Screen addiction in children: Does your child fit this description?
Updated: Jan 18
Hi everyone, screen time and issues related to technology dependency have long been matters of concern in the 4 corners of the world, and most of the parents worry about how many hours their children log on their digital device or TV each day. Another important consideration is that since 2020 (due to the COVID-19 issues), most of the rules around kids’ screen time have evaporated as schools and other educational organizations have closed.
But before lockdown, most of the children were already using internet-connected devices throughout the day for several purposes – playing online games, studying, interacting with friends, entertainment, etc. And as it is noted, in the age of pandemic, they are being used even more. Thus, for most mums and dads, the idea of having a screen addiction is a scary one, especially when it could be really negative for your child's development.
Sadly, according to medical studies, these concerns definitely make sense and also, a lot of what we've been thinking about lately. In this context, Dr Twenge and Dr Campbell (Preventive Medicine Reports) found out that children who spend more than 7 hours a day on digital devices (or TV) are more likely to be diagnosed with mental issues, (anxiety and mood disorder) than those who use screens for an hour a day. Also, these specialists point out that screen-addicted kids have short attention span, also they might present symptoms associated with emotional instability, and other issues related to social skills. I know I know, it is clear that digital technology already has much to offer in terms of providing access to online learning, enhancing problem solving skills, among other several benefits, and we realized how important the digital literacy is for our children during the lockdown, but parenting in the digital age introduces challenges; speaking of which, there's always the same question in mind: is my child's screen use "normal" for children his/her age? And how to identify some warning signs of screen addiction? I found some good pieces of advice (study conducted by Dr Sarah Domoff, assistant professor of psychology at Central Michigan University) that might help you to identify any abnormal behavior and it might help you to deal with your concerns: 1- Can your child control their own screen time? If your child can’t control their screen use, specialists call this “unsuccessful control,” it happens when children have trouble stopping using technology. If you’ve tried to set up limits on screen time, but your child just could not deal, this could be considered a problem. 2- Are you child losing interest in other activities? Would they rather spend time watching online content (YouTube, Netflix, TV) over playing outside, reading their favorite comic or enjoying any sport activity? If so, this is a warning sign to be aware of.
3 - Technology / screen are interfering with relationships Is your child bringing a mobile phone or tablet to the dinner table? Sneaking peeks at their while you or other relatives try to make conversation? Whether it is with relatives, parents, friends, relationships of any child should not be built around a screen or technology.
4- Are your child using technology to improve their mood? If you noticed that your kid is using technology “to boost their mood”, or to improve "their happiness", or anything associated to psychological comfort, these characteristics could be a red flag, and this might be associated with over-dependency.
5. Is technology/screens context preoccupying your child's mind?
Ever noticed how your child seems preoccupied after playing an online match? If, even when your child is not playing with technology, your kid is talking about the video game characters or their scores, or also they wondering what their favorite social media influencers will post next, if so, this kind of behavior might be associated with technology/screen addiction
The study does not precise how many of these signs your child has to exhibit to classified as a screen-addicted child, however, if your little one presents more than a few of these characteristics/behavior, then it might be time to make an effort to setup some rules around the uses of screen/technology, before the dependency affects their well being and healthy.
Another important consideration is that great part of mums and dads, who worry about their kids digital habits should set an example by not using their own devices so often – and set ground rules for screen-free days and family off-line activities. We do need to get back to sitting round the table more regularly, having enjoyable "off-line conversations", looking at our loved ones eyes and enjoying our meals as a family. We have to bear in mind that our children learn and develop their behaviour by watching us, and this includes mobile phones and technology uses.
In this context, some studies show that staring at our phones is influencing the bond between family members. In this sense, says Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. “Anything that disrupts the timing, or the meaningfulness, or the emotional quality of that interaction can have consequences on both parents and kids and on their relationship.” Personally, I think that the most important thing that we have to bear in mind is that screen time doesn't replace family time. Even if you're working, answering emails, and doing productive things, you are still setting an example for your children.
Lastly, another consideration is that there are several positive and negative negative impacts of digital technology on children; and I would like to quote a interesting study which compares technology and food: "Like with food, the effects of technology will depend critically on what type of technology is consumed, how much of it is consumed, and for how long it is consumed." (Dr Bavelier, Dr Green, Dr Matthew and Dr Dye - study: "Children, wired – for better and for worse")
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