Technology Addiction

How Screen Dependence Is Impacting Children And Families

By Holli Kenley

In recent years there has been a growing body of evidence that Internet Addiction Disorder has become a major health crisis in many of the world’s developed countries (Kardaras, 2016). Although Internet Gaming Disorder was included in the DSM-V (2013) under “Conditions for Further Study,” Internet Addiction Disorder was omitted. However, in an Executive Summary “Technology Addiction: Concerns, Controversy, and Finding Balance” (May 2016, pp.3-14) published by Common Sense Media, researchers investigated how “dealing with devices” affected the parent-teen dynamic.  When 620 adults and 620 children (ages 12-18) were asked the question, “Are We Addicted?” the results were as follows:

Parents say:

  • 59 % of parents feel their teens are addicted to their mobile devices.
  • 27% of parents feel addicted to their mobile devices.
  • Teens say:
  • 50% of teens feel addicted to their mobile devices.
  • 28 % of teens feel their parents are addicted to their mobile devices.

Recognizing the potential health hazards associated with excessive screen usage, in 2013 the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) issued a policy statement “Children, Adolescents, and the Media”, recommending that “Pediatricians and other health care providers ask two media questions and provide age-appropriate counseling for families at every well-child visit:

  • How much recreational screen time does your child or teenager consume daily?
  • Is there a TV set or an Internet-connected electronic device (computer, iPad, cell phone) in the child’s or teenager’s bedroom?”

The AAP also established several recommendations for parents regarding screen usage including the following: limit the amount of total entertainment screen time to <1 -2 hours per day; discourage screen media exposure for children 2 years of age; and keep the TV set and Internet-connected electronic devices out of the child’s bedroom.

At times, the ubiquitous nature of dependence upon electronic screens is joked about and there is certainly a plethora of benefits from them. However, in a newly released book “Irresistible: The Rise of Addictive Technology and the Business of Keeping Us Hooked” (2017, pp.26-28)), author Dr. Adam Alter states, “40% of the population suffers from some form of Internet-based addiction.”  He, along with other experts such as Dr. Victoria Dunckley, Dr. Nicolas Kadaras, Dr. Kimberly Young, and Dr. Kathy Koch have identified a host of clinical, psychological, neurological, social, and physical effects of both passive and interactive screen time, especially on children and their developing brains. In “Reset Your Child’s Brain”, Dr. V. Dunckley has identified a new disorder – Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS) – which mimics Disruptive Mood Dysregulation Disorder (DMDD); however, its causation is directly correlated to exposure to screens and ESS presents with a boarder variation of symptoms (2015, pp.17-18).

There is much to be concerned about.  Whenever tackling a challenging health issue and examining causation, it is helpful to default to a behaviour principle: The degree of access or exposure to or consumption of anything is a predictor to the degree of consequence – either positive or negative. How, then, with access to and consumption of screen time on the rise, is a healthy relationship with technology possible? With Screen Dependence, it starts with becoming informed of the health consequences and then moving into a more balanced approach with usage. As is true in addressing other dependent and addictive behaviours, individuals may feel anger, denial, and resistance. In Power Down & Parent Up”, a new resource for addressing screen dependence and raising tech healthy children,  a family-friendly approach is utilized while imparting critical information and providing tools for moving forward. Remember, real power comes in being informed.

Based on current thinking and research, the following guidelines are strongly recommended in moving towards healthier practices in our relationship with technology and with one another:

  • No screens whatsoever in bedrooms.  This includes adults.
  • All screens are shut off two hours before bedtime, for everyone!  Spend time with one another, face to face, really connecting.
  • All screens should be kept in a common area.  This is critical for monitoring and supervising.
  • For families, this is important. Every family must have a Family Online Safety Agreement.* By implementing a family agreement, you will bypass years of arguments and confusion over tech usage.  More importantly, children will have safer and healthier online experiences.

A similar tools is the Family Media Plan* - sponsored by the American Academy of Pediatrics. Families can customize plans for children given their different ages! It’s easy to implement, allowing for changes and additions to their recommendations!

For more information on raising healthy “Screen Kids”, take a listen to an informative and restorative Screen Kids Podcast* series with educators and hosts  Dan Kenley and Ed Berger on Insights Into Education.   

Publishers Notes: Holli Kenley is an American Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and the author of “ Daughters Betrayed By Their Mothers: Moving from Brokenness to Wholeness” and “Power Down & Parent Up!: Cyber Bullying, Screen Dependence & Raising Tech-Healthy Children”