Mindfully balance your child’s screen time so that it hovers on the healthy side of the spectrum.
Gaming for hours on end, texting into the night, the inability to hold a conversation without checking Instagram or Snapchat—sound like normal teen behavior or cause for parental concern? What is “normal,” anyway? And what’s harmful?
The term digital addiction has been buzzing around headlines in recent years . Yet, researchers and doctors are still grappling with what it actually means. “I like to think our use of digital media operates, like most things, along a spectrum,” says Dr. Dimitri A. Christakis, the director of the Center for Child Health, Behavior and Development at Seattle Children’s Research Institute. That spectrum ranges from healthy usage, which has its benefits, to compulsive, which can be problematic, to addiction, which essentially leaves kids feeling disengaged from other activities and unable to control themselves when it comes to their devices.
How do parents know where our kids fall on that spectrum? Dr. Christakis suggests asking yourself these questions: - How much time is your child actually spending on the device? - If you set the recommended three hours a day of unplugged time, outside of school hours, are they able to do it or does it create anxiety, friction, stress or agitation? - Are you noticing that they prefer to spend time with their device rather than real people? - Do you notice that their device actually intrudes on real-world situations?
If your answers to most of these questions start and end with a yes, you may want to talk to your pediatrician.
Either way, don’t panic. Only a low percentage of kids likely fall into the addiction category (Dr. Christakis estimates that digital addiction impacts somewhere between 5 and 8 percent of kids and young adults). Dr. Christakis recommends mindfully balancing your child’s screen time so that it hovers on the healthy side of the spectrum.
Connecting with friends near and far on social media, FaceTiming with out-of-state grandparents and working the amazing power of Google search are all healthy. But, when your child falls down that digital rabbit hole—for example, when one 3-minute video turns into an hour and time spent playing outside, sleeping, doing homework or bonding with family gets cut short—parents are left with a much bigger problem on their hands.
“As a pediatrician, I always like to think in terms of prevention,” says Dr. Christakis. “It's so much easier to try and prevent compulsive media use, which can then lead to addiction, rather than try to treat it.”
First order of prevention: come up with a media plan with set rules, like no devices at the dinner table or screen time only on weekends, that works for your family. Need help? The American Academy of Pediatrics offers a handy and free tool to help you figure out a doable plan for your crew.
Second order: monitor and set limits that help you stick to the plan. “That's where I think that products like Circle really have the potential to add a lot of value, because it's not easy to track how much time you spend on a particular site or on a particular app,” says Dr. Christakis. “In fact, most people tend to underestimate it because you don't spend it in one sitting.”
The truth is that most parents today struggle with these questions, concerns, and strategies. You’re not alone. For more help, check out Want to Limit Online Distractions Like Games or Social Media.