hashtag Help: Cluing In to Our Electronic Addictions
Definitions and a Self-Evaluation Quiz
Search me, God, and know my heart; test me and know my anxious thoughts.
Although it seems as though everyone is looking down at a little gadget screen these days, our experiences vary quite a bit. What may be an obsession for one person could be just a minor tool in the life of another. Before diving into our discussion about electronic addictions, consider these true life stories:
Lightning pierces the dark Midwestern sky and thunder shakes the walls of her old farmhouse. Joyce sits straight up in bed, startled awake by the night storm. She rolls over and grabs her phone to see the time. 3:23 a.m. She quickly flips over to her texts to see if there are any tornado warnings. Thankfully there are none. She leans back in the bed, scrolling through the other text messages. She flips to her email and glances through what has come in since she last checked a few hours ago. Pretty much just advertisements from her favorite (and not-so-favorite) stores. Noticing her Facebook icon has some notifications, she opens that to browse through her newsfeed. Faith has completed the '80s rock band quiz and got REO Speedwagon. Joyce opens it to see which one she's matched with.... Before she knows it, the clock reads 5:00 a.m., little time to sleep before her alarm will sound.
While an Oklahoma couple were busy living out their fantasies in a video game, police say in real life their two-year-old daughter was starving to death. Mark Knapp, 48, and Elizabeth Pester, 33, of Tulsa, have been arrested and charged with child neglect and abuse after their young daughter ended up in a hospital in critical condition. According to the arrest report obtained by Tulsa World, the couple's two-year-old daughter was rushed to St. Francis Hospital weighing only 13 lbs. When officers came to take the parents into custody, they said Knapp and Pester were busy playing video games.
Have you ever worried that you or someone you love is addicted to their smartphone, iPad, Xbox, or some other electronic gadget? Given the huge role these devices now play in our lives, it's not surprising if you have. In fact, you'd be in good company. Typing the question "Am I addicted to my phone?" into a search engine yields an impressive 15 million hits. These include quizzes and tips from places such as WebMD, wikiHow, CNN, and the Huffington Post.
There's the story of Kevin Holesh, a Pittsburgh-based developer, who developed an app to monitor and set limits on how much time he spends on his iPhone. Kevin noted that he had fallen prey to the endless distractions his phone provided. In a blog post, he describes how evenings spent cooking and walking the dogs with his bride changed: "As we settled in to our new lives together, our evenings got progressively lazier. We'd only take a two-block walk with our dogs and we'd have a movie queued up before we even microwaved leftovers for dinner. We would sign off our work computers at 6pm and immediately wander into the living room and open up our iPhones. Bring on the distractions." A quick look at the statistics on how we use our devices reveals some trends that are definitely worth noting:
Industry experts estimate that smartphone users check their phones, on average, 110 to 150 times a day. Over a twelve-hour period, that's about one check every six to seven minutes.
The majority of us keep our phones within arm's reach most of the time. Two-thirds of adult smartphone users and 90 percent of teens sleep with or next to their phones.
We use our phones in some surprising places, including while driving (55 percent), on dinner dates (33 percent), in movie theaters (35 percent), in church (19 percent), and in the shower (12 percent).
According to author and game developer Jane McGonigal, "We spend 3 billion hours a week as a planet playing videogames.... The average young person today in a country with a strong gamer culture will have spent 10,000 hours playing online games by the age of 21. Now 10,000 hours is a really interesting number. For children in the United States 10,080 hours is the exact amount of time you will spend in school from fifth grade to high school graduation if you have perfect attendance."
Between standard text messaging and "over-the-top" chat/messaging apps, more than 36 billion text messages are sent each day. The average teen sends fifty to sixty messages a day.
Two out of three Americans have a profile on a social networking site. Most check social media, particularly Facebook, every day.
The numbers don't lie: technology has become a significant part of our daily lives. And there's a good reason why most of us keep our smartphones with us 24/7—we can accomplish so much with them! There's the practical side: we can check the time, weather, our schedule, our kids' schedules, and checklists and deadlines; we can track our calories eaten and expended, even our blood pressure and heart rate! Then there's the social side: Did my niece make it to Texas okay? How is Diane celebrating her birthday today? Has Alice gone into labor yet?
And of course we can't forget the fun side: Is it my turn in Words with Friends yet? Maybe I can beat that high score in Candy Crush today.
Yet some are concerned that we're getting too attached to our high-tech gadgets. Reporting on a study of brain scans comparing our minds "on technology" to those of known drug addicts, one journalist writes:
The current incarnation of the Internet—portable, social, accelerated, and all pervasive—may be making us not just dumber or lonelier but more depressed and anxious, prone to obsessive compulsive and attention deficit disorders, even outright psychotic. Our digitized minds can scan like those of drug addicts, and normal people are breaking down in sad and seemingly new ways.
