Child psychotherapist Augustina Driessen makes a strong argument against our dependence on technology, as well as highlighting the dangers of small children being constantly trapped in the glow of tablets and smartphones.

Three-year-old Jack* is lying on his tummy on the carpet.

He's propped up by his elbows and in his tiny hands is his most treasured possession - his mother's iPhone.

He's watching a YouTube video of a boy, dressed as Batman, riding a bike. Ten seconds later he tires of it, and double-taps onto another video, where a girl is unboxing toys.

They're not toys he likes, so he expertly swipes down and clicks on footage of a giant Kinder Surprise egg.

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He clicks on another video, and another… and so it continues.

Welcome to the world wide web, where within a matter of minutes, you can stumble across more mindless content than you ever thought possible.

For adults, being distracted by devices 24/7 is a problem. But, for kids, it's an epidemic.

Driessen labels it "emotional violence" and points the finger at parents.

Child psychotherapist and attachment expert Augustina Driessen. Photo / Andrew Warner
Child psychotherapist and attachment expert Augustina Driessen. Photo / Andrew Warner

Born and raised in the Netherlands, but an immigrant to New Zealand in her 20s ("I have a Motherland and Fatherland"), she's a former psychiatric nurse turned outspoken child and adolescent psychotherapist.

From her comfortable Bethlehem home in a cul de sac, Driessen has the alert look of someone who knows something others don't. She fears for the future of Kiwi kids -
a zombie-eyed generation heading towards therapy.

She is well-researched for our chat with pages of highlighted notes, and argues video game, and internet addictions share the characteristics of other addictions. Parents are "robbing their children of a childhood" by letting them vegetate in front of screens.

In her 25-plus years as a private psychotherapist, she's counselled hundreds of children and teenagers, and says family relationships are being damaged because parents are swapping out family time for iPad time.

It's a "lazy and uninterested" generational shift that's manifesting a social catastrophe.

They're bold words that are likely to ruffle feathers and be challenged, but she is judging in alarm, not misapprehension, she says.

In the past decade, a new set of values is threatening to damage youth for good, and too many parents are unaware or don't care.

"There are so many parents who sit on their devices, and let the children do the same. And then they don't have to bother about them," she says. "Why do they have children? It's frightening."

"There are so many parents who sit on their devices, and let the children do the same. And then they don't have to bother about them," she says. "Why do they have children? It's frightening".

Overseas, addiction centres and boot camps for children to "detox" off their devices are growing in number, and internet addiction counselling for children is available in New Zealand - ironically, at the click of a mouse.

Driessen, who bans TV when her grandchildren visit, says the problem is going to get worse before it gets better.

She believes technology does have a place, but its leverage in our lives is out of kilter.

She refers to a 2013 incident where San Francisco rail passengers were so absorbed in their phones and tablets they didn't notice a man waving a gun before he randomly shot dead a commuter.

"Why do you think this is all happening in the States?" she says of the most recent US school shooting in Florida. And closer to home, New Zealand's high suicide rate.

"There does not seem to be availability. No family home, no family tie any more. People don't seem to appreciate family."

It's confronting stuff, but with the internet dominating our modern life, she says it's important to understand its impact.

Child psychotherapist and attachment expert Augustina Driessen. Photo / Andrew Warner
Child psychotherapist and attachment expert Augustina Driessen. Photo / Andrew Warner

One of eight children, Driessen is married to a former Dutchman - "now very much a Kiwi" - and is a mother of four, and grandmother of eight.

She worked as a psychiatric nurse for 15 years including at management level, before becoming a private child psychotherapist offering counselling in a "playroom" at her Bay of Plenty home.

In 2007, she established The Family Attachment BASE SAFE Trust, which she gave up last year, when she officially retired. She still undertakes some counselling voluntarily, and some workshops in attachment parenting here and overseas.

Her trust ran two programmes: Safe, and Base (Baby Watching Against Aggression and Anxiety for Sensitivity and Empathy), which was a New Zealand first.

Developed in Germany by Dr Karl Heinz Brisch, Base involved classroom visits by a parent, their baby and a specially trained teacher.

The aim was to teach children empathy and sensitivity, enabling them to deal with anxiety and aggression in themselves, eliminate bullying, and better understand the relationship between mother and child.

Safe was for expectant parents to prepare them for parenthood - both during and after pregnancy.

She warns parents that fail to invest in their children emotionally will deal with the fallout later.

Many of the children she gave therapy to have fed her the same story: "I have worked with so many children who have said 'My parents are not there for me'."

With many households feeling the pinch financially, there's a huge generation of "latchkey kids" - children who come home to an empty house.

She doesn't approve but concedes having both parents working is not by choice for some families.

On the impact of devices replacing human contact, here's what can happen - children's imagination gets stifled. They lose the ability to hold eye contact.

They suppress their emotions. They risk developmental delay. Their behaviour, language and learning is affected. They're anxious. And if they're on screens at night, they're likely to be sleep deprived.

Research also shows internet addiction can lead to mental health and obesity problems.

She says countless parents have come to her because of their child's behaviour, fearing their child has ADHD.

Driessen says in some cases the behaviour is not ADHD, but a result of too much online or video game stimulation.

News shared by this reporter that some restaurants now provide iPads for children had her floored.

"Oh, my! What is the matter with these people? They have no idea."

iPads in daycares were likewise "ridiculous".

"I think especially in the first years: No, no, no! People say [from age] two, but I say, if you can help it, not before five; but there is so much pressure on the outside."

"I think especially in the first years: No, no, no! People say (from age) two, but I say, if you can help it, not before five; but there is so much pressure on the outside."

It's her view that children under the age of three should have no screen time, and after that, limit it to 15 minutes a day - "they are not toys."

To distract your child from their device, she suggests offering to do something fun with them.

She sees children being handed tablets and phones in cafes and airports so their parents can have peace. Later: "Papa takes [the device] off them, and they scream, and they get rewarded. They give it back because they don't want the children to scream. A lot of parents, I believe, don't have boundaries. Why control it when they're 12 or 13? It's too late."

Her message for parents: You are not as busy as you think. Eat dinner early and go to the park, or go the park, and then prepare dinner later.

"Put your phone away, be 100 per cent available. Children are a gift. Guide them, give clear boundaries, so they feel safe and secure.

"Put your phone away, be 100 percent available. Children are a gift. Guide them, give clear boundaries, so they feel safe and secure."

"Be with your child and find out who your child is and teach the child who he is. And give them love and time."

Driessen's 8-year-old granddaughter has only ever watched one film in her life - The Lion King, when she was sick.

"They need to play as that's how they deal with their emotions. Get outside. Listen to the birds, listen to the crickets, look at this beautiful flower.

They don't notice these things any more. They are robbed of their imagination and their fantasy, and that is huge because that is what their life and development is based on.

"People don't realise what they create," she warns.

"It's criminal because they are playing with their brains. Let them play like we used to.

"I really am speaking from the heart, and I'm concerned," she says. "I fear for children."

*Jack is not his real name