Screen addiction in children and teens

Screen addiction in children and teens

Modern parents have the same worries of the generations from three or four decades ago – drunk driving, school absenteeism, underage drinking, etc. However, there is a new worry in the child-rearing world – screen “addiction”.

Technology is a wonderful resource, connecting people and opening up previously unavailable opportunities. But it can also be a cause of conflict, distraction, and inappropriate behavior in both children and adults. A Common Sense Media Report on the issue asked 1,200 teens and parents about mobile device involvement in family life. Fifty percent of the polled teens feel addicted to their gadgets, and sixty percent of the parents feel that their children are addicted.

The use of the word “addiction” itself, however, is somewhat problematic. The connotation of the term suggests lack of control, similar to Internet Gaming Disorder. Feeling out of control and hopeless is not empowering. A better term is “excessive use”, which is fixable. Bringing awareness to the issues, then addressing them is key to improvement.

The poll’s results indicate that these behaviors can use re-balancing:

  • Distraction: 77% of parents report their child paying attention to the device and not the immediate surrounding situation. One way to approach that is to implement “unplugged” time. For example, every member of the family can deposit their silenced mobile device to a designated area. Everyone should agree that the devices will stay there, untouched, until dinner or another family activity is over.
  • Conflict: over 30% of both parents and teenagers report arguing about devices on a daily basis. Like in the previous point, designating phone-free time can eliminate the need for consistent disagreements.
  • Risky behavior: 56% of polled parents check their phones while driving, and 51% of the teenagers notice that. As the famous saying goes: “more is caught than taught”. Parents should make every effort not to model this type of behavior, locking up the phone in the glove compartment, if needed, or leaving it in the purse. Hands-free Bluetooth devices like headsets or direct phone-to-car connections can be used in an emergency.
  • Compulsion: 48% of parents and 72% of teens report wanting to respond immediately to notifications such as texts or social media comments. The solution is simple, but not easy. Disabling notifications is one way to cut down on the digital noise, checking social media only when convenient, instead of constantly being available. Deleting unnecessary accounts is another way (is there a legitimate “need” to be on Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, LinkedIn, Tumblr, and Flickr simultaneously?) to be less connected.

Regardless of the degree of “electronic pollution”, every family can take the necessary steps to reduce the disruptive behaviors stemming from device overuse. Family time without electronics, dinners with the TV off, honest conversations without blame can significantly increase the satisfaction every member of the household feels while being together. Teenagers are emotionally intelligent beings, and they crave human connection, just like their parents do. Connecting in person, not through the screen, can satisfy that need in a way that even hundreds of social media accounts cannot.

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