Screen Addiction: What Parents Need to Know

By Wasim Kakroo

CHILDREN enjoy playing games on their parents’ smartphones or watching YouTube videos on those devices. The use of screens increased manifold during COVID-19 pandemic as children used screen for educational purposes as well as for dealing with the boredom of lockdown. Parents also find it easier to manage their children for a long period if they provide mobile phones to them due to their own busy schedule. However, this seemingly harmless tactic of engaging children can have damaging effects on the brain of children. Children have a danger of eventually being addicted to screens.

Screen addiction is a group of negative behaviors with negative outcomes that can occur when we use technology excessively throughout the day. Constantly playing video games, watching TV, or scrolling through social media functions as a kind of digital drug for our brain.

Dopamine released by using a screen might impair impulse control. Screen time, it turns out, has a similar impact on the frontal cortex of the brain as cocaine. Screen usage triggers a pleasure/reward cycle that, like drugs, can have a negative impact on your life. They can develop screen addiction disorder.

Screen Addiction Disorder:

It is an addiction to screens, such as a computer, a phone, or a television. It also includes addiction to video games. Children can’t control how much time they spend on screens, which can result in poor sleep hygiene, delayed speech, and poor social skills. Due to screen addiction, many even forget the regular routine of eating, studying, and other activities.

The child may gradually distance themselves from all of their routine activities and their family members. They may struggle to focus and pay attention, which results in a decline in interest in their studies. Due to their dependence on technology, they also struggle to memorise the lectures. The physical issues linked to it include soreness in the neck, spine, and eyes and fingers.

Symptoms of screen addiction disorder:

Symptoms may include:

• Children are not able to set screen time limits.

• If you make them limit their screen time, they will have emotional disturbances and aggressive attitudes.

• Gradually drifting away from family and other relationships.

• Lack of enthusiasm for games, books, and other things that are relevant.

• Screens serve as a mood enhancer for them.

• Symptoms of withdrawal and anxiety, which may cause depression.

Some of the adverse effects of screen use include:

• Behavior issues: Children in elementary school who spend more than two hours a day watching TV or using a computer are more likely to experience emotional, social, and attention issues.

• Effect on sleep: Children of all ages, but particularly those under the age of ten, suffer from inadequate sleep as a result of spending too much time in front of screens, particularly on portable devices. Because screen light disrupts the brain’s natural sleep cycle, it can cause insomnia.

• Effect on physical activity level and childhood obesity: Excessive TV watching habits have been linked to childhood obesity in several studies.

• Effects on cognition and brain development: Research indicates that children who use screens for more than two hours a day do worse on tests of language and thinking and receive lower grades.

• Speech delay.

• Cyberbullying and exposure to predators.

• Lack of physical activity causes body weight problems and poor bone health, which over time can lead to heart disease and other health problems.

Given that kids need to explore their surroundings and develop their motor abilities, screen time has a major negative effect on kids. If kids are glued to an electronic device the entire time, this movement for exploration and curious behavior won’t occur.

Screen time recommendations for kids:

Based on research, following screen time recommendations have been put forth:

• No screen time for babies under 6 months old.

• Children between the ages of six months and two years should only connect socially with adults or use screens for video chats with loved ones.

• No more than 2 hour per day of screen time for children ages 3 to 8.

• School-aged children: there is no defined time limit, but parents should restrict gaming and social media use.

Parenting tips on how to cut back on screen time:

1. Sit together in family and discuss with kids the adverse effects of excessive screen use.

2. Discuss with them the various alternative ways of enjoying free time and help them in making those alternatives available to them.

3. Devise a family media policy and stick to it: If kids do not respect the policy, limit access to or remove TVs, tablets, gaming consoles, and cell phones.

4. Find out how much time your child spends online and what she posts or reads on social media. Some kids watch R-rated movies, acquire drugs, access pornography, go into sex chat rooms, send nude images to boyfriends and girlfriends, cyberbully other kids, or get cyber bullied themselves. If you found out that your kid is involved in any such thing, install parental controls on all the gadgets they use.

5. Inform adolescents that whatever they put out there online can harm them one way or the other so that they share the information online responsibly.

6. Children’s bedrooms should not have TV. TV in your child’s bedroom raise the dangers of drug abuse, obesity, and exposure to sexual content.

7. Discourage using electronics at the dinner table. The benefits of eating meals together are diminished if everyone is glued to their smartphones. Put your personal phone away and listen to your children instead.

8. Set up desktop computers in the living room or another public space so you can keep an eye on their online activity.

9. Don’t allow phone use around bedtime, so that children may get a good night’s rest.

10. Look over the cell phone bill carefully for any unnoticed use of the internet. Again, if necessary, set restrictions or remove the device for a set time.

Seek support from mental health professionals:

If you child has developed screen addiction and if you have tried all the parenting tips that were discussed above, then it warrants consultation with a clinical psychologist, who can help you devise a more scientific strategy to help you and your child deal with it. A clinical psychologist may try to understand the various predisposing, precipitating and maintaining factors that have led to screen addiction in your child’s case. They can also try to understand what measures you, as a parent, have already exhausted to deal with the problem. Based on overall assessment, they can develop a treatment plan and implement it with the cooperation of parents.

If screen addiction has become severe and if it has built up anxiety or mood issues, then it may also warrant services of a psychiatrist who can recommend medicines to deal with severe mood issues or withdrawal issues.

  • The author is a licensed clinical psychologist (alumni of Govt. Medical College Srinagar) and works as a consultant clinical psychologist at Centre for Mental Health Services at Rambagh Srinagar. He can be reached at 8825067196

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