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March 01, 2020

Screen Dependency Disorder: The Effects of 'Screen Time' Addiction

Smartphone or tablet screen time is part of our lives and can be used in moderation. However, overuse by children is creating brand new mental health issues and behavioural problems in young kids. 

Whether kids are playing video games or using smartphone apps, there is a growing mountain of evidence suggesting that young boys and girls are exhibiting addictive behaviour. Why? Largely because of extensive exposure to (unregulated) screen time.

Whereas adult brains are more developed, children’s brains are susceptible to significant changes in structure and connectivity which can stunt neural development and lead to a screen dependency disorder.

In psychologist Dr. Aric Sigman’s research paper published in the Journal of the International Child Neurology Association, he writes: “‘Addiction’ is a term increasingly used to describe the growing number of children engaging in a variety of different screen activities in a dependent, problematic manner.”

Major Symptoms of a Screen Dependency Disorder

If you have a child or grandchild, the following symptoms may present themselves if their screen time – especially on the internet and video games – compromises their ability to function.

• Preoccupation
• Withdrawal symptoms
• Increasing tolerance
• Failure to reduce or stop screen activities
• Loss of outside interests
• Continuation despite negative consequences
• Lying about extent of use
• Use to escape adverse moods

The Effects of Screen Time Overuse

Becoming someone with a screen dependency disorder can have devastating effects. According to Family Life and Child Development specialist and Early Childhood Education consultant Claudette Avelino-Tandoc, a child’s screen dependency disorder may lead to insomnia, back pain, weight gain or loss, vision problems, headaches, anxiety, dishonesty, feelings of guilty, and loneliness.

“Devices or gadgets are not bad per se. They are useful and essential tools for communication, research, learning, entertainment, among other things,” says Dr. Avelino-Tandoc. “Parents are dealing with 21st century learners, what we call ‘digital natives.’ They should allow their kids to manipulate these tools. However, balance is the key word.”

5 Tips for Parents on Children’s Screen Use

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics’ new recommendations for children’s media use:
• For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting. Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
• For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
• For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviours essential to health.
• Set ground rules early and enforce them by designating media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
• Stay in the conversation by having ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

Source adapted from Healthy Holistic Living

Here at Discovery Point Nursery and Academy, daycare in Woodbridge, Vaughan, our caregivers are concerned with the health and wellbeing of all the children in our care. If you have any questions for us on appropriate technology use for young children, please feel free to talk to any of our qualified ECE teachers.