Are you clinically addicted to screen time?

Tech Talk Tuesday #50: Are you clinically addicted to screen time?

Photo by AnnaElizabethPhotography/iStock / Getty Images

Many people use the word “addiction” casually to describe something they do often and somewhat compulsively. We hear people say things like, “I’m addicted to chocolate or I’m addicted to my cell phone.”  Clinical addiction is a different matter. A clinical diagnosis is defined by:  

  • Negative consequences: problems with relationships, work, school, and more
  • Tolerance: wanting to engage with the substance more and more to get the same affect
  • Withdrawal: feelings of anxiousness, physical symptoms and more when away from it
  • Unable to stop: serious difficulties with trying to cut down or stop

The American Association of Psychiatry (APA) is considering adding Internet Gaming Disorder as an official diagnosis. This is based on studies that show psychological and physiological patterns similar to those exhibited by a person with a drug addiction. For example, MRI studies of the brains of people who play twenty hours or more of video games a week show similar imaging patterns as people addicted to drugs. Internet use that is not gaming related, but rather related to social media and other things, is also a problem for many people but it is less understood from a psychological and physiological perspective. 

If you are concerned about addiction in yourself or someone else, or you want to teach your kids about this issue, take a look at these two questionnaires that screen for problematic use.

For Tech Talk Tuesday this week let's talk about the difference between addiction and compulsion:

  • Do you feel like your screen time creates negative consequences in any part of your life?
  • Do you ever feel anxious when you can't get access to your screen?
  • Should the risk of real screen time addiction be taught in schools?

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Yesterday I was talking to a mom in San Francisco who saw Screenagers this fall and she told me that she was dissapointed that I gave Tessa a phone in the end. She had seen my struggle with the issue through the movie but was really hoping I wouldn't cave. This mom has a 14-year old and has been very resolute about not giving her daughter a phone. Her daughter takes the public bus around the city and walks all over town by herself but she doesn't have a phone. She asked me, "Why not just say 'no'?" 

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Screenagers came to life for two main reasons. The first: experience and science have shown us that excessive screen time can affect kids negatively. The second: the fact that there is now such an extreme pull of screens on kids, parents need support to thoughtfully help their children to have time off screens. 

Given this is the biggest parenting issue of our time, we knew that a movie is a great start but that a real movement is needed and thus we created Tech Talk Tuesday (TTT).  WE WOULD LOVE YOUR HELP TO HAVE IT SPREAD AND HELP MORE FAMILIES. You can post it on Facebook, Twitter or email it to someone.

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How comfortable are your kids talking to extended family and adult friends? One concern I often hear from parents is that they think screen time decreases face-to-face communication skills. I have not found any exceptional data around this issue. Families and friends will be together for the holidays and in these settings many kids and adults will gravitate towards their personal devices. When situations are uncomfortable or activity is slowed down this is accepted behavior these days. It upsets me when I see kids disappear into their screens when those special multigenerational opportunities for conversation are right in front of them.

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How much time do you, the adult, spend on screens?  This week Common Sense Media (CSM) released the results of a survey of 1800 parents that found that parents spend 7.5 hours a day of non-work time on screens, and 1.5 hours a day of work related screen time.  (Of note, if a respondent reported doing two screen things at once, such as watching TV while texting, the study counted that as two hours). Seven and a half hours is a lot, but if you include all the time parents are watching TV shows, *playing video games, doing social media, or on their phones while eating breakfast, while walking down the street, sitting on subways ... you can see how this adds up. 

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When my daughter Tessa, who is in Screenagers, saw the completed film, I was shocked by one of her first reactions. She said, ”I didn't realize so many other kids are dealing with all this rule stuff like we are." Of course, she had been with me over the years as I was making the film, and yet somehow, she did not know how common it is for families to struggle with setting limits. She went on to tell me how rarely any of her friends talked about their rules around screen time. 

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Is there a time and a place you unplug each day? Each week?

With Thanksgiving this week, it is a good time to think about the various practices of “unplugging." 

To help find times to unplug, a good starting point is to think more about when our kids are not on screens during each day, rather than when they are on screens. From there it's easier to set guidelines around unplugging. I’ve heard about many creative approaches to unplugging:

 

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    A new meta analysis published in Jama Pediatrics confirmed how portable devices like cellphones and tablets are seriously affecting our children's sleep.  Sleep is one of the biggest pediatric public health issues of our time. I hear this firsthand when I ask groups in the post screening discussions "who sleeps with their cellphones their room?" Most hands in the room go up.

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    Tech Talk Tuesday #38
    What are your rules when it comes to your kid's screen use?

    This week the American Academy of Pediatrics released new recommendations on screen time.  

    They now recommend that children younger than 18 months “avoid digital media use (except video-chatting),” but kids 18 months and older can use digital media. They also say that children 2 to 5 years should limit their time to one hour a day and for youth 5 years and older they now don't really have a recommended cap on screen time.

     

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    How many "Snapstreaks" does your teen have going?

    Tech Talk Tuesday #35
    Does your teen have any "Snapstreaks" currently?

    Do you know what Streaks are?  Snapchat has something they call Snapstreaks that count the consecutive days you send a Snap to the same person. My daughter has some Snapstreaks that are more than 200 days long. To keep a "streak" going both people must send a Snap back-and-forth within 24 hours.

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    Tech Talk Tuesday #33
    Do you talk to your kids about sexting?

    A recent article in the Washington Post about sexting and a podcast called Note to Self got me thinking about the subject. “Sexting” is the exchange of sexually explicit images between minors (17 years or younger) via tech, usually cells phones.  A study from 2012 found that roughly 20% of U.S. adolescents between 13 and 19 reported having sent, or posted, a nude or semi-nude photo of themselves, and 28% said they received a sext message intended for someone else. 

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    Cellphones at school, what are the rules?

    Tech Talk Tuesday #32
    What is a phone's role at school?

    My daughter is in 9th grade in a junior high, and my son in the high school, and it seems every year they, and I, are not entirely clear on the rules at school around cellphones. Tessa tells me that one teacher has a zero tolerance policy. On the first day he told them that if he catches them with a phone, he will put it on his desk—In this first week, he has not confiscated one during her class.  Another “more chill” (in Tessa’s words) teacher says if you finish your work you can be on your phone. He added that there are “appropriate times to be on your phone and non-appropriate times.”  I’m eager to have a Tech Talk Tuesday tonight with my kids about how this is all working...the different rules, their desire to check their phones versus their need to pay attention, etc. 

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    Homework and screen time, what's the plan this year?

    Tech Talk Tuesday #31
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    Screen time and homework can be a real problem. Our children often need screens to do their homework and then are automatically vulnerable to distraction when they need concentration the most. Famous research out of Stanford showed that when people multitask they feel as if they are doing better and better at the different tasks but actually they are doing worse and worse on all of them. 

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