Screen addiction in children is hardly surprising with the number of screens in our houses. With phones, tablets, TVs and computers it could well be in double figures. According to Common Sense Media, more than half of American children under eight have TVs in their bedrooms. That translates into a total screen time, TV and computer included, of more than two hours daily for each child.
Due to this range, there isn’t an easy way to define the phenomenon of screen addiction in children. A lot of different factors including age, time spent using digital media, other activities, and mental health issues affect it. Also not all screen time is bad. A simple definition of any addiction is when someone can’t help but think about it when not using it. This has large negative impacts on the whole family. This is the same as a chemical dependency as well as a physical one. If your child is showing signs of this, it is a great way to talk about addictions generally. It has the loose medical name of screen dependency disorder.
The aim of this article is to be an introduction to the issue and prevent it. If you believe that your child already has an issue, we have a further article after this one that looks at how to break screen addiction.
Screen Dependency Disorder: Excessive Screen Time Explained
The issue is so prevalent now that it has its own term, screen dependency disorder – defined as excessive use of screens that interfere with academic or other forms of everyday life. Common symptoms include low interest in non-screen activities, low energy levels, and general restlessness during non-screen times. But what exactly does excessive mean? A good rule of thumb is if your child’s screen time adds up to more than one hour per day (for children under 8) or two hours per day (for children eight and older). For me, however, a clearer measure is if, when not on them, they are looking for the next opportunity to be.
There is strong evidence that some people have a personality that makes them more at risk of addiction than others. There are things you can do to minimize your child’s exposure to devices if this is becoming a concern. The most useful thing is to try and start with screen time limits from the beginning.
- Set a good example. If you’re glued to your phone all day, it’s hard to expect your child not to be. You’re their role model, so show them that screens can be a fun part of life but they don’t have to be all-consuming. Turn off your phone during meals and family time, and make sure you spend quality time with your children without any devices. They’ll learn by watching how you use technology—and will probably mimic what they see you do anyway!
- Set limits on screen time for children and adults alike. There’s no magic number that will work for every family. But setting a limit is an important step toward creating healthy habits around technology. As with any discipline make sure that you explain why you are imposing changes to the rules. It is possible to use the settings on phones to establish this. We have put together this guide on how to change settings on phones so games are locked as explained here.
- Don’t let your child have a phone or tablet until they’re old enough to handle one responsibly. If you don’t set these boundaries early on, it can be harder to control how much time they spend with devices later on—and harder to get them away from their screens when problems do arise. We have an article here about the appropriate age for a child to get a phone. However, as above, each child’s case is individual.
How Prevalent Is Screen Dependency Disorder Among Children?
First, let’s break down what could go wrong with excessive exposure to technology at an early age. The following four dangers are all linked to a condition called screen dependency disorder (SDD). It goes by many names, but most people call it techno-addiction. Although there is no single definition for SDD, all researchers agree that it includes three components: craving technological stimuli; use beyond normal needs; and physical or psychological distress when access is denied. It may seem like hyperbole, but according to many experts, addiction to screens ranks among America’s biggest health problems today—only second behind drug abuse.
Final Thoughts on Screen Addiction in Children
If your child is struggling with screen dependency and you’re looking for solutions, know that you’re not alone. More and more parents are making changes to help their children starting as early as first grade. And as a parent, remember that a small step like simply sitting down and talking about what’s happening can be incredibly powerful in helping you and your child understand what’s happening and how to get things back on track. If it seems like a challenge, check out some of our online resources for parents or contact a mental health professional for guidance. We talk in the this article about how to help your child understand genuine happiness. Give it a read.