Electronic Usage in Children and Adolescents

I want you to think about when you first became a parent or first really talked to your partner before you decided to have children.  How many of you made strong statements such as the following?

My child will never have electronics.

My child can have access to electronics, but we will be careful about their usage and monitoring of those electronics.

To those of you that relate to those statements, how many have stayed the course and abided by those statements?  It is okay, you can keep your hand raised.  Yes, even as a counselor my hand is raised as well.  I said all those things when I became a parent, and I can tell you honestly that I also struggle with maintaining electronic balance in my home.

The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry states that “on average, children ages 8-12 in the United States spend 4-6 hours a day watching or using screens, and teens spend up to 9 hours.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than two hours of screen time a day for children and adolescents and zero time for children under two.  Yes, no more than two hours a day.  

The Dangers of Too Much Screen Time

What are some potential dangers of too much electronic usage?  The American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry list some potential dangers:

  • Violence and risk-taking behaviors 
  • Videos of stunts or challenges that may inspire unsafe behavior 
  • Normalization of sexual content 
  • Negative stereotypes 
  • Substance use 
  • Cyberbullies and online predators 
  • Advertising aimed at your child 
  • Misleading or inaccurate information 

The world of electronics has become a major issue within the mental health community.  In the latest edition of the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), which is used by mental health professionals to diagnose mental disorders, it recognized “internet gaming disorder” as a temporary disorder.

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There is also recent peer-reviewed scientific studies on the combined effects of Smartphone Addiction (SPA), Problematic Internet Use (PIU) and Social Media Addiction (SMA) in teens and young adults. Evidence shows that these addictions are associated with health outcomes such as problematic alcohol use, sleep disorders and mental illness in the 18 – 25 age groups. Until 2022, these maladaptive technology conditions have been only studied in isolation from each other. This is explained in the JMIR Public Health Surveill‘s Measuring Problematic Internet Use, Internet Gaming Disorder, and Social Media Addiction in Young Adults: Cross-sectional Survey Study (Jan 2022).

All of these addictions related to the Internet in general, Smartphones, Social Media and gaming can also be put into a broad-based category called exposure to electronics or ‘screen time.’ The effects of too much exposure to screens starts when young. A child or adolescent who spends too much time on electronic devices or gaming can experience the following symptoms according to the American Academy of Child & Adolescent Psychiatry:

  • Sleep problems 
  • Lower grades in school 
  • Reading fewer books 
  • Less time with family and friends 
  • Not enough outdoor or physical activity 
  • Weight problems 
  • Mood problems 
  • Poor self-esteem and body image issues 
  • Fear of missing out 
  • Less time learning other ways to relax and have fun

Reversing The Pattern

So, how do we go about fixing and curbing the desire and need for electronics in children and adolescents?  Here are a few of my tips that I often share with clients. These are just a few basic pieces of advice that just scratch the surface until we can sit down and talk during a series of appointments:

  • Parenting guidelines should be the same in the real and virtual environments
  • Set appropriate limits and guidelines
  • Model appropriate electronic behavior as parents
  • Encourage non-electronic activities (arts, crafts, Lego’s, building or making things, or going outside)
  • Know the value of face-to-face communication
  • No electronics during mealtimes
  • Create electronic free zones or time periods daily for all family members
  • Educate children and adolescents about the dangers of electronics and online risks
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None of these tips will change things overnight, and each of these basic things carries different levels of priority. Modeling appropriate electronic behavior by parents, however, is an important aspect of this that cannot be ignored.

Setting Boundaries for Screen Time

It is important to avoid the tendency to let technology and multimedia take over our lives, including that of our children.  It will be challenging at first to set and enforce proper limits and boundaries regarding electronic usage for your children, your partner and for yourself. You will also need to make sure any caregivers who are responsible for your children are on the same page.

We are here to help you understand how boundaries and limits can be established, how to monitor and enforce newly introduced limits and boundaries on technology, and how to navigate the various other issues that impact your household every single day. 

Integrative Health Services, LLC is dedicated to providing expert counseling services in the Birmingham area. With a collective experience of over 60 years, our team of licensed counselors and clinical social worker brings a wealth of knowledge and expertise to every client we serve. Our reputation as trusted professionals extends far and wide, as we come highly recommended by respected clinicians, lawyers, and physicians within our community. We are available via telehealth virtual appointments and are a very convenient drive from Southside as well as Homewood, Vestavia Hills, Hoover, Mountain Brook, Alabaster and more.