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Overcoming the tech buzz

An “Attitude Presenter”, Zara Maslin. Photo: The Parenting Place.

Remembering technology is “highly addictive” is a key to parents dealing with their children’s overuse of technology, Zara Maslin says.

Whether a child is spending too much time playing computer games or communicating via social media, solutions are at hand.

Zara (pictured above) is a Christchurch-based “Attitude Presenter” at Attitude, the youth division of The Parenting Place, which provides advice and support for New Zealand families.

She believes that most parents develop good strategies for dealing with children’s addictions to drugs, alcohol and nicotine. Parents can apply these same strategies to technology overuse.

To comprehend technology’s addictive potential, an analogy can be used equating one hour of computer gaming with one sugary drink. Parents and care-givers can ask themselves what would be acceptable for their youngster.

Would you be okay with your 10-year-old having one sugary drink with dinner; or okay with them having lots? Or just drinking sugary drinks at weekends?”

Just as adults are aware how many sugary drinks their children consume, parents need to consider how much access to technology they choose to grant youngsters.

Many families restrict television viewing time. Parents can do this with other screens, allocating children a maximum screen time per day, for all devices – laptops, telephones, tablets and so on.

Some primary and intermediate school children watch “hours and hours” of the American video-sharing website YouTube, Zara says.

YouTube is designed to be addictive, with the next video popping up as soon as one has finished, she says. Also, research into blue screens has shown their negative effects on children’s brains, particularly those under three years old. Blue screens are any device with a screen which is back-lit.

A blue screen gives your brain a kick because it’s so bright and jumpy. Of course a kid … when they’ve got a book in front of them and a screen in front of them … they’re going to choose a screen.”

If a telephone, computer, gaming or the television is the most exciting thing in a young person’s home, they will chose that, she says. Parenting Place suggests providing exciting alternatives.

For example, the Parenting Place CEO has five children who love playing computer games. However, their parents have created other fun options: a cricket pitch and tree hut outside, table tennis in the garage and social board games inside.

“The most exciting thing there isn’t technology – it is real, involving interpersonal skills.”

Zara says it’s important to remember that a child’s addiction to gaming or social media is not an addiction to the actual game or social network.

“It’s an addiction to connection – and young people love connection. Technology has made that connection available to them, whether they are going to school, waiting for the bus ….”

If youngsters don’t feel connected to their family or peers when face-to-face, social media enables connection, she says.

Rather than parents saying ‘get off that phone’, they can replace telephone use with some other form of connection, such as a board game everyone can play, or going for a walk together. 

“The healthiest young people are those who are most connected with their families.”

The earlier that parents start managing children’s technology use and creating meaningful connections, the better, she says.

We all know that technology’s no substitute for a real hug … technology can do some good things, but it’s not replacing real love,” Zara concludes.


Averil Pierce (Founder and CEO of ChatBus)

ChatBus founder and CEO, Averil Pierce, inside the ChatBus in Dunedin.

The founder and CEO of the ChatBus counselling service for primary and intermediate school students, Averil Pierce, sees the effects of technology overuse on youngsters who are increasingly anxious.

ChatBus counsellors talk with hundreds of children in Dunedin and Mosgiel each year; and they’ve noticed that anxiety is increasing among both girls and boys.

Children have less and less adult input in their lives, Averil says. When she was at primary school about 50 years ago, she interacted lots with adults. They read her stories, talked with her, and she helped her mum prepare food.

Nowadays parents are struggling with financial stress, and are often working outside the home, then returning tired.

“Now I have children say, ‘I wish my mum listened to me like you do’,” Averil says.

Adults’ and children’s increasing use of technology is problematic, she says.

There’s more use of technology … there’s not that human interaction; yet we are relational people. Relationships are very important to us.

“There has been a big breakdown in communication: probably more than at any time in history.”

With most technology, people can’t hear each other’s tone of voice, or see emotions expressed through gestures or facial expressions. So, they don’t experience that important emotional connection.

Children need to learn how to interact with their parents and others, she says.

Young people aren’t learning these social interaction skills from computers or other screens, yet are expected to socialise in the school playground.

We need to retrain parents to be parents … kids still need stories read to them, they still need to cuddle Mum or Dad.”

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For more information:

Read more Parenting Place information on technology click here

The Parenting Place click here

Attitude website :

To find out more about ChatBus click here


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