Ask the Expert: Cam Adair on digital addiction

Cell phones, laptops, tablets, smartwatches, TV, movies, video games… the list of devices vying for our attention is endless. Of course, much of our screen time can be healthy (communicating with loved ones) and productive (using it for homework or our jobs), but sometimes we cross a line. Many of us idly flip through posts on social media, or spend hours on end trying to beat the final level of a game. To help us identify when our use of technology might be harmful, digital addiction expert, Cam Adair, joined our Ask the Expert webchat yesterday. Cam founded Game Quitters (gamequitters.com), the world’s largest support community for video game addiction with 50,000 members in 88 countries. Named one of Canada’s Leaders in Mental Health, his work has been published in Psychiatry Research, and featured in two TEDx talks, Forbes, BBC, ABC News, Vice, CBC, CTV, The Star, and The Huffington Post, among others. He’s an internationally recognized speaker, humanitarian, and YouTuber with over two million views.

Here are the highlights from our webchat with Cam. For our French users, we ran a similar webchat with psychologist and associate professor Magali Dufour, which you can access here. Please keep in mind all user participation is anonymous and confidential.

Setting a good example for kids

QUESTION — “How do we model ‘good behavior’ for our kids when a lot of the time we are on our phones, we really are working versus gaming/playing?”

Cam Adair — “It’s crucial that parents model good habits around technology use. A study came out recently that showed a correlation between parents’ phone use and behavior problems in children. It takes a bit more awareness and intention, but when you’re working and using technology, try to be in another room or sneak around the corner to check your email. I also think it’s a good opportunity to have a larger conversation about healthy technology use, depending on the age of your children, and an opportunity for you to speak openly about what your relationship is like to technology. Do you struggle with checking it too much sometimes? What do you do to keep it in balance? These are the conversations that end up being the most valuable out of the experience. But modeling good behavior is so important, and something I think we don’t speak to enough.”

Respecting the rules

QUESTION — “When you and your kids agree to 30 minutes of video game time and they always go over the allotted time, what do you suggest? We use a timer that beeps when their time is up. I understand if they want to finish off a 5 min wave or something, but I hate always having to remind them that time is up or feeling rude and mean. I sometimes have to eventually just go over and turn it off in the middle of what they’re doing if it’s 5 minutes over their allotted time.”

Cam Adair — “Firm and consistent boundaries are the key. They need to know that what you say you mean, and they need to respect it or they will not have access. Having a timer is a good first step, and also knowing how the games are designed so you can tell the difference between a game ending in 5 minutes and them just telling you that. But you can also let them know that if they go over their time and you turn it off, you know that is going to hurt their score, so they need to respect your limits and be proactive about their time. If it’s a constant battle, be more firm. What you spoke to about feeling bad and rude as a parent I can only imagine is challenging, and what I’ve been suggesting to more parents lately is to find an outlet or more support for these sorts of emotional challenges. Parenting is hard; you’re doing your best and you have to be the one to set boundaries because they won’t. But they will learn to respect them if you give them no other choice.”

Curbing screen time as an adult

QUESTION — “With the increasing use of technology in our daily lives, I face a real challenge in addressing work-life balance. So my question is: Are we (adults) really excluded from the digital addiction, as we need to face more than 4 hours a day in front of a screen for work reasons? And how do we break this vicious cycle so we don’t transmit this to our kids?”

Cam Adair — “Adults are absolutely not excluded from digital addiction, and if anything, struggle with it more than kids do. I see just as many 25-34 year olds in the Game Quitters community as I do 18 and under. When it comes to the number of hours in front of a screen, there hasn’t been a direct correlation found between that and addiction itself. It’s a risk factor certainly, but not the whole story. So the key is about being aware of your use and if it’s productive, or if you’re just on screens because you’re on screens. The key for me is to be very specific in my intention of when I’m on a screen and when I’m not. What am I doing on it? And then getting off once I’m done. Being very efficient in my use. I think it’s crucial in this conversation that we don’t only focus on kids, but working on ourselves first. Here is that study I shared earlier that found digital addiction has a negative impact on kids’ behavior. There are positive steps you can take today to start shifting this in your own life, and that will be a powerful example for your kids, and your relationship with them.”

Don’t miss our next Ask the Expert session!

If you weren’t able to catch our webchat with Cam Adair, you can always sign into your LifeSpeak account to read the transcript. And be sure to log in September 19 at 3PM EST to chat with Sharon Selby, who will discuss boosting resilience to combat back-to-school stress and anxiety. If you don’t have a LifeSpeak account, please have your HR team reach out to us about your company subscribing.

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Also published on Medium.