More and more people are handing a child their tablet or smartphone as a simple solution for temper tantrums and boredom.
But, it turns out that this “screen time” is creating mental and behavioral problems in kids. Some of them break things, some of them cry, and some of them even threaten suicide.
Screen Dependency Disorder: Excessive Screen Time Explained
There is mounting evidence that suggests that young kids are showing addictive behavior, mostly due to unregulated screen time.
Children`s brains are prone to notable changes in structure and connectivity which can lead to a screen dependency disorder. Other classifications of this disorder include:
- Compulsive internet use
- Pathological video game use
- Video game addiction
- Internet addiction disorders
- Internet gaming disorder
- Mobile phone dependence
- Social network site addiction
- Facebook addiction
- Problematic internet use
- Pathological technology use
- Online game addiction
“‘Addiction’ is a term increasingly used to describe the growing number of children engaging in a variety of different screen activities in a dependent, problematic manner,” psychologist Dr. Aric Sigman writes in a research paper published in the Journal of the International Child Neurology Association.
8 Major Symptoms of a Screen Dependency Disorder
- Failure to reduce or stop screen activities
- Loss of outside interests
- Withdrawal symptoms
- Increasing tolerance
- Continuation despite negative consequences
- Lying about extent of use
- Use to escape adverse moods
How Prevalent Is Screen Dependency Disorder Among Kids?
One 2015 study published in Behavioral Sciences (Basel) found that 12 percent of young American adolescent gamers to be “pathological video-gamers.” While playing video games doesn’t require any chemical substances, it does lead to addiction-like symptoms.
For Dr. George Lynn, a Seattle-based psychotherapist, up to 80% of his patients` problems are result of excessive use of social media, watching too many online videos, or too much gaming. Consequently, Dr. Lynn is witnessing “a personality syndrome that comes from basically unbridled, uncontrolled use of recreational use of screen media during the day and at night.”[
“Most doctors, family doctors, even psychiatric practitioners are not hip to the obvious fact that a kid might be only getting two to three hours of sleep at night if that,” says Dr. Lynn. “And that causes personality problems.”
What Too Much Screen Time Is Really Doing to Our Kids
According to Family Life and Child Development Specialist and Early Childhood Education consultant Claudette Avelino-Tandoc, screen dependency disorder might lead to problems like weight gain or weight loss, vision problems, anxiety, headaches, insomnia, back pain, feeling of guilty, loneliness, and dishonesty.
The long-term effects are even more severe, such as brain damage, for instance. As a matter of fact, many studies investigating the effects of this disorder have shown that children’s brains shrink or lose tissue in the insula, striatum, and frontal lobe, all of which help govern organization, planning, and developing empathy and compassion.
“Devices or gadgets are not bad per se. They are useful and essential tools for communication, research, learning, entertainment, among other things,” says Dr. Avelino-Tandoc. “Parents are dealing with 21st-century learners, what we call ‘digital natives.’ They should allow their kids to manipulate these tools. However, balance is the key word.”
5 Tips for Parents with Children Who Have a Screen Dependency Disorder
Here are 5 recommendations for children’s media use and Dr. Lynn’s methods:
1. For children younger than 18 months: Parents who are considering introduction of digital media should opt for high-quality programming.
2. For children ages 2 to 5 years: Limit screen use to one hour daily of high-quality programs. It is recommended to co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing.
3. For children ages 6 and older: Limit the time spent using media as well as the type of media.
4. Set ground rules early and enforce them by appointing media-free times together.
5. Stay in the conversation by having open communication about online safety.