This week’s blog comes by popular demand from many parents specifically asking for ways of helping their child or teen with screen addiction.

As a parent, you’re probably no stranger to the inevitable fall outs screen time can bring – the nagging to get your child off the screen in time for dinner, the arguments about them spending too much time on screens (particularly before bed), and the anger outbursts that ensue if we try to enforce some healthy boundaries around screen time and gaming (the kids that is of course, not us…).

You’re not alone!

Back when we were our children’s age, screen time just wasn’t really a thing like it is now. And so, it can be really difficult to understand our children’s (perhaps almost obsessive) need for screens. The truth is, our children are growing up in a world we can’t really fully understand since life now is completely different to the one we lived in at their age. There are now so many pressures for our young people that sit outside of the usual, every day challenges. On top of school, exams and general peer pressure like we experienced, our younger generation now have to contend with:

  •         The pressure to look ‘picture perfect’ on Instagram
  •         Being cool enough to keep up with the latest Tik Tok trends (and the fact we’ve used the word ‘cool’ means       we’re probably not!)
  •         The instant gratification experienced from gaming or getting a new ‘follower’ or ‘like’
  •         Photographs that get published online that leave a footprint for pretty much forever (gone are the days where     we can hide our embarrassing teenage haircuts in the back of a cupboard somewhere never to be seen again!)
  •         The expectation from peers to spend hours gaming online to keep in the ‘clique’ – there is such a social              element to gaming now that it is easy for our children to feel left behind.
  •         And much more!

When we look at it this way, it’s easy to begin to see why screens are so important for our young people. They create a connection to their social world, and as we know, as human beings we are hardwired for connection.

Of course, though, we know the importance of everything in moderation!

Understanding Screen Addiction Symptoms

So, why is screen time so addictive? 

To understand this, it can be helpful to understand screen addiction symptoms and how screen time affects the neurotransmitters (the chemical substances that send messages from one neuron to another) in the brain.

  •         When our child is engaged in screen time, their brain releases dopamine. Dopamine is associated with pleasure-seeking behaviours and we often hear about this particular neurotransmitter when we think of addictive substances like drugs or alcohol. Studies have actually found that the parts of the brain that are activated by someone dependent on substances such as this mimics the way a young person’s brain responds when they are engaged in gaming or a screen-related activity. In essence, screen time and gaming are highly addictive!
  •         It is the reward centre in the brain that essentially works by releasing dopamine (which makes us feel good) in response to a stimulus (such as screen time). As this dopamine hit feels so good, our brain wants more of it and so it encourages us to seek out this same behaviour again and again in order to get the same dopamine hit.
  •         Just like with addictive substances, young people can become fixated on when they can get their next dose of screen time. As our brain is searching for the next screen time hit (all due to the dopamine response), small amounts are no longer enough and our brain craves this more and more.
  •         This dopamine response can even lead to withdrawal-type behaviours. You’ll know the ones we mean – the lack of concentration and focus on other things, the reluctance to engage in anything else, and the anger outbursts if they can’t get their daily dose of screen time, to name a few!

And, all of this can make for a pretty unhappy household.

How to Stop Screen Addiction in Children

So, the big question (as many parents ask) is how do I get my child to stop spending so much time on a screen and start enjoying time with family a bit more? Does my child need screen addiction treatment?

Take a read of our top fairy tips below:

1.      Check out Common Sense Media 

This is a site designed for parents which gives you an overview of all the popular games, movies, apps and podcasts. It provides age-ratings and gives honest reviews about their content if you are unsure what your children are accessing.

2.      Set parental controls. 

Most devices and apps come with options for parents to limit certain functions to control what your child can and cannot access. It’s a great idea to set these up and gives parents some control in what children are accessing online.

3.      Compromise, compromise, compromise! 

Whilst, in an ideal world, we’d prefer our children not to spend too much time on screens, the reality is that is a part of the world that is not going away and is likely to only get bigger as technology advances. Support your child to come to a compromise together. Have an honest conversation about what you feel is and is not reasonable when it comes to screen time. A little give and take can help to create a sense of responsibility in our children and often leads to much less resistance later on.

4.      Set time limits. 

Whilst compromise is important, we want to have a boundary around what is definitely no ok when it comes to spending time on screens. Without this, time online can easily morph from one hour into two or three or more! It is a good idea to start small and build on this. So, for example, if your child is currently gaming for 3 hours or so after school each night, consider cutting this time down by 15 minutes initially and gradually working back from there. This is much more likely to result in success than opting for the extremes.

5.      Have screen-free times or zones at home. 

Perhaps a Tuesday night at home is a screen-free zone from 6pm or you set aside an hour in the week where the family are engaged in a game or fun activity together that does not involved screens. Whatever works for you – but again, it can be helpful to start small.

6.      Give reminders! 

Try to offer reminders when you’re asking your child to stop screen time. This might be a 15-minute warning when the agreed screen time limit is coming to an end and then another reminder 5 minutes before. Whatever reminder system you agree on, keep it consistent and stick to it. Predictability helps to create routine. It may be that you give your child some ownership over this – agree together what might work.

7.      Try to avoid using screen time as a reward or consequence. 

Whilst it can be tempting to use screens as a behaviour incentive or consequence, this can often spiral into bigger arguments at home. Screen time is a part of your child’s life that isn’t going away and so we’re much more likely to create harmony at home if we acknowledge this whilst setting limits. For example, it might be that you agree that an hour each night is reasonable and that this is part of your child’s daily routine that gives them access to their wider social life. At the same time, we might still set limits around when this time might be – after homework is completed for example.

Schedule A Consultation with The Youth Fairy for Screen Addiction

If your child is struggling with screen time addiction and you are tired of tackling the endless arguments at home, we can help.

Get in touch with your nearest Youth Fairy today! .