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Addictive behaviour starts young – so give children experiences and not devices this Christmas, says Priory expert

As the Children’s Commissioner for England urges parents to buy children old-fashioned phones, a Priory psychotherapist warns that young people are spending an “obscene number of hours” on their smartphones, and says parents should “ditch addictive gadgets and buy children experiences” this Christmas.

 Beth Tudgay, who works with children and adolescents and is based at the Priory’s Woodbourne Hospital in Birmingham, and its Wellbeing Centre in Birmingham, says: “Addictions start young. Parents know this of course, but it can be very difficult, especially at Christmas, not to buy the present your child really wants but which you know is likely to fuel their addiction to say gaming, the X box, Insta, WhatsApp, YouTube, anything on their smartphone – the list is endless.

“So how do you celebrate Christmas while trying not to feed those addictions? What comes up for me every time is ‘experiences’. Buying experiences and then doing family things together. This might mean spending a day or a few hours doing something your child is really passionate about, or just being close as a family together. Children who spend a lot of time behind an X Box can fundamentally be quite lonely, so do something to connect.”

 

Her comments come after Dame Rachel de Souza, Children’s Commissioner for England, told the Telegraph: “Personally, I think that parents should think long and hard about monitored access to social media or actually access to social media at all … if you’re worried about your child walking home from school, for example, buy a non-internet-connected phone, so they can always contact you. I understand that you want to do the best for your child and you want your child to have whatever the other child has and to be part of it,” she says, but insists that mothers and fathers must not be pushed into it and succumb to arguments from their children that all their friends have one. “Because I can almost guarantee that won’t necessarily be the case.”

 

Beth says it’s about thinking outside the box – literally: “Experiences aren’t gifts to open on Christmas Day so you might need to be creative – put clues around the house which end with an explanation of what the experience is going to be. Let’s say it’s a father and child going to a football match together – wrapping up something connected to the event and then writing a detailed description of what the day is going to look like and saying: ‘You and me are going for a day and doing something special.’

“And get out of the house.

 

“Gaming is what we hear about the most in terms of addictions among young people, and social media use generally. It’s obscene how many hours children spend on their phones. How to stop this?  Boundaries and being very assertive. Taking the phone away, for example. Yes there might be backlash and hysteria but that is ok, and it’s then the responsibility of the child, parent and whole family system to care and ‘sooth’ for that. Parents sometimes express huge fear that if they take the phone away, a child might overreact – but that parent is being held hostage and leaves the child in a powerful position. I would encourage parents to put in firm boundaries and ask themselves ‘why is my child doing this for hours a day; what are they not getting from somewhere else?’ If they are looking for approval on social media – getting likes, or acceptance – maybe they are not getting that from elsewhere?”