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5 Warning Signs of Screen Addiction

The idea of having a screen addiction is a scary one, especially when it could be potentially harmful for your child. Here are five warning signs to be aware of according to parenting experts and The American Academy of Pediatrics.
5 signs your kid has a screen addiction
Updated: February 8, 2024

Many parents today are just as concerned with the amount of time that their kids spend using screens as they are with how difficult it often is to pry them away from a screen. Though many experts in the field are split as to whether or not digital and media consumption can be defined as an addiction, many parents have no problem using the terminology as a way to describe what their child’s behavior is similar to.

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Blaire Lent, FamilyEducation’s Teen Expert and owner of The Complete Student, says “When iPads and such first came on the scene, parents were told that their children would learn to read and learn math skills faster and more efficiently with the help of these devices. Many parents went 'all in' and encouraged the use of these devices. Unfortunately, the evidence was not there to support those claims. There is no replacement for parent-to-child communication. There is no replacement for old-fashioned outdoor playtime.”[1]

It doesn’t come as a surprise that many parents want to pry their kids away from screens. And perhaps they have a good reason to do so. In a study published in January 2020, it was suggested that young children who spend three or more hours per day on a device may end up leading less healthy lives.[2]

Previously, a study conducted at the University of Michigan found that children under the age of two were spending over double the amount of time looking at screens compared to kids 20 years ago.[3] This average of 3.05 hours of daily screen time in 2014 is more than double the amount of time that the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends.

Despite scary statistics and even the use of the word addiction, there can be positive aspects to technology usage, as some screens have proven to be impactful learning tools in the classroom and at home, including educational YouTube channels.

Warning Signs of Screen Addiction

The idea of having a screen addiction is a scary one, especially when it could be potentially harmful to your child. Here are five warning signs to be aware of:

Losing Interest In Other Activities

Would they rather spend time watching videos on YouTube over playing outside or participating in a sport? This is a red flag to be aware of.

Using Screens As A Mood Booster

If your child is turning to a screen when they need a “boost” of happiness or need to use it as a comfort when they are bummed out, this could be a sign of over-dependency.

They Are Sneaky About Their Usage

Have you caught them on their phones or devices after lights out? Or when they should be doing homework or chores?  This could be a sign of an unhealthy relationship with screens.

Screens Are Interfering With Relationships

Whether it’s with family, friends, or even romantic if they are older, relationships of any kind should not be built around a screen. At home, a fight or argument could stem from screen usage, while cell phone usage could be interfering with quality friend time.

They Experience Withdrawal

If taking the phone, video game, iPad, etc. away from your child is a constant and frustrating battle, they could be experiencing symptoms of withdrawal.

How to Handle Screen Addictions

If you believe your child may be spending too much time with screens or they’ve met more than a few of the above criteria, it may be time to examine how you can best handle their dependency. Here are some practices to consider implementing that can assist with cutting back on screen time:

Cut Down On Your Screen Time

Lead by example! If your children, no matter their age, see you constantly on your phone, computer, or TV, they will want to do the same. Try to limit your personal screen use around your kids, and encourage co-viewing and co-playing when they are on screens so it can be a family activity. Lent adds, “I suggest establishing a list of what daily expectations you have of your child. This list will change based on the child's age. If your child has a very strong reaction to this, talk to them about screen addiction. Explain that what you are asking of them is basically the bare minimum requirements of participation in the family. Be open to the idea that sticking to the new weekly schedule will result in an earned loosening of restrictions on the weekend.”

Make A Family Media Use Plan

The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends: “Media should work for you and within your family values and parenting style. When used thoughtfully and appropriately, media can enhance daily life. But when used inappropriately or without thought, media can displace many important activities such as face-to-face interaction, family-time, outdoor-play, exercise, unplugged downtime and sleep.”[4]

Connect With Other Parents

In a video uploaded to her YouTube channel as part of her “I Love My Toddler, But” series, reality TV personality and mom Whitney Port candidly explained the struggles she and her husband have experienced with their son.

Luckily, she wasn’t alone in wanting to be more honest about her child’s relationship with TV and screens. Commenters engaged with the video by leaving encouraging messages of support with their own story: “We’re all going through the same challenges and trying to find the right balance. You’re both doing a fantastic job.” If you don’t feel comfortable connecting online, engage with fellow parents in person to get their tips and tricks.[5]

Hold Off On Introducing Screens

If your child is young enough to have not been exposed to too many screens yet, try and keep it that way. Lent commented: “If your child has not yet been introduced to screens, please wait. It is OK to tell family members that it is not OK to give video games as gifts. Set that as the tone early on.”

Still worried? These 10 apps for parents can assist with monitoring digital usage.

Sources +
[1] The Complete Student | Middle School | High School | Nonprofit | Port Royal. (n.d.). The Complete Student. [2] Chen. (n.d.). Associations between early-life screen viewing and 24 hour movement behaviours: findings from a longitudinal birth cohort study. The Lancet Child & Adolescent Health. Retrieved February 8, 2024, from [3] Chen, W., & Adler, J. L. (2019, April 1). Assessment of Screen Exposure in Young Children, 1997 to 2014. JAMA Pediatrics. [4] Media and Children. (n.d.). [5] W. P. (2020, January 24). I Love My Toddler, But He’s Addicted to Screens | Whitney Port. YouTube.

Jacqueline Weiss

About Jacqueline

Based in Los Angeles, Jacqueline is a freelance writer and social media strategist. She… Read more

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