Unhealthy Media Dependence: When to Worry, and What to Do
Many children spend hour after hour surfing the internet for videos, playing video games, or communicating on social media. How do you know when this activity is too much? Here are three questions to ask yourself:
- Does your child become very angry or upset when you say that it’s time to turn off the electronics? A little bit of protesting is normal. A major explosion isn’t. If your child behaves as though turning off the screens is the end of the world, it’s a sign that other things – playing, talking, reading, doing art, making music, helping around the house, going outside, or just thinking about things – have lost their appeal. You need to help your child find other ways to feel happy and connected to other people and the world. It’s good for children to have a wide range of interests and activities.
- Is your child staying up very late playing “the game,” online chatting, or surfing; or waking up in the middle of the night to watch TV or go online? Has it become very hard to wake your child in the morning? Is your child taking long naps every afternoon? Sleep deprivation is really very bad for children in many ways. It hurts both school performance, and emotional self-control. You might need to protect your child from the temptations of electronics after bedtime by taking the screens away. This isn’t a punishment, it’s a safety measure (like locking up poisons, medications, and firearms).
- Has your child lost interest in going outside or playing with other children, because he or she is so wrapped up in “the game?” You might be able to carve out “screen free times” (after school, until dinner, for example), and still allow your child an hour or so of screens. But if this approach causes fights, and you find yourself feeling worn out, consider giving your child a complete break from electronics for one or two months – long enough for other interests to grow stronger. Then, if you want, try to see if your child can use the screens in a more balanced way.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has created a very useful tool to help you to take control of the screens in your life. It’s called the Family Media Plan. You can get there by clicking on this link: