Talking About Mental Health: November 2016

Throughout the school year, Dr. Lynn Woodford shares tips and resources for improving our mental health and well-being. Additional mental health resources for students and parents/guardians can be found on the board website.

Between checking text messages and playing the latest video game, how much time do you and your children/youth spend on technology?

“Technology is not really the problem, the lack of balance is,” says Doriann Shapiro, Social Worker, Problem Gambling Institute of Ontario (PGIO). “Because we are in a technological age, youth are often also using tech for writing and research. But when they are totaling over seven hours a day, finding balance between that is the challenge.”

“Problem video gaming has harmful effects on an individual’s social, occupational, family, school, and psychological functioning,” says Lisa Pont, Social Worker, PGIO. “It can result in a loss of control, withdrawal, and escape from difficult feelings.”

Here are some tips from Centre for Addiction and Mental Health and Problem Gaming Institute of Ontario that can help:

  1. Consider how you use technology. You are modelling behaviours for your children/youth.
  2. Before giving your children/youth access to technology, talk to them about safe use. Communicate openly and honestly. Discuss possible effects and the dangers of using the Internet and social media.
  3. Talk to your children/youth about how to integrate technology into their lives in ways that respect others. For example, some families have “no texting” rules during mealtimes and family events.
  4. Be aware of your children’s/youth’s Internet activities and what they access. Create rules that both you and your child agree to, based on their age and past Internet use. You can also consider V-chip technology for the TV, which can block access to programs and channels, and parental controls for smartphones and computers.
  5. Spend time learning about the Internet and video games popular with youth. Participate with your children/youth in these activities. They are more likely to listen to you if they think you know what you’re talking about.
  6. Have your children/youth use a shared computer in an open area of your home where you can monitor what they’re doing.
  7. Help your children/youth lead balanced lives. Set limits around your children’s/youth’s use of technology. Encourage them to take part in “offline” activities such as sports, music, drama and in-person get-togethers with friends and family.
  8. Help your children/youth set priorities. For example, doing homework comes before spending time texting or playing video games.
  9. Remember that you own the equipment (e.g., computer, cell phone) your children/youth are using—or you’ve likely given them the money to buy it. If your children/youth are not using the technology in ways that you approve, you have the authority to cut off access or control their use in other ways (such as using a secret password to set the administrative rights on your home computer).
  10. If you have seen signs that indicate your child/youth may be developing a problem from their technology use, (such as: increased time playing/online, avoiding other activities including other interests and school, sleep problems, poor hygiene, less time with friends/family, lying about their gaming/internet use) talk with your child/youth about your concerns. You could also contact your family physician to get guidance and support for the whole family. Homewood Community Addiction Services provides support for youth and families with gaming addictions: 519 836 5733.

Here are some useful resources:

  • My Parents Aren't Noobs by Michelle Nogueira and Anthea Helps
  • Sofa Boy by Scott Langteau
  • Doug Unplugged (book and DVD) by Dan Yaccarino and Chris Patton

Have a mentally healthy November!

Dr. Lynn Woodford is the Mental Health and Addiction Lead for the Upper Grand District School Board. Follow Lynn on Twitter @drlynnwoodford