By Elizabeth Lavine. Do you have a child who is addicted to iPhone, iPad, games or screens? I’ve been working with parents on this challenge lately. Sometimes children (notably, teenagers) actually threaten violence when their devices are taken away or limited.
What seems to be most effective is to help the parents first recognize their own sense of helplessness, weakness or fear of the child’s response when screen time is limited. After all, if a parent depends on their devices (screens, emotional repression, emotional avoidance, emotional outburst) to cope with emotions, then this is teaching the child that emotions (frustration, boredom, anxiety, restlessness, emptiness,) are “threats” that must be managed or controlled. Hence, the child’s addiction to finding some type of relief from the imagined threat: the relief of screens.
Imagine, if you are the parent, that you could learn to identify, and then look into your own sense of threat from emotions such as fear, frustration, anger, boredom or anxiety. Start by becoming aware of your own activity with your iPhone or other screens. Notice if you feel commanded to read or answer an incoming message, the moment you hear the “ping.” Notice if you instantly grab for the phone when it rings. Notice how often, in a moment of emptiness, you go to the Internet for something to fill you.
Be aware that your child is absorbing all the nuances of your behavior, like a little sponge. If you feel even slightly uneasy by quietness, emptiness, or you dread lack of stimulation, then your child will absorb this and out of hard-wired love for you, imitate you.
Therefore, imagine becoming free of “threats” from emotions such as boredom, restlessness, unease; free from fear, anxiety and frustration; and being able to model this freedom to your child; to model (not preach). So that he would absorb from you, “Boredom is not a threat – it’s just an energy. And even if this energy arises, what is already present, ever-aware, un-change-ably alive, never bored and naturally at rest?”
Below is a transcribed segment from a recent session with a friend on the issue of addiction to screens. Diana fears her son’s reaction when she limits his screen time. Follow along and see what she realizes is true for her.
Diana: My son is addicted to screens, and I feel it’s my responsibility to limit his experience.
EJ: Okay, and why don’t you?
Diana: I try, and it’s just argument and argument.
EJ: Who wins the argument?
Diana: He does. I don’t know. Yes, he does.
Diana: I feel I try to talk with him, talk rationally with him; what my worries are, the effect of all that time he spends on screens. And he doesn’t want to hear about it. He says it’s all rubbish.
EJ: And does your son actually have the authority to win an argument with you? If you sat down and inquire, “Am I the parent here or am I not the parent?”
Diana: Well, I feel in the screen thing that we have lost our parental position.
EJ: Yes, you feel. You feel that. But in truth, if you disregard your feelings, or you did not believe you were commanded by them, what is the truth? Do you have the authority to limit his screen time?
Diana: Yes, in theory. In practicality it feels impossible.
EJ: Do you see how you’re defending?
EJ: It’s not right or wrong. Just do you see it; it’s all about the feelings. In truth, and correct me if this is not accurate, is as simple as saying, “I’m taking your phone away after 6 p.m. every day.”
EJ: Just as an example. That’s the practical possibility you have as a parent.
EJ: But we don’t do that, because we believe, “If I do that, I will feel____.” Fill in the blank. So what is the feeling you’re afraid to feel?
Diana: I’m afraid if I do that, that he will hate me even more. He’s already so angry with me so often. I feel really hurt and rejected and scared. I feel scared.
EJ: I’m guessing it’s mostly about feeling rejected. Unloved, separated.
Diana: Separated, yes, like I’ve lost my son. I’ve lost his love. As well, I’m actually afraid of his rage. I mean, he gets furious.
EJ: So you’re afraid of his rage and that fear is what keeps you from being a parent in the situation.
EJ: See that image of him raging. Is that him raging, or is that an image?
Diana: That’s an image.
EJ: And the sound of that is a sound. Is the sound a threat?
Diana: It’s more the image that’s a threat; like he looks at me as if he hates me.
EJ: What feeling does that image of his look trigger? Something like powerlessness or diminished?
Diana: Powerlessness. It feels unbearable.
EJ: So let’s go to a situation. Can you find a situation where you triggered rage in him—where you felt this powerless energy before?
Diana: Oh, gosh yes. I went to his room yesterday and said, “I want you to get off that play-station.” And he give me the look and says “Why, why?” And he just pretty much ignored me actually.
EJ: You feel it now? The energy of powerlessness?
Diana: I feel it, yes.
EJ: So pause that image of him. The movie of him so it’s a frozen image and you’re feeling the impact of that image. Where do you feel it?
Diana: In the chest. It’s like a blow, like he punches me in the chest.
EJ: Place your hand on your chest and in your mind’s eyes lie down… give yourself permission to just go down from that energy of punch, like, zero resistance. Just imagine lying there, powerless, and let the energy do whatever it will do. And tune in to it. Be the presence that is aware of it. [pause]
There’s just your awareness, the silence and the energy. Breathe. Let the energy be here, story-free. Drop any images of the body, and experience just the open, unshaped emptiness and the energy vibrating in it. [pause]
Letting that energy be here in the openness, doing whatever it does, without any focus on a story. Instead, keep your attention on the empty, silent, openness [long pause]
What happens when you allow it like this?
Diana: For a few moments, I was able to just let it be there almost like watching it, and not making this mine; then I felt suddenly really nauseated. I still feel that slightly.
EJ: That can happen when the old energy starts to digest. It’s free from being trapped in your awareness. And when you feel that energy, are you able to be with it – without any story? As if it’s the first time you’re feeling it. What is the quality of that?
Diana: Yes, there’s an agitation, movement.
EJ: As you allow that, sense what is so relaxed around that movement.
Diana: [long pause] It’s very spacious.
Diana: If feels like whatever it is, that energy, that it’s decompressing. It’s kind of…. disappearing.
EJ: Is it a threat?
EJ: [pause] Now imagine yourself walking into your son’s room, in that same situation. And if there’s no threat from a feeling, is the situation a threat?
Diana: No. And what I’m realizing is I’m walking around with that feeling anyway, that he’s so angry with me. It’s already there and I’m coping with it.
EJ: Coping with it, or feeling controlled by it? See if that’s truer.
EJ: You were modeling for him, without even knowing it, that when you have an uncomfortable feeling, you’re controlled by it. “I’m controlled by this energy, the feeling of powerlessness, I don’t want this feeling to arise so that’s why I can’t do my job as a parent.” Then he assumes, “I’m afraid of this feeling of emptiness, I’m controlled by it, I don’t want it to arise and that’s why I can’t do my job as a son. I can’t bear the emptiness, the boredom. That’s why I have to have the screens.”
[End of segment]
Dear Reader, If you find yourself in a similar situation—whether it’s feeling controlled by your child’s emotional reaction when you parent, or in any situation at where you feel stuck, frozen or paralyzed—ask yourself these questions:
- What is it in this situation that I don’t want to feel?
- What are the stories my mind is telling me? “This feeling is ______,”(unbearable, a threat, too much to endure, etc.)
- What actually controls me and keeps me stuck—the situation or the feeling and my story about it?
- Could I be free of being controlled by this feeling / energy if I really wanted to? Take time to contemplate.
It’s so natural to want our children to be happy, healthy and intelligent, including emotional intelligence. They want to please us; yet they can only do what they see us doing and see us being.
This is good news. Because if and when we make it our priority to increase our awareness, on behalf of making happy, healthy and intelligent choices, they will, too!
There is no better choice in life than to choose increased awareness; the choice to be consciously aware of our thoughts, emotions and perceptions, rather than being identified as them.