Electronic Addiction Crisis

Electronic Addiction Crisis
Posted on 05/16/2019

electronic addictionElectronic Addiction Crisis

Written by  Dr. Sherry Pottgen

Technology is a vital part of this modern world. It has both informational and entertainment value. Many use electronic devices as a way to escape reality and enter into a different world where their problems are solved and their wishes are possible. Over time, chronic use can lead to electronic addiction with a growing dependency and increased risk of misuse or overuse.

Electronic addiction is a worldwide problem and has become a growing concern among children and adolescents. It is defined as excessive screen time (tablets, smart phones, computers, TV, and video games) that causes problems in other areas of one’s life and consumes all other activities. Studies show children 8-18 years of age spend an average of about 44.5 hours per week in front of a screen on their electronic devices. Some teenagers will even average a staggering 9 hours a day on their phones.

Too much screen time is unhealthy and has been linked to poor sleep habits, school difficulties, less imaginative play, decreased reading, poor social skills, and higher rates of obesity. Not only is the number of hours spent on an electronic device a concern, but the long term negative effects of its use on our kids is the bigger issue. Studies suggest that intense social media use and excessive gaming are associated with an increased risk of anxiety, depression, and substance use in teenagers who are constantly comparing themselves to their peers and worrying about what others think. Research has also suggested that too much screen time can decrease one’s learning opportunities and overall cognitive functioning.

Electronic addiction is often compared to substance abuse, both of which have a stimulating effect on the brain. Like addiction to drugs and alcohol, electronics devices offer kids a way to escape their feelings of pain and troubling situations. It can be habit-forming and difficult to give up once its use has become excessive. Kids start withdrawing from family and friends and even sacrifice sleep time in order to be on their device. Some children and adolescents who have difficulty socializing or lack close friendships are at greater risk for developing excessive electronic use habits. Most often they turn to devices and online forums to cope with these problems and to seek the companionship they are missing in their lives.

Almost every parent stresses about how many hours their child spends using electronics. It is an increasing battle to get kids to put down their devices to engage in other activities, go outside, interact with family or friends, do their homework, help around the house, or come to dinner. Most children and adolescents feel compelled to immediately respond to text messages, notifications or social media posts that they lose touch with reality. Here are some red flag symptoms to look for in your child that suggest a problem with electronic addiction:
- Can’t control their screen time use
- Becomes angry or agitated when their screen time is interrupted
- Becomes irritable when not on a device
- Is preoccupied with using electronics that it takes over most of their thoughts when they are doing other activities
- Loses interest in activities that they used to enjoy
- Loses track of time while on their device
- Disobeys time limits that have been set
- Lies about time usage and sneaks on electronic devices when alone
- Checks email or text messages several times a day
- Screen time takes the place of homework or other activities
- Spends time on electronic devices rather than with family or friends
- Sacrifices hours of sleep in order to use electronics

Parents can often feel overwhelmed and even powerless to stop or control the excessive use of electronic devices in the home. Here are some practical recommendations for parents to help limit screen time for their kids:

Budget the time: Designate a set time allowed for each device or a grand total for the day or week. Consider allowing the child or adolescent to bank the time if they choose not to use it immediately. This will provide them with a sense of control.

Cut it out or ban it
: Some believe that cutting out screen time altogether during the school week is a good solution. This way there is no need for discussion and the expectations are set.

Shared decision making
: Involve your child in setting the rules/limitations of proper screen use at home. Consider making some compromises to allow the child to feel empowered and a chance for them to take ownership.

Enforce the rules
: Follow through with the restrictions that have been set. Many believe an abrupt change is the best and leads to the most favorable outcomes. It is recommended for parents to find things for their kids to do to fill the time and to help them figure out ways to deal with their boredom and have fun. This encourages creativity and self-directed imagination.

Schedule the time
: Plan when use of electronic devices is allowed. Homework and chores come before screen time. Consider taking away device privileges for bad behavior. Parents must avoid using screen time as a babysitter for their kids.

Designate no-screen times
: Determine certain situations when no electronic devices are used, such as meals, family time, car rides, when friends are visiting, on family vacations, etc. Consider locking phones/tablets away or checking them at the door to prevent the temptation.

Parents to be role models
: Parents need to follow the rules and be held accountable as well. Give your child your full attention and help foster meaningful interactions.

Be consistent and follow through
: It is imperative that parents stick to the rules and don’t waver on screen usage after the expectations are set. Once consistency is established, things will become routine and new positive habits will form.

Don’t use as a reward
: Parents are discouraged to use extra electronic use or screen time as a reward for good behavior. Avoid giving more electronics or video games as gifts. This just perpetuates the problem and makes if more difficult to control.

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