Tablets and phones have replaced the TV as a way of pacifying children and keeping them entertained – recent figures, for example, have revealed that one in three toddlers use a gadget before they can even talk.
Yet these devices could be having a significant impact of the mental health of young people.
It seems in today’s world children are born ‘digital’. From young toddlers to teens, children appear to have a knack of being able to navigate the world of technology, using a range of gadgets for enjoyment, social connection, education, communication and convenience. Classrooms are also filled with technology, from computers to interactive whiteboards, and families are now inviting a range of technologies into their homes.
Along with the multitude of benefits technology brings, there has been widening concern over the time children spend with technology and the type of interactions children are having through technology.
How serious a problem is electronic addiction? Consider these statistics:
- Female college students spend an average of 10 hours a day on their cell phones. Guys in college spend nearly eight hours on their phones.
- Children ages 8 to 18 spend more than seven hours a day with mobile or online media.
- Kids are exposed to an average of four hours of TV a day, and many children watch TV from the time they get home until they go to bed.
- Research suggests that between two and ten percent of children who play video games are addicted to them.
- Parents are now paying thousands of dollars for “digital detox” programs for kids who refuse to turn off their devices.
Kids and teens who get addicted to electronics pay a high price. This habit does more than hurt their grades; it can also make them sick. Children who are addicted to video games are more likely to gain weight and feel depressed or anxious. And heavy TV and computer use puts kids at risk for metabolic syndrome, the first step toward diabetes.
If these warning signs ring a bell, it’s time to take action — just as you would if your child got addicted to cocaine or alcohol. Here are the steps you can take:
- Write up a contract specifying how much screen time your child can have each day and spelling out consequences for breaking the rules.
- Make a rule that during homework time, at dinner, and one hour before bedtime, all electronic devices get shut off. That means yours, too.
- Use parental controls to limit your child’s cell phone, TV, and computer time.
- Find out what’s going on in your child’s life. Kids who are stressed or depressed are more likely to develop a screen addiction.
- Create ways for your child to get a healthy hit of dopamine and serotonin out in the real world. For instance, go shopping, horseback riding, or rock wall climbing.
- Insist that your child spend at least one hour a day playing outside.
- Get your child involved in volunteer work or organized sports.
- If your child keeps breaking your new rules, or threatens to become violent or resort to self-injury, call a therapist. Look for one who’s experienced in dealing with “digital detoxing.”
Also, set a good example yourself! No matter how much you’re itching to read, resist the urge to cheat. Don’t even sneak into the bathroom with your phone in your pocket. Seriously. Whatever rules you set for your child, follow them yourself.