What is a typical use of screens?
Caregivers and kids alike have become somewhat reliant on their devices, and so using them has become quite typical. Young children are given screen time to watch educational shows with their caregivers and to play educational games; older kids and teens attend classes, complete homework assignments, work on collaborative projects, and play games. When screen use is timed, has an objective, or is supervised it is usually not a cause of concern. It is also common for teens to use devices for chatting with their friends and keeping up with the latest social media trends.
When should I be concerned about a child’s excessive use of screens?
Excessive use of screens is a common cause of caregiver concern. But how much is problematic? Caregivers should take multiple factors into consideration when making decisions on “screen time,” such as, the child’s or teen’s age, the reasons they are using technology (e.g., completing an assignment versus gaming or using social media), and their individual needs.
Here are some signs that children and teens may be developing a problem:
- Interference with everyday activities. When screen use interferes with everyday activities, such as getting ready for school or completing homework.
- Loss of sleep. When screen use results in fewer hours of sleep, sleeping later into the day, or exhaustion during the day.
- Behavioral troubles. Aggression, irritability, or frustration appear after caregiver attempts to cut down screen or technology time.
- Emotional troubles. Noticeable sadness, withdrawal, or nervousness when offline, or preoccupation with being back online.
- Social troubles. When screen use interferes with age-appropriate socializing, such as looking at screens during dinner or other activities.
- Loss of interest in other activities. When screen use results in a noticeable loss of interest in other hobbies or extracurricular activities, such as athletic, artistic, and social endeavors.
- Physical troubles. When screen use leads to somatic symptoms like headaches, back pain, musculoskeletal pain, carpal tunnel syndrome, nausea, or upset stomach. Also, when it leads to increased rates of obesity due to declines in physical activity and significant sedentary lifestyle.
- Not attending to basic needs. When screen use leads to spending more hours than appropriate without eating or or using the restroom.
What can I do to help a child with excessive use of screens?
There are a few things caregivers can do to children and teens who spend too much time with technology:
- Lead by example. Actions can be louder than words. Telling a child what to do is much less effective than silently modeling good behavior. Try to limit the time you spend on your devices. Rules about Internet use and video games should be followed from all family members.
- Limit screen time. Caregivers can set limits on the amount of screen time is permitted for their children and teens. For instance, children under two years may only be permitted to watch a show or play an educational game with supervision. Children and teens may be limited in the amount of time they may use technology after school or on weekends based on their educational and social needs. Caregivers should also educate themselves on parental controls.
- Encourage alternative activities. You need to think outside the box if you want to reduce Internet use for children and teens. Try to engage them in outdoor and social activities or encourage them to invite friends to play outside.
- Remove devices from bedrooms. Everyone should switch off screens about an hour before bed time. Sometimes, caregivers need to remove them from bedrooms as well, which helps ward off temptation to use them at night. Make your bedrooms “no screen zones.”
- Guide digital use for e-safety. Increase your digital literacy. Familiarize yourself with Internet surfing and recognize what it is age-appropriate for your child or teen. Teach them about online privacy and safety.
- Pay attention and look for help for other mental health difficulties. Excessive use of the Internet may be related to social anxiety, depression, or other mental health problems. In parallel, excessive use may increase the problems due to social media (e.g., comparing one’s life to a peer’s social media life).
- Screen time is not a reward. Avoid using screen use as a reward or punishment. This makes screens seem even more alluring to your children or teens.
What kind of professional support can I seek out for help?
It is not unusual that some caregivers feel embarrassed, impotent, or guilty if their child is struggling with excessive screen or Internet use. But, if you are concerned about your child, support and guidance are available now. Communicate concerns during and between visits with your child's doctor, or with school staff and teachers.
Pediatricians or family physicians can help to address initial concerns and refer to specialized professionals. Also, whenever possible, a consultation with a mental health professional may be helpful. These professionals also work with caregivers so that they know how to support their children outside of therapy sessions.
The public system provides services through the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Services (CAMHS) and Centers of Multidisciplinary Assessment, Counseling, and Support (KEDASY).
Where to find more information
Specific, detailed, and clinical information on excessive screen use can be found at [clinical short guide at the program website].
If you want to know more about the closest available services for educational and public health systems for children and adolescent assistance across the country, go to our Services Mapping webpage here.
You can also find more information by pointing your phone camera at the QR code below or by clicking here.