From TVs to our phones and tablets, devices have become such a central part of our lives.
Yes, technology certainly has its place for education and socializing. But too much of it can undeniably have a negative effect. Digital addiction is a real and complex thing — something that’s important to address as early as possible.
Being raised in a world so saturated with screens and devices, it’s pretty common for children to develop some kind of dependence. Many parents are asking themselves the same question: how much is too much?
Here’s everything you need to know about recognizing, and managing, screen addiction in your kids.
Signs of screen addiction in children
It can be hard to tell whether your child has an actual screen addiction. After all, so much of their socializing and schoolwork are done online that the boundaries can easily be blurred. It’s a good idea to broadly monitor what they’re up to, and keep an eye out for some telltale signs of screen addiction.
They struggle to stop even after you impose limits
If you find that your child is constantly trying to bend the rules and get more screen time, it could be a red flag of addiction.
It’s not so much that they want to be using their devices, it’s that they struggle to find the joy in anything else.
Loss of interest in other activities like sports or reading
If the only thing that brings your child excitement is playing on their phone or tablet, it’s a sign they’re too invested.
It’s important for kids to spend the majority of their free time on “real world” hobbies like sports, toys, or playing with other kids.
It’s interfering with socializing
Is your child bringing their phone to the dinner table and sneaking peeks at it? Are they keeping one eye on the TV or tablet while having conversations?
This could be a sign that they’re suffering from an addiction to their screens.
They’re being deceptive
Deception is a major sign of screen addiction. If your kid is hiding how much they use their screens, then they probably know they’re using it too much. But they still can’t stop.
If you see them sneaking their phone into bed at night, or lying about how much time they’ve spent playing video games, it’s time to take action.
They need a screen to boost their mood
Researchers say that many children with a screen addiction rely on their devices to boost their mood. If your kid comes home angry or moody, and the only thing they can do to feel better is to escape into their screen, they’ve built up a potentially harmful dependence on their devices.
6 ways to combat your child’s screen addiction
1. Model healthy screen use
As parents, it’s our role to teach by example.
Avoid spending too much time on your phone around your kids — maybe you can even set time limits for yourself as well? Turn off the TV if you usually have it playing in the background, and have set hours every day that are dedicated family screen-free times.
Let your child see you purposefully putting your devices away while you’re at dinner or socializing. When you ask them to do the same, it’ll seem more like good manners than a punishment.
2. Work with them on setting boundaries
Ask your children what they think is a fair limit for screen time.
Chances are, they’ll come up with a pretty good suggestion. Otherwise, maybe you can compromise — if 3 hours a day is too much, maybe they can have 45 minutes on weekdays and 90 minutes on weekends?
It’s a lot easier to lay down the law when they had a hand in making the rules.
3. Come up with fun alternatives
Ah, the age-old distraction method. If you want your child or teen to put down their device, you need to offer them something more fun in return.
If they like reading, take a trip to the library or bookstore and stock up on fun books they’re excited to read. Pull out old board games or teach them card games like Go Fish or Crazy Eights.
Download and print activity worksheets on topics they’ve shown an interest in. We have hundreds of worksheet bundles on everything from Greek Gods and Goddesses and the Solar System, to Ariana Grande, and even non-digital activities like origami and riddles. If your kids are still craving online media, why not put on an educational podcast (like ‘But Why’ or ‘Finn Caspian’), which they can listen to while coloring-in or playing inside.
4. Budget time
Some parents have had great success in letting their kids bank up allocated time. Say, for example, their daily limit is 30 minutes. The kids can use 15 minutes and then “bank” the rest to be used on the weekend. This allows your child a sense of control over their screen habits.
5. Find beneficial screen time activities
Sure, scrolling social media or playing Angry Birds might not be a great use of time. But not all screen time is created equal: there are a lot of shows, apps, and games that can be entertaining and educational.
It depends on their age group, of course, but we can recommend the YouTube channel SciShow or SoulPancake. There’s even an app — Swift Playgrounds — that’ll teach your kids the basics of coding. Introduce your children to these engaging alternatives, and hopefully, they’ll start incorporating them into their daily screen time allowance.
6. No screens before bed
Studies have shown that looking at a screen just before going to bed can affect sleep quality and have long term health detriments. So impose a rule for the whole family: no phones or tablets within an hour of bedtime.
Maybe everyone has to keep their phone in the kitchen overnight? This is a chance for you to model good screen habits for your kids while looking after the health of the whole family.
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