Screen Addiction In Kids - Warning Signs And Practical Solutions

Has mobile phone or screen addiction gripped your household, especially your children? You are not alone in this wave of psychological danger intensifying everyday. 

The fascination with the technology of screens in children is exactly like we had when we first got cell phones and touch screen phones for the first time. Also, the kids see us using them throughout the day for work, entertainment, or scrolling through social media. As adults, we have significant willpower to turn off those screens, but for kids, the screens are an easy way out for infinite entertainment. It surprises them beyond imagination and eventually hooks to themselves.

Harmful Effects of Mobile phone (Screen) addiction in kids

The recent surveys suggest a multifold increase in the user base of below 18 years. Given the pandemic and online classes, the accessibility to mobile phones, laptops and tablets has become easy. Another study has revealed that microwave radiation from wireless devices is absorbed by children twice more than adults, and their bone marrow absorbs ten times more radiation than adults. 

Health Hazards

The radiation from cellphones are said to be dangerous in many forms. A carcinogen is a term used for anything that is potentially cancer-causing. Cellphones are categorized as 'Possibly carcinogenic to Children' by WHO as they damage children's nervous system built of tissues, skin, bones, and layers of the brain thinner than adults. The radiation leaves the kids vulnerable to many side effects associated with it in the form of tumours in the ear or the brain. 

In the case of mobile phones, the screen is much closer than laptops or tablets. Constant pressure on the eyes affects the delicate muscles, causing dryness, soreness and throbbing headaches, and deterioration in eyesight. 

Psychological Impacts

Mobile phones or screens leave a profound impact for a lifetime. It gives a sense of command over things like games, friends and other things. Children get false hopes that everything happens as they want with just a click. In younger children and teenagers, this feeling of command makes them restless when things don't go according to their wishes, leading to exaggerated tantrums. 

The screen or cell phones provide everything that helps to release dopamine - the happy hormone and thus turns it into an addiction. Removal of the dopamine hormone source makes them cranky, irritated, and hyperactive, which causes inappropriate behaviour.

As monitoring screen time 24*7 is impossible, it leads to access to information and things that are age-inappropriate and harm their mental health. Overuse of screens leads to loss of imagination in kids as their minds get trained to spoon-feed for new ideas. 

Teenage cell phone addiction and symptoms worsen, where friends, new people, social media offers the trip around the world sitting in the comfort of the home. About 89% of teenagers keep checking the phone due to FOMO and Phantom vibration syndrome, where one feels the cell phone vibrating in a pocket or bag as they fear missing out. They feel answering every text or call is crucial.

Effect on Academics

The distraction of mobile phones is as real as it gets. Constant texts, chatting, social media gives a false sense of euphoria and hinder interest and concentration on studies. Indulgence in games and the fanatic zest to cross levels beat the self-motivation of studying. Comparison of mobile phones among classmates induces negative emotions, which lower self-confidence. Rather than learning and exploring things themselves, toddlers learn to depend 

Developmental Delays 

The age group below 12 years of age, if exposed to too much screen time, hinders the developmental milestones. As a parent, it feels exhilarating to see your kids operate gadgets, but the earlier they learn, the easier it is to get addicted . Offering mobile phones or tablets to bribe the kids to do certain things, like eating food, following your instructions, or stopping their tantrums, might feel like a win-win situation in the short term. However, the toddlers learn this as a trick to force you and demand screens to do the basic things like eating, sleeping or even bathing. 

Long hours of physical inactivity lead to developmental delays in cognitive and sensory skills. 

The cell phone addiction overshadows the growth of emotion bandwidth and control over expressions. Interacting with screens leaves them vulnerable to stranger anxiety and poor communication skills when they meet people face-to-face due to poor dialectic memory. Dialectic memory is how our brain knows to react differently in various situations. 

In younger children below eight years of age, it is an increasing concern about how they cannot learn to socialize with other children or even their parents due to constantly using mobile phones. In restaurants, the parents themselves hand out phones to the toddlers addicted to cell phones to make them sit quietly. It deprives them of a chance to learn table manners, etiquette or communicating with parents.

Solutions to Treat Mobile Phone (Screen) Addiction 

Like substance addiction, cell phone addiction addles to the brain in the same compulsive behaviour form. These ideas will need firm consistency and a lot of patience. As parents, you need to convince yourself about the damage mobile phones are causing, which will become irreversible after a certain age. Keep in mind that all possibilities point towards long-term detrimental effects on the mental and physical health of the coming generation in the future.

1. Lead by Example - Your kids will never truly accept what you preach if you are constantly on your cell phones or watching TV. Exhibiting restraint is necessary to make them learn so and help control the addiction. Minimizing the use of screens or phones and letting the children watch that parents use cell phones for work or specific reasons only is a good start.

2. Time-out for Toddlers and Young kids - Always inform a few minutes before you reach the time-up. Let them know the time that a few specific minutes are remaining before they have to stop. The most important thing is if the child is addicted, and when you take away the phone (screen), you will face tantrums. Don't give in! It will eventually train their brain to understand that this activity is about to end. 

3. Technology vs Technology - Use applications for restricting usage, parental controls, and wifi data usage limit are some tools to be adopted for teenagers or older children who can easily unlock phones or have access to personal devices due to online schooling.  

4. Educational Unlock - Some applications provide educational unlock themes where a form of educational quiz, riddle or equation has to be solved to unlock the device. These unlocking applications help the child learn with fun and control the compulsive need to access the screen immediately. Hyperactive kids might also feel turned off and voluntarily move on to another activity.

5. Disable Notification - Disabling notifications or putting them off after school hours, at night, during study time reduces distraction and the urge to check the phone with every alert. Explain the reason to older kids and start practising with a one-time slot at a time to gradually convert into a habit. For younger kids, always keep notifications disabled for all apps to prevent them from entering into a vicious pattern. 

6. Ground Rules for Family as a Whole - The rules for the whole family should be similar. There should be ground rules about the no-screen at specific times such as at mealtimes, while sitting together during family time, or when entertaining guests. Every family member needs to follow the rule to ensure adherence because younger kids learn what they see, and teenagers will not contradict if the elders follow the same rules too. 

7. Replace Screen-Time with Family Activities - Interaction, involvement in family activities, and games is a positive reinforcement technique that works best when treating mobile phone addiction in children and teenagers. Board games, work out together, take toddlers in open spaces to develop an interest in other activities. Choose age-appropriate activities to garner interest that stays alive in the long term. In case of teenagers, it will be difficult to get into their comfort zone. To break the ice, try involving yourself into their likings, get acquainted with which movies, series they watch. Play games with them at times. Once they are more accommodating you can discuss over the issue and try to replace with genuine family time. They should never feel you are being friendly or involved only for the sake of separating screens from them. 

8. Switch devices - When you start diverting addiction, try to shift focus between different devices than a direct withdrawal of a specific one. If the child is addicted to phones, try switching to television for movies or videos etc. Then start weaning off from screens by cutting short overall screen time. A shift towards reading books on hardcover than using kindle or similar devices will also help to reduce screen-dependence.

The prudence is to not provide personal mobile phone to children below 16 years of age, if it is absolutely necessary proper controls should be in place from the beginning to stop them from getting into compulsive usage behaviour.

As scarier it gets, our aim is not to scare you or make you paranoid, but we consider it a responsibility as a partner in parenting to inform you about the harm your child is experiencing.

For any questions drop them below, our experts and fellow parents will surely love to help!

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