Screen time is an integral part of the lives of children and young adults. Young people use screens as a medium for communication, access, work, pleasure, entertainment, and education. Given the amount of activities that are accomplished on a screen, it seems inevitable that children and young adults are constantly engaged with their phones, computers, iPads or video game consoles.
The Kaiser Family Foundation published statistics stating that “8- to 18-year-olds consume an average of 7 hours and 11 minutes of screen media per day.”* Upon hearing this startling statistic, many parents panic about their child’s screen usage. This panic manifests in polarized ways. Parents may seek answers online to questions such as, “Is screen time linked to increased psychological difficulties?” or “How much time should my child be spending in front of his or her screen?” While searching for clear answers, parents will be met with highly debated research that implies correlation rather than causation.
Lack of clear and concise research prompts parents to take control into their own hands; parents become the regulators of screen time. Consequently, when they ask their child to put down their phone or console, parents are often met with: (1) unsuccessful control whereby their child finds it difficult to stop using their screen; (2) preoccupation as their child thinks exclusively about screen time; (3) withdrawal when their child acts frustrated or aggressive when he/she can’t use the screen; (4) tolerance whereby the amount of time needed for satisfaction in screen time continues to increase; and even (5) deception when he or she sneaks screen time.** These emotional and behavioral responses often prompt intense arguments. Thus parents and children are pitted against one another in a battle that is often brought into therapy appointments.
Through psychoeducation, parents begin to recognize that these behaviors are not simple incidents of their child behaving poorly; rather these behaviors are unhealthy responses identified by researchers at the University of Michigan as “behavioral consequences of screen addiction.”** Once parents become aware of the “emotional or social problems connected with screen addiction,” their tone changes drastically.** The question of “why is my child acting out?” shifts to “how do I teach my child how to develop a thoughtful and healthy relationship with their screens?”
The answer to the aforementioned question is multi-faceted and depends upon who is behind the screen and how they use their device. Other variables that affect screen usage may include age, gender, race, and psychological well being. On the first Monday of each month, we will post a thoughtful review of the topics listed below in a series entitled “Digital Detox.”
Current state of research
Screen time in the news
Screen time per platform
Screen time versus age, gender, and race
Negative consequences of excessive screen usage (screen time as an “addiction?”)
Positive implications of screen use
Management and parental controls
Device distraction in parents and teens, alike
As clinicians who are extremely passionate about the complex world of screen media activity, we hope that our series will provide you with clearer answers to these highly contended issues. We intend to keep up with the current state of research and quickly evolving pace of technology, all while living in this on-going digital experiment, in order to provide answers to the digital questions we are asked often in sessions.