The next time when you go outside and go to a café, look around. You will see that there is a screen before each child around you. In the 21st century, as technology improves, we are becoming more aware of the fact that giving children a tablet or smartphone is a great solution for their boredom and tough temper.

Nevertheless, this phenomenon, also known as ‘screen time’ is affecting children’s physical and mental health and is creating behavioral problems. Therefore, some children break objects, some of them cry, some threaten to commit suicide, etc.

A screen dependency disorder: What is “Screen Time” addiction?

When it comes to using smartphones to play video games, evidence suggests that young girls and boys show addictive behavior. The reason for this is spending too much time on screens.

While the adults’ brains are developed, the brains of the children are more susceptible to changes in the connectivity and structure of the brain that can lead to neural development and cause a screen dependency disorder. In addition, screen dependency disorder is also classified as:

  • Facebook addiction
  • Social network site addiction
  • Dependency on mobile phones
  • Online game addiction
  • Video game addiction
  • Pathological technology use
  • Pathological use of video games
  • Compulsive internet use
  • Problematic internet use
  • Internet gaming disorder
  • Internet addiction disorder

In the Journal of the International Child Neurology Association, Dr. Aric Sigman wrote that the term addiction is used to describe the increased number of young children engaging in different types of screen activities in a problematic way.

8 common symptoms of screen dependency disorder

If children spend a lot of time in front of screens, they may experience some of the following symptoms:

  • Preoccupation
  • Increased tolerance
  • Withdrawal symptoms
  • Failure to stop or reduce screen activities
  • Continuation in spite of the adverse consequences
  • Lying about the screen time use
  • Loss of other outside interests
  • Use to avoid adverse mood

How common is screen dependency disorder in children?

A 2015-study discovered that nearly 12 % of the American adolescents who play video games are pathological video gamers. Even though playing video games does not need any intoxication or use of chemical substances, according to the researchers, it can cause symptoms of addiction, such as the ones given above.

According to Dr. George Lynn, about 80 % of the problems of his patients are derived from playing video games, manipulating apps, watching online videos, or using social media excessively. The uncontrolled use of screen media during the day and night has led to personality syndrome.

It is obvious that children sleep only 2 – 3 hours at night, and this contributes to personality syndrome, too.

What are the effects of “Screen Time” on children’s health?

If you experience screen dependency disorder, it may have countless adverse effects on your overall health. Claudette Avelino-Tandoc, a family and child development specialist, thinks that the screen dependency disorder in children may also lead to insomnia, sudden weight gain or weight loss, pain in the back, vision problems, poor nutrition, mood swings, agitation, severe headaches, dishonesty, anxiety and depression, loneliness and feelings of guilt.

In addition, the long-term effects of the screen dependency disorder can be as detrimental as brain damage and communication problems. In other words, many studies investigating the effects of screen dependency disorder in children have found that the brain of the children loses or shrinks tissue in the insula, striatum, and frontal lobe.

These brain areas are responsible for organization and planning, suppression of unacceptable impulses, and the ability to develop empathy and compassion, respectively.

In addition, according to Dr. Avelino-Tandoc, gadgets and devices are useful tools for communicating, learning, doing research, entertaining, etc. Parents are dealing with 21st-century learners and they should let them manipulate and balance these useful tools.

Tips for parents with children who suffer from a screen dependency disorder

The American Academy of Pediatrics has recently issued new recommendations for children’s use of media and Dr. Lynn’s methods:

  • For children under 18 months, the use of screen media should be avoided. Moreover, if you are a parent of children between 18 – 24 months and if you want to show them digital media, you should use high-quality programming and explain to them what they are watching.
  • For children between 2 – 5 years old, limit the use of screen media to 1 hour a day of high-quality programming. Parents should watch media together with their children and explain to them what they are watching and how it relates to the everyday world.
  • For children older than 6 years, limit the time they spend on social media and make sure that social media does not replace the time of sleeping, doing physical activities, hanging out with friends, etc.
  • Establish ground rules and enforce them by creating social-media time together, like driving or dinner, and social media-free space at home, such as bedrooms.
  • Engage in a conversation about online safety and citizenship, treating other people with respect offline and online, etc.
  • Parents should balance the use of technology at home. Besides using gadgets, they should stimulate their children to develop physically, improve their socio-emotional skills and enhance their language.