"There's just something about the medium that's addictive," says Elias Aboujaoude, a psychiatrist at Stanford University School of Medicine, where he directs the Obsessive Compulsive Disorder Clinic and Impulse Control Disorders Clinic. "I've seen plenty of patients who have no history of addictive behavior—or substance abuse of any kind—become addicted via the Internet and these other technologies."
Dr. Peter Whybrow, director of the Semel Institute for Neuroscience and Human Behavior at UCLA and author of The Intuitive Mind: Common Sense for the Common Good, argues that for many people the computer is essentially electronic cocaine. He says, "Our brains are wired for finding immediate reward. With technology, novelty is the reward. You essentially become addicted to novelty."
Although smartphone addiction and video game addiction has become part of mainstream conversation, the professional community of psychologists and psychiatrists is not completely sold on the idea. Curiously, the term "Internet addiction disorder" was first introduced by psychiatrist Ivan Goldberg in 1995 as a spoof on the American Psychological Association's tendency to create a diagnosis for every excessive behavior. He was flabbergasted when several colleagues emailed him to say that they suffer from the disorder and need help.
Does My Health Plan Cover Smartphone Addiction?
In the 2013 update of its Diagnostic and Statistical Manual, the manual used by mental health professionals for diagnoses and treatment, the American Psychological Association (APA) did not include Internet addiction, smartphone addiction, or online gaming addiction as a classification. They did, however, include "Internet gaming disorder" as a "condition warranting more clinical research and experience before it might be considered for inclusion in the main book as a formal disorder." The APA's decision largely stems from a lack of empirical evidence about whether this is a definable disorder. Although a number of studies have been published, they generally have design flaws that limit their scientific rigor.
Another main point of contention is whether someone can actually be addicted to a behavior, as opposed to a substance such as alcohol or cocaine. While the term addiction is now commonplace, the scientific definition of addiction has evolved over time, reflecting a deeper understanding of the physical and psychological factors involved. Currently, the American Society of Addiction Medicine provides this definition:
Addiction is a primary, chronic disease of brain reward, motivation, memory and related circuitry. Addiction affects neurotransmission and interactions within reward structures of the brain, including the nucleus accumbens, anterior cingulate cortex, basal forebrain, and amygdala, such that motivational hierarchies are altered and addictive behaviors, which may or may not include alcohol and other drug use, supplant healthy, self-care related behaviors. Addiction also affects neurotransmission and interactions between cortical and hippocampal circuits and brain reward structures, such that the memory of previous exposures to rewards (such as food, sex, alcohol and other drugs) leads to a biological and behavioral response to external cues, in turn triggering craving and/or engagement in addictive behaviors ... The frontal cortex of the brain and underlying white matter connections between the frontal cortex and circuits of reward, motivation, and memory are fundamental in the manifestations of altered impulse control, altered judgment, and the dysfunctional pursuit of rewards (which is often experienced by the affected person as a desire to "be normal") seen in addiction—despite cumulative adverse consequences experienced from engagement in substance use and other addictive behaviors.
Let's unpack several features of this definition. First, addiction results from changes in our brain's reward circuitry. God has created us with marvelously intricate and complex bodies and minds, with neural circuits and neurotransmitters that perform a variety of functions in a delicate balance. While many of us realize that our brain chemistry affects our behavior, the reverse is also true: our behavior can affect our brain. We'll talk about this in more detail in the next chapter.
A second key point in the definition is that we become addicted to things that provide us some type of reward or pleasure. Our memories of that pleasure motivate us to seek out whatever caused it more and more. Repeated exposure changes our brain circuitry, decreasing our ability to resist the temptation and altering our judgment of how much it is really controlling us. Someone who is truly addicted experiences cravings for the reward, must use increasing amounts to feel the same effect, and feels withdrawal symptoms when they don't have it. We are still in the early stages of understanding if and how these things are true when we speak of technology use. However, science has established that interacting with high-tech gadgets does activate the pleasure centers in our brains. Moreover, we crave novelty, something the Internet, online games, and social media excel in providing.
Separating the Evidence from the Hype
As mentioned earlier, the wealth of research conducted today on the topic suffers from a number of problems, including biased samples (for example, large numbers of college students responding to an ad about Internet addiction) and designs that can't tease out cause and effect. The emerging evidence does suggest, however, that there is cause for at least some concern. Anecdotal evidence and some limited surveys suggest that a minority of people develop unhealthy habits related to Internet use, video games, or smartphone usage. Because there is no established definition of Internet addiction or gaming addiction, estimates of how many people are affected range widely. The most reliable US estimates, however, fall into the range of 1.5 percent to 8.9 percent of the population experiencing Internet addiction.
