We know that kids love time on electronic devices. The world is utilizing the internet and devices more and more daily. During the COVID-19 pandemic, many relied on electronic devices to remain connected to their friends and family, attend support groups, participate in telehealth appointments, go to school, and continue working while under social restrictions. As pandemic restrictions seem to be lessening as vaccines roll out, the use of electronic platforms to connect to others will likely increase compared to pre-pandemic times.
Kids most likely supplemented time with their friends with Zoom chats or other video formats. Others may have increased video gameplay, where they could virtually meet up with friends while enjoying their favorite games. Social media is here to stay; however, as parents, we might be concerned that our kids are spending too much time on their devices. Can our kids become addicted to the internet and other screens?
What Does Screen Addiction Look Like?
It is more than reasonable to assume that our kids will be using screens throughout their lives. Phones, laptops, and tablets have become the new epicenter of entertainment, recreation, and work within our lives. Kids will most likely need electronic devices for their education and careers. While the use of screens might seem excessive compared to our youth, we have to realize that our kids are growing up in a different world. What might have seemed problematic in our time might be normal now.
Understanding the difference between a normal or healthy use of electronics and problematic use might be difficult. Knowing how much is too much is challenging and sometimes depends upon why the devices are used. For example, a teenager using their laptop for hours while researching a school project is much different than a kid surfing the internet all night looking at pornography. Like other process or behavioral addictions (gambling, sex, shopping, etc.), screen addiction can mimic similar chemical dependency signs.
These four signs can help you identify screen addiction:
*(note: the stress of the COVID-19 pandemic may have influenced some of these behaviors).
- Minimal face-to-face interactions with friends. *(As things begin to re-open, notice whether or not your child opts to continue distancing and isolating).
- Poor grades in school or difficulty paying attention. *(When in-person learning resumes, notice if your child’s grades return to their baseline).
- Quick to anger and frustrated without access to screens or the internet.
- No longer prioritizing or practicing basic care, like hygiene, sleep, or eating due to the amount of time spent on screens.
Most parents should be looking out for these behaviors as things begin to re-open and return to normal. If kids are reluctant or refusing to leave their screens to reacquaint themselves with friends or activities, they might have developed an addiction to their screens. Many people have found their screens to be a source of comfort and connection during this time of restricted access to preferred activities with friends and family. However, if we continue to see these signs or they worsen as things return to normal, our kids might be addicted.
Getting Our Kids Off the Screens
Unlike drug or alcohol addiction, abstinence is not an option for most process addictions. Screen addiction is no different. We cannot quit our screens—we need them for school, work, and connection. We can develop healthy relationships with technology and teach our kids to do the same. We can create some household rules regarding technology to help our kids keep their relationship with screens healthy.
- Turn wifi off at a specific time of the evening until the morning.
- Have a “no phones in the bedroom at bedtime” policy. Collect everyone’s phones before going to bed.
- Have kids do their homework in common areas, if possible. Kids will likely need laptops for school work. We can easily monitor internet use in shared spaces like the kitchen or dining rooms.
- No cell phones at the dinner table! This rule applies to everyone—parents included.
- Plan activities at home or out that do not require electronics, like board games, bowling, or hiking—institute a similar no phone rule at these times.
- Set an example! Be mindful of your relationship with technology. Initiate a conversation about your problematic usage of screens, social media, and the internet!
Always remember to ask your kids questions about why they use their screens. We might not understand why they seem to be on their screens so much because we grew up in a different time. Some kids might have developed healthy hobbies like creating videos, animations, sound recordings, and other fun activities on their devices. We can learn a lot about our kids’ interests by asking about video games or social media. Teaching kids to set healthy boundaries with technology can help them succeed throughout their lives as they navigate a world that will continue using screens.
Screen addiction and spending unhealthy amounts of time on social media can happen to our kids. When things began shutting down due to the COVID-19 pandemic, many of us became reliant on technology to continue conducting business, going to school, entertaining ourselves, and connecting with others. Screens and the internet are permanent fixtures in our lives, and our kids will need to develop healthy relationships with technology. Like most other process addictions, addiction to technology is not necessarily something that we can just quit. Our kids cannot just stop using their laptops, phones, or other devices. Many rely on these for work, school, and connection. We can set rules in our homes around technology to help kids unplug from their screens. Some kids use screens and social media as a way of distracting themselves from underlying issues. If kids are escaping through their devices, they may be avoiding other issues. Fire Mountain Residential Treatment Center helps kids struggling with depression, anxiety, addiction, suicidal ideation, trauma, and other concerning issues. Call us today at (303) 443-3343.