Breaking screen addiction is tough. In many other articles on this website we discuss how to introduce screens and manage their use. In a similar way you can not always drive your child around for the rest of their lives you need to introduce them to being independent. Your child will have screens with them at all times as they get older. This link takes you to an introductory article on screen addiction, or ‘screen dependency disorder’.
But you have children trying to take on media giants like YouTube and TikTok it is not always a fair fight. They will sometimes loose and start hiding screens in their room or find somewhere in their school to hide away with them. This does not make them bad children, just taken advantage off with the same tricks that gambling companies use.
What Is the Definition of an Addiction?
A genuine addiction means that someone is lying to you or trying to cover up the usage. If they are just on their screens a lot but in the boundaries you set them, this is not an addiction. If it is a concern, change the boundaries you set. In the same way that everyone who drinks alcohol is not an alcoholic. An addict is someone who hides the use and puts it above many other aspects of their life. Breaking screen addiction is a way of helping your child resetting their relationship with screens. Unlike alike alcohol however, it is unrealistic to expect your child to avoid screens for ever. They need to learn how to live with them.
Some people just have more of an addictive personality. How you handle this might have an influence on how they handle feelings about addiction later in life. If you make it a moment of shame, they may struggle to talk to you later about other things. If you make it a moment of love and tenderness, it keeps those channels open. Screens are often the contact that a child has with something that has the potential to be addictive.
While it is difficult to verify whether or not someone allows their children to have smartphones, there are a few famous people who have publicly expressed concerns about their children’s screen time and technology use. Look who is included in this.
- Steve Jobs: The late co-founder of Apple famously limited his children’s technology use and did not allow them to have iPads.
- Bill Gates: The Microsoft founder and philanthropist has stated in interviews that he and his wife Melinda had strict limits on their children’s technology use, and did not allow them to have cell phones until they were 14 years old.
- Mark Zuckerberg: The Facebook CEO has stated that he limits his daughters’ screen time and does not allow them to have smartphones.
- Tim Cook: The CEO of Apple has expressed concerns about the impact of technology on children and has stated that he does not have children himself, but if he did, he would not allow them to use social media.
As a result, those in the know, are worried about the affect of screens on their children. They are aware of the tricks that there are to make screens addictive. Therefore, do not feel that you have failed as a family is you sometimes loose the battle in your house. Make this clear to your child that, like being knocked out by Mike Tyson, sometimes there are unfair fights and, as a parent, you try and protect them from removing them from them. Breaking screen addiction is not trying to make your child unhappy. It is helping them to have an enjoyable fullfilling life.
What What to Do to Break Screen Addiction
If your initial step on finding out their obsessive usage is one of sympathy rather than rage, the next steps are easier. You can talk of a team effort of removing the damaging item and why. You will find that your child wants help, they do not like having this secret. Here are some steps you can follow, you might find, depending on the circumstances you start later on the list.
For example, if you have clear boundaries and have found these have been broken, you might confiscate the screens. To break screen addiction it has to get to the point where the person does not think about a screen when they are not near one.
- Set clear rules and boundaries: Establish clear rules and boundaries around screen time, such as limiting it to a certain number of hours per day, or not allowing screens during mealtimes or before bedtime. Stick to these rules consistently, and explain to your child why they are important.
- Look at altering settings: We have a guide to using the settings on the phone to help manage usage. However if your child is genuinely addicted they will find ways to work round it.
- Remove all screens: If you genuinely think that they have an addiction issue, remove all screens and lock them in the cupboard. This means Xbox controllers, phones and iPads. It might be that your child is not old enough for a phone so you may reconsider this.
- Encourage alternative activities: Encourage your child to engage in alternative activities that do not involve screens, such as reading, playing board games, or going outside to play. Make these activities fun and engaging, and try to participate in them with your child.
- Be a good role model: Children often model their behavior after their parents, so it’s important to set a good example when it comes to screen time. Limit your own screen time and show your child that you prioritize other activities.
- Use positive reinforcement: Offer praise and rewards when your child is able to stick to the screen time rules, or when they engage in alternative activities. This can help motivate them to continue making positive choices.
- Seek professional help: If your child’s screen addiction is severe and impacting their daily life, it may be necessary to seek professional help from a therapist or counselor who specializes in addiction and behavior issues.
Will It Be That Easy?
No. Breaking a genuine screen addiction, like any addiction, is not a 2 day event. If it has got to the point where they are lying to you and hiding screens, it will not be easy. Finding out early is important, and then just explain it is through love. I lock them away in the cupboard and hide the key. Make sure that there are books and other things around, and then make sure I am available. Like alcohol, it is not a bad habit to have abstinence weeks every so often was the initial screen addiction is broken, and then they are reintroduced.
Children are far more resilient than we think. I remember, when working in care homes, in the summer we would put everyone outside in the garden. They would look at each other for a bit, but within 5 minutes they were all doing things. The same for my children, screens are addictive but also easy. If they are not there, they find plenty of other things to do.
Is There Evidence for Screen Addiction?
As above, excess use of screens is different from addiction. Addiction is when it is the first thing your child thinks about in the morning, and, when in the car with friends, they are on their phone rather than communicating. Here I summarize some of the latest research in this field.
- Some children are more susceptible than others. A study in 2012 suggests that excessive video game playing can lead to attention problems and impulsiveness, and that children who already have these issues may be more likely to engage in excessive video game playing.
- Parental use of screens is a significant issue. The American Association of Paediatrics produced a literature review in 2017 of a correlation, and probably causation, of parental use. Children’s greatest role models are their parents. Like religion and sports teams, children often follow their parents. This is the same for smoking and drug use. It would make sense therefore for screen time to be the same.
- Excess screen time is linked to sadness. It is hard to isolate one part of anyone’s life and say it is the reason for something. However, a study in 2018 has made this conclusion that increased screen time is linked to decreased psychological well-being in children. Now children who have excess screen time may have other issues in their home. However, if your think that your child’s screen time is excess to the point where you have to break screen addiction, it may be that there are other things to consider.
Final Thoughts on Breaking Screen Addiction
Screen addiction is real. Above we talk about the signs, an overwhelming focus on gaming or social media, even when not immediately on it. Lying about the amount of time it is being used. It is not enjoyable for the child, and therefore often they will want help. Do ask them why they are gaming so much? Is it to escape thoughts that worry them or because there are issues at school?
In my opinion, the best thing to do, if boundaries have been broken, is to remove the screens and go ‘cold turkey’. I work with children who have had their smart phones replaced with old analogue phones that can only text and make calls. This is their parents choice, but the children all seem happier with it as it removes the temptation.