Take control of your child’s screen time

Change the household dynamic to reduce arguments and tears

Over the last several years, increased screen time has become one of the most common parenting issues brought to counseling.     

Research suggests that schools and the therapeutic community are seeing higher rates of parent/child discord, anxiety, depression, and anger management issues due to kids spending more time on smart devices

Many parents report spending copious amounts of time arguing with their child to curtail, limit or remove access to screens, which results in anger, frustration and resentment for parents and children. 

In her most recent book, IGen, Dr. Jean Twenge directly correlates higher rates of adolescent depression and anxiety to the release of the IPhone in 2007.  Her research suggests that over-connected kids are facing challenges that kids prior to the 1990s did not face – online bullying, unlimited access to information, decreased personal communication between peers and feelings of anxiety around not fitting in, or just an overall fear of missing out (now an acronym, FOMO).

In addition, the latest research on the brain is beginning to pinpoint the exact areas of the brain that are affected by screen time, whether that be video games, smart phones or computers.  MRI research suggests that screen time impacts the pleasure centers of the brain, directly changing dopamine levels in the brain.  This connection to dopamine levels makes screen time equally addicting as drugs and alcohol for many children.

Along with this MRI research, several studies have been conducted regarding which type of kid overuses video games and smart phones.  Much of this research suggests that kids who are addicted to video games are kids who struggle in school academically or socially and play video games to connect with others. 

These video games allow them to engage in a world where they are finding success, engaging socially with peers who relate to them and give them a sense of community.  It makes sense, given this scenario, that when parents tell them to limit their access to this positive interaction or disconnect from it altogether, that kids would struggle with their parents.

A lot of attention has also been given to tweens and teens who are introverted or socially anxious.  Smart phones allow them to engage with their online community without having to push themselves outside of their comfort zone by having face-to-face interactions.  Conversely, many socially engaged teens find themselves feeling left out or disconnected, even while monitoring their social media round the clock. 

So, how can parents change the household dynamic?

1. Make a family policy around screen time – parents need to model this and follow the same rules.

2. Create a progressive use plan of screen time based on age of child.

3. Understand the apps on your child’s phone.

4. Make it a ritual to remove screens prior to bedtime.

5. Be consistent with how much time per day a child can use their screens.

6. Create a plan to use screen time as a positive reinforcer or reward.

7. Make rules that all homework, chores and daily responsibilities have to be completed before screen time can start.

If the relationship with your child has become unbearable or you are concerned about your child’s mental health, reaching out to a therapist can help with sorting through the emotions around the screen time struggle. 

Tracey Tucker is executive director of New Heights: Adventures for Teens and a licensed mental health counselor at Tradeport Counseling Associates in Portsmouth.

Categories: Raising Teens & Tweens