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Technology and Trauma: Adventures in Finding a Middle Ground.

I wholeheartedly want to get rid of the iPad. I am ready to throw the thing away and be done with it. My husband loves his technology, but the children simply cannot handle it. It’s as if they escape into this magical world where their problems do not exist. They don’t have to think about anything at all while they are using the iPad. It’s fun, it’s exciting, it’s versatile. Most of all it is a path to escaping.

Children with a history of trauma can often manifest fear and anxiety as pure rage. My son has been having difficulty with irritability and anger lately. I can’t tell if this is the start of puberty or part of his emotional difficulties or a reaction to a trigger I just can’t seem to find. Either way, time on the iPad soothes him and takes him away from his emotions in a way that nothing else can. Unfortunately for Carl, these emotions all come flooding back the second he puts the device down.

We only allow electronic use for the children on the weekends. We don’t even watch much TV during the week. Instead, we play outside, play board games, eat dinner as a family, and attend events. The kids are involved in clubs after school and sports. The more exercise they have, the better they are able to regulate. Football has really helped to let Carl take out his aggressions in an appropriate way.

Unfortunately for all of us, once Carl gets on the iPad, he refuses to do anything else. He refuses to eat. he wants family meals to be over as quickly as possible so that he can pick up his game again. He sulks through family outings because he wants to be at home, playing. He whines that he wants a phone of his own so he can play whenever he wants. He becomes enraged when I won’t let him use my phone. To be clear, he’s 11-years-old. he does not have a phone and we are in no hurry to provide one.

I think my problem is that I remember his older brother. Sean was with us for a year-and-a-half. For the most part he seemed calm and happy. he could laugh his way through any event as if nothing at all was amiss. However, he couldn’t stand to be separated from his iPod. When that happened, he would become a totally different child. He was 14-years-old and over 200 pounds. Separating him from his technology was scary.

He brought it with him when he moved in. It had been a gift from another foster family so we were loathe to keep it from him for any reason. He had to earn his electronics time by taking out the trash, going to school (which he always tried to refuse) and completing his homework. When I had to take the iPod away from him the first time, he took a hammer to the pipes in our basement. I called the emergency crisis intervention hotline. By the time the therapist came he was perfectly composed. He smiled and laughingly told her he wasn’t angry and had “no problems.” Sean insisted he had no idea what I was talking about when I explained his tantrum.

When I hear Carl yelling at us that he doesn’t want to put down the iPad, my heart starts racing. Carl has never tried to do purposeful damage when he is enraged. He never plotted to break the pipes or threatened to do so. In the past, he has threatened me, but he was reacting to anger. Carl was proactively planning to damage anything or “punish” us. I am afraid of the thrall this technology has in him.

I can’t tell if I am nervous because of what his intense rages look like. After all, he hasn’t had one in awhile. I could be afraid because his behavior reminds me of Sean, who was truly dangerous when crossed. Or maybe all kids have this problem. Maybe it has nothing to do with trauma and everything to do with raising a preteen.

So should we keep our weekend electronic policy? Modify it? Cancel electronics and get back to basics? If only I had all of the answers. Feel free to weigh in…

 

 

**Names have been changed to protect the privacy of those involved.

 

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8 thoughts on “Technology and Trauma: Adventures in Finding a Middle Ground.

  1. I think it’s probably a bit of both… All kids do seem to gravitate towards technology, but it seems likely that trauma complicates the issue (trauma complicates everything after all). When I was younger I disliked separation from my Nintendo DS (I’m not much better with my iPod now…) – I suppose it was a ‘safe’ way to be present – present, but not in reality. When away from it, I would dissociate or go into snappy, angry, empty, PTSD mode. It was rather distressing. Nowadays, I find it difficult to adjust to the transition between ‘screen time’ and other activities – I feel panicky and likely to dissociate until I can get grounded. Perhaps you could try playing some ‘real life’ games involving Carl’s favourite characters from his iPad games, or something? Sorry I can’t be of more help ✨💕

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    • I think this is very helpful. We all need insight into how PTSD works. I think the effects on Carl cause him to run to technology as a way of separation. I’m going to try your idea with some of the Pokémon characters. Maybe Pokémon cards? That could be fun! Thank you.

      Liked by 1 person

  2. Naomi says:

    For my girls, who all have trauma and are adopted from Africa, books were the first escape. Sounds harmless, but they would “escape” for 6-8 hours if I didn’t draw them out! We do not do TV during the week because their brains shut off and all responsibility and relationships drift away. We have kindle fires for each of them that you can program for certain hours of the day and it turns off automatically after the time you’ve allotted, so once you set it up you have nothing to do with time limits! I love it! But yes, although all kids are plugged in and “escape” to some extent through technology, I think trauma backgrounds draw kids in from having to deal with real life emotion, anger, disappointments, etc.

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  3. This is such a hard question, and I think the solution is different for every child. We’ve tried a two hour daily limit, even on weekends, with technology off by 7:00pm. Sometimes I lost track on the weekend, though, so I’m looking for other solutions, too. My son only has very basic adoption trauma issues so we’re not facing anything like what you have going on, but you’re right. He turns into an entirely different kid when he’s been sucked into that thing.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. c.d says:

    I have a 12 year old nephew he does not have a trauma history but you will see a pretty bad freak out complete with violence if we try to take any of his electronics away. He has xboxes, iPhone, iPod, DS and kindle fire. He has started to watch things on youtube that are not appropriate for him and tried some kind of move on his very tiny 6 year old brother. His mother went to his room took his electronics and took the cords for the xbox. He was screaming and crying and going after her screaming that “you broke my xbox you have to give me $450 for a new one” I take him out a few times a moth to one of the museums in the area and he knows we do not do electronics on these trips. One thing that has worked his keeping him grounded before he plays while he is playing, and re-grounding him after. One way we do this is with a skill I learned in DBT to help with dissociating. We have imagine that he is a ballon and the string is attached to a bench and he has to slowly come back down to the bench and onto a different activity. It’s less of a jolt back into reality and more of a transition. We also try to only provide only games that have purpose that he can tell us about when he is done playing we also have many games that we can play together.

    Liked by 1 person

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