Addicted to the Screen

Addicted to the ScreenWe took our 10 year old Grandson on a road trip last summer. We drove for two days straight to get from the Midwest to Virginia, where we toured Colonial Williamsburg, Jamestown, Yorktown, Fredericksburg and two of our founders plantations.

For the drive, his parents allowed him to use his Kindle to read or play games. They have installed parental controls which restrict the times of day he can use the device as well as the time he can spend playing games vs reading books on it.

My spouse and I were grateful to have him occupied and entertained, but also chagrined he seems addicted to the screen. Just as we coffee addicts eagerly await our morning brew, he counted down the minutes until 8 AM when he could start playing. He seemed extraordinarily oblivious to any and all of the countryside we passed through on our road trip – one of my personal favorites is seeing the scenery roll by. I had to request that he look up to see the Appalachian mountains as we rode through them!

Are we raising a generation of kids addicted to their device screens? Are we adults just as addicted?

No doubt, on both counts.

Just as our parents limited the amount of (TV) screen time we kids had, so today’s parents are striving to find ways to anchor their children in the real (as opposed to the virtual electronic) world.

Why should screen time be limited?

We loved watching TV and today’s kids do too. They also love playing on the computer, using the internet, gaming on their tablets and using their cell phones. Why limit something that fun?

Brains change.

In Psychology Today article Gray Matters: Too Much Screen Time Damages the Brain, Victoria L. Dunckley, M.D. (a child psychiatrist) notes several research studies that appear to show that our brains may actually be changing based on our screen time. She summarizes by saying:

“In short, excessive screen-time appears to impair brain structure and function. Much of the damage occurs in the brain’s frontal lobe, which undergoes massive changes from puberty until the mid-twenties. Frontal lobe development, in turn, largely determines success in every area of life—from sense of well-being to academic or career success to relationship skills.”

Addictions may be formed.

Kimberly Young, as early as 1998, did a study to determine if internet use might be addictive. She created a questionnaire, based on one used to identify pathological gamblers, to separate participants into two groups – dependent on internet and non-dependent on internet. The abstract of the study states:

“Qualitative analyses suggest significant behavioral and functional usage differences between the two groups such as the types of applications utilized, the degree of difficulty controlling weekly usage, and the severity of problems noted were significant differences.”

KIMBERLY S. YOUNG. CyberPsychology & Behavior. FALL 1998, 1(3): 237-244. doi:10.1089/cpb.1998.1.237.

Moodiness may be exhibited.

Anecdotal evidence exists that implies that kids using their devices too much may be more moody and restless than those who have more limited screen time. To see some of these stories, just do an internet search (ah more screen time!) on “moodiness from screen time”.

How to limit screen time.

Parents typically want the best for their children and do what they can to make sure they raise healthy, happy, smart kids. Granting that too much screen time might be detrimental, how can a parent limit it with becoming the Ogre of the house?

Use parental controls.

Many devices now can be controlled by parents to limit how, when and how much the device is used. If they don’t come with built in software, you can always find it. Here is a Consumer Report describing Parental Control apps you can use.

Establish house rules as to days, times and amount of time allowed on screens.

In conjunction with the parental controls, set and enforce rules and expectations with your kids as to when they can use their screens (of any sort), what they can do on them and how much time can be spent at once.

Start young. Although it might be easier for you to let the kid play, in the long run, you may be sorry that you didn’t set the house rules up when your child was a toddler (note that Common Sense Media found, in a 2013 study, that 38% of babies under the age of 2 are using tablets or smartphones.)

Set a good example!

I love TV. I watched way too much while my kids were growing up. You love TV, computer, internet, cell phone, tablet and more and probably use them way more than you realize. I’ve been in a room full of family members, who came together to visit, were we sat in a circle and all of the adults under age 40 were tapping their phones, or texting someone in the next room!

Make eye contact with your children. Go on walks, play board games, run races, fly a kite, take a swim, read together. Pay attention when they talk to you (don’t surreptitiously check that text message). Do what I didn’t, and limit your own screen time.

Take a screen holiday.

There is already an organization promoting a screen free week (Screenfree.Org) – which this year in 2015 will be May 4 – 10.  Check out their site to get ideas on how to survive without screen time for a whole week.  You might want to start small and try a screen free hour, then a day and etc.

Go on a remote vacation and get away from being addicted to the screen.

Leave the tablets, leave the auto dvd player, only use the cell phones for emergencies. Go to Yellowstone (where even cell coverage is limited). Unplug, disconnect, live.

Do you limit your child’s screen time? How?

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Addicted to the Screen — 2 Comments

  1. I take care of my nephew about 2 times a week. His dad took his iPad away for 5 months and he never asked for it. He gave it back to him because of a long road trip and eventually started letting him use it. In 2 weeks, my 7 yo nephew just became so addicted to the iPad. He would go crazy if he couldn’t use it. He couldn’t focus on anything and everything that involved being patient was met with “this is boring.” A therapist told me after I mentioned the behavior said limit the use because studies are showing that kids can get addicted and will have withdrawals.

  2. This is something we especially try to be vigilant with since my son is now 2. He likes fiddling with the iPad, but I find once I do something active with him, he forgets about it. It can get tough with outside influences like family and friends, but limiting as much as possible is a good thing. I shudder to think how much screens will be prevalent during his teenage years.

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