Mathew Meyers, MA, LMFT
Recently I had the opportunity to learn from Margaret Wehrenberg, Psy.D. during an all-day intensive workshop on Anxiety in the digital age. Ms. Wehrenberg is a coach, therapist, and trainer.
At Traverse Counseling & Consulting we have the opportunity to work with and serve children, teens and parents in the area of concerning and problematic technology use. We have had the honor to support many parents that report feeling as though technology is running/ruining the household and they wonder about addiction.
Two important insights came out of this intensive for me. Both of which are related to how media and technology activate and alert our stress responses.
Video Games and Stress
The first important insight was video games actually activate our sympathetic nervous system. Now this is not earth-shattering news to many parents. As I sat on the couch with my 8-year-old while he played Lego Star Wars on the iPad this weekend, I noticed all of his muscles continuously tensing up. His legs and arms, even his feet tensed up as he guided his Lego Jedi through a maze of droids. His body and brain were experiencing stress. It was not a bad stress. In fact it is/was a stress he very much enjoyed. However, upon asking him to stop playing, I have to be aware that his brain is ‘keyed up’ for a fight. His nervous system is on high alert ready to respond to any stressors in the environment.
FOMO and Stress
The second insight was regarding social media. We are all probably familiar with the term FOMO (Fear Of Missing Out). Ms. Wehrenberg highlighted the activation of sympathetic nervous system in response to FOMO. Now there is some research that is suggesting that moderate use of social media is a protective factor and helpful in supporting individuals in feeling connected to friends and family. However, social media use greater than moderate use and social media use that activates FOMO, can in fact have harmful effects, keeping our systems hyper-alert and making it difficult to calm down.
What does all this mean
The implications for this for parents is that we need to be ready to assist our kiddos in soothing as they come out of the video game world and the social media world. If we are on the offensive or they perceive us to be attacking, the stress response already active in their system may turn and see the parent as a threat and respond in-kind with a defensive or even aggressive reaction. The task is to enter into the situation and make eye contact, keeping cool, calm and caring while also conveying the boundary.
Social media use and Video Games might not be considered “down time”. Our bodies and brains need time to slow down, calm down and unwind. As parents, remembering that these activities, although not bad, may not be allowing our bodies a chance to take a break from the stress hormones that are activated during use of video games and social media use. It is then our responsibility to assist our children (and ourselves) in finding ways to structure time away from social media and video games. To help our children to have actual downtime and allow their bodies and brains a chance to recover from the stress of day-to-day life and video games and social media.
Other blogs by Mathew Meyers, MA, LMFT
- Your brain is unable to read this whole title without losing focus…
- New Developmental Task
- Marriage is NOT a piece of Cake
- Launching Teens
Family Technology Tune-up:
At Traverse Counseling & Consulting we offer a 90-minute Family Technology Tune-up for parents. Parents that participate find support and feel empowered to lead their children into healthy digital lives. Click here for more information.