July 5, 2022

Is Your Child Addicted to Screens?

by Psych Times Staff

Almost every parent worries about the amount of time that their kids put in on their tablet, smartphone, or TV every day. It can be hard not to use screens as a parenting tool if you need to occupy kids, and with so many games and online content being made for children, getting them off their screens can be hard. However, while it’s natural to worry about this, recent studies have shown that the amount of time that a child spends using a screen isn’t actually as important as how dependent the child is on the screen. 

Spending too much time sitting in front of a screen has been linked to getting a lack of sleep, delays in speech development and poor social skills in children. However, some more recent research by the University of Michigan has found that the bigger problem is actually whether the use of a screen causes problems in other areas of your child’s life or whether it has become an all-consuming activity. When this starts to happen, it is considered screen addiction in children. 

The researchers who carried out this research have developed a tool to measure screen addition in children between the ages of four and eleven. Classic signs of addiction present in children in similar ways to adults, including an inability to stop using the substance (or screen), or when the use of the item begins to interfere with your life and your relationships. When it comes to children and screens, the symptoms are pretty much the same. Here are some of the red flags and warning signs that you should be looking out for that suggest that your children might have an addiction to screens. 

Your Child Can’t Control Their Screen Use

This is known in the psychology industry as ‘unsuccessful control’, when children have trouble stopping using their devices or the TV. If you have tried to set limits on screen time for your child, but they just couldn’t cope with it or manage to follow your rules, this could be a problem. Setting limits on screen time is a common tactic, but pay attention to the results. Your child might show a willingness to comply, but really struggle with staying away from their screen of choice. 

Loss Of Interest In Other Activities

If playing on their tablet or watching cartoons is the only thing that seems to motivate your child and if things like books, toys, doll toys, and sports don’t get them nearly as excited, then they might be too invested in using screens. Offer them things to do other than using screens, such as arranging family trips, encouraging them to play outside, or offering different toys, and seeing how they react. If they’re not interested and just want to go back to their screens, this could be a problem. 

It Preoccupies Their Thoughts

If, when your child isn’t playing a video game, they’re talking to you about what they’re going to do next on Minecraft, wondering what their favourite YouTube creator will post next, or they’re acting out scenes from their favourite tablet game, this could be a sign of addiction. Wanting to talk to you about their hobbies and being excited about it is nothing to worry about, but if it seems to be their only topic of conversation, this could be a warning sign of an addiction. 

It Interferes With Socializing

Has your child started to bring their phone or table to the dinner table? Have you started to notice that they are trying to sneak some peeks at their tablet while they are spending time with other relatives, like while Grandma is trying to talk to them? When screens start to interfere with normal family activities, they could be becoming a problem. If you haven’t already, put rules in place about using phones at the table or during family time, and make sure you stick to these rules yourself. Set a good example about when you use screens yourself so you can do a better job of helping your child to overcome their addiction to screens. 

Screen Use Causes Serious Family Problems

Have you had any blowout arguments that have been caused by screen use? Or have you noticed some behavioural problems that are related to something your child has been watching? You might find you’re getting into arguments about your child breaking rules about screen time or using phones at the dinner table, or you might be concerned that their homework is being neglected because they’re too busy on screens. Has your child started to talk back to you, mimicking what they’re seeing on their TV shows? Do they ask for the toys they’re seeing unboxed by YouTubers or want to try out pranks they’ve seen online? Problems like these could be a sign of the beginnings of an unhealthy relationship with screens. 

Your Kid Shows Signs Of Withdrawal

When it is time to turn off the television in order for your kids to go to bed or put their mobile devices away for mealtime or some screen-free family time, does your child get frustrated? If they get angry or upset about being asked or told to put their screens away, they could be experiencing actual withdrawal. Pay attention to how they react to being asked to put their screens down. If it doesn’t go well, this could be a cause for concern. 

Their Tolerance Is Increasing

If your child used to watch thirty minutes of YouTube after school every day, without any problems, but now they have started even watching it on a phone on the way home from school, then their tolerance to screens is on the rise. Enjoying content is fine, but this would be a good time to more carefully monitor their screen use and start taking steps to restrict it.

They’re Deceptive About It

If your child has started sneaking their tablet into bed with them at night or has started to lie to you about how long they have been playing a video game, this is a serious red flag. Monitor how long your child uses screens, and make sure what they tell you matches up with what you know. Check on them at night to make sure they haven’t taken a tablet to bed and are using it instead of sleeping like they should be. 

A Screen Is Their Mood Booster

If your child comes home from a bad day at school and needs a television show, playing on their tablet, or some time on a video game to make them feel better or to offer an escape from their worries, then this could also be a sign of screen addiction. Wanting to do something fun after a frustrating day is nothing to be concerned about, but if this is the only solution, it could be a cause for worry. 

So far, studies into screen addiction in children have not yet specified how many of these warning signs your child has to be displaying to be considered as having an addiction, or what to do if they do appear to have one. However, if your child has ticked off more than a few of these warning signs, then it could be a good time to reevaluate how screens are being used at home and make an effort to wean your children off of screens before their dependency on them can do any damage. Try to catch these warning signs early so you can intervene more easily. 


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