Recent news reports highlight the South Korean government's concerns about Internet addiction among its population. They typically include portraits of young men spending all night at gaming cafés and then popping energy pills as they head to school or work. South Korea has estimated that 2 million of its citizens—roughly 4 percent—are "addicted" to the Internet. With experts disagreeing about whether addiction is even possible, there is of course no standard test or set of criteria for determining if someone has a problem or not. The South Korean government focuses on the amount of time someone spends on their device or playing video games. For example, they classify someone as having a smartphone addiction if they use their device for more than eight hours a day.
Other criteria consider more the consequences of the behavior and how much control the person has over it, rather than simply the amount of time spent in the activity. Researchers ask questions such as how high-tech gadget use is affecting your life and how you feel when you are cut off from your gadgets.
Stepping Back and Looking at the Whole Picture
Based on the criteria utilized in assessing other types of addictions and compulsive behaviors, the APA has developed nine criteria for the proposed Internet gaming disorder:
1. Preoccupation. Gaming becomes the main focus of the person's thought life.
2. Withdrawal. When forced to stop playing games, restlessness or anxiety ensues.
3. Tolerance. The person has to play for longer periods or play more exciting games to experience the same level of pleasure.
4. Reduce/stop. Previous attempts to reduce time spent gaming or stopping all together have failed.
5. Give up other activities. Interest or participation in other activities has diminished due to gaming.
6. Continue despite problems. Gaming continues even when there are negative consequences such as family conflict or falling grades.
7. Deceive/cover up. The person lies about or tries to cover up how much he or she is gaming.
8. Escape adverse moods. Gaming is regularly used to escape from negative feelings or bad memories.
9. Risk/lose relationships/opportunities. Relationships and educational or work opportunities are lost or at risk because of gaming.
While these statements are worded for gaming specifically, we can easily substitute smartphone use or Internet use. Regardless of which specific high-tech habit we're talking about, how much something affects various aspects of your life has a huge influence on whether it's unhealthy. If you're starting to see that you and your spouse argue about how much you're on your phone, it's time to make some changes. If your daughter can't have a face-to-face conversation without checking for a text message and seems anxious when she's not "connected," it's time to help her make some changes. If your son's grades are falling because he's focused on World of Warcraft instead of algebra, it's time to help him put down the controller and take back control of his life.
The following tool is designed to help you evaluate your own high-tech habits. It's not intended as a diagnosis for whether you have an addiction or not. Rather, our goal is to help you reflect on how your use of high-tech gadgets may be affecting different areas of your life.
We've worded the assessment questions so that they focus on smartphone use because it is the most common high-tech gadget stealing our attention these days. However, the same questions apply equally well to iPads, tablets, laptops, Kindle Fires, Wiis, Xboxes, online gaming, and the like.
You can also use this tool as you consider your family's high-tech habits. It can serve as a discussion starter for how you will work together to manage your devices instead of letting your devices manage you.
Excerpted from Managing Your Family's High-Tech Habits by Arnie Cole, Pam Ovwigho, Michael Ross. Copyright © 2015 Back to the Bible. Excerpted by permission of Barbour Publishing Inc..
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
ContentsIntroduction: Are We Connected ... or Addicted? Video Games, Twitter, Smartphones, Instagram: Everyone Is Riding the Wave of High-Tech Gadgets—and Sometimes Paying a High Price,
1. Hashtag Help: Cluing In to Our Electronic Addictions Definitions and a Self-Evaluation Quiz,
2. What Happens in Our Brains Neurotransmitters, Multitasking, and Blue Lights,
3. Virtual vs. Real Relationships The Rise of "Connected Isolation" and Other Modern Problems,
4. Managing Our Addiction to Devices When Your Cell Phone Beeps, You Don't Have to Jump,
5. Managing Video Game Habits Why Many Guys Are Hooked on Games (And How to Help Them Play Smart),
6. Managing Facebook Obsessions Why Youth Are Drawn to Social Media (And How to Keep Them Safe),
7. Managing the Dark Side of the Web, Part 1 Protecting Our Children from Internet Porn,
8. Managing the Dark Side of the Web, Part 2 What to Do When Porn Wrecks Your Marriage,
9. Engaging Your Spiritual Life You Can Be High-Tech and Christian,
10. Setting Healthy Boundaries Biblical Solutions for a More Balanced Life,
Conclusion: A Journey in Tandem,
Finally, a Positive App with the Right Connection—God!,