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Do Screens Affect Your Child’s Daily Life?

Most people I know don’t believe screens are addictive and research shows that most parents are only mildly concerned that their kids may be using too much technology. I’d guess this is because technology, and even excessive screen time, aren’t widely recognized as being harmful, like say drugs or alcohol. Excessive screen time is considered socially acceptable by many, if not most people. However, in college (about a million years ago) I majored in nursing and during psych clinicals my professors would say that addiction becomes a true problem when it affects your day-to-day life and the lives of those around you. It’s a good point, because I see this continually with screens. One family member is upset because everyone is staring at their phones; relationships bust up over too much tech time; and tech even gets folks in trouble at work and school. If screens are affecting every segment of your child’s life plus your kid’s interactions with others, it’s clearly not just a free time activity, it’s a problem. If you look at any basic Narcotics Anonymous (NA), Gambling Anonymous or Alcohol Anonymous pamphlet, you’ll see some parallels between drug addiction and screen addiction. For example, if you take this NA brochure (pdf) and insert “screens” or “tech” where you see the word “drugs” here’s what you end up with:

  • Have you ever manipulated or lied to obtain screen time?
  • Do you regularly use screens when you wake up or when you go to bed?
  • Do you avoid people or places that do not approve of you using screens?
  • Has your job or school performance ever suffered from the effects of your screen use?
  • Have you ever lied about how much you use?
  • Do you put the purchase of tech ahead of your other financial responsibilities?
  • Have you ever tried to stop or control your using?
  • Does using tech interfere with your sleeping or eating?
  • Does the thought of running out of tech terrify you?
  • Do you feel it is impossible for you to live without screens?
  • Do you ever question your own sanity?
  • Is your screen use making life at home unhappy?
  • Have you ever thought you couldn’t fit in or have a good time without tech?
  • Have you ever felt defensive, guilty, or ashamed about your using?
  • Do you think a lot about tech?
  • Have you ever used screens because of emotional pain or stress?
  • Do you continue to use despite negative consequences?
  • Do you think you might have a tech problem?

Does it seem extreme to compare screens to narcotics? Maybe. But maybe not. Head to the next section of this post to see what some youth say about their tech use and you’ll quickly see that screens and tech do affect many people’s lives in an addictive way.
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Image via The World Unplugged – See the full infographic here

How Screen Time Mimics Addiction

First of all, consider that a majority of kids and teens spend about 75% of their waking lives attached to a screen of some sort. Then consider these startling research facts gathered by the International Center for Media & the Public Agenda (ICMPA). This study asked 1,000 students in ten countries on five continents to quit using technology and media for just ONE day. When that day was over, the researchers asked the students what happened and how they felt, and here’s what they said:

  • Students in the study repeatedly used the term ‘addiction’ when describing their dependence on media. One student from the USA noted: “I was itching, like a crackhead, because I could not use my phone,” while another student from Argentina said, “Sometimes I felt ‘dead,‘” and a student from Slovakia noted, “I felt sad, lonely and depressed.”
  • Students reported that media, and especially their mobile phones, were an extension of themselves.
  • Most students said they felt lost, alone and excessively lonely when their screens were taken from them.
  • Students had zero ideas about how to fill up their empty hours without media and screens which resulted in many of the students telling the researchers how desperately bored they were during their one unplugged day. Most students noted that without tech, it took just a few hours, only a half an hour, only fifteen minutes, or even less before they ran out of ideas of what to do with themselves. One youth from China stated, “After 15 minutes without using media, my sole feeling about this can be expressed in one word: boring.”
  • Students said that their phones offered connection, security and comfort to an excess, as one U.S. youth noted, “My phone is my only source of comfort.”
  • Tech is an escape mechanism more so than an enjoyment. Most students said they don’t watch regular television shows, but simply use TV to feel like there’s another presence in the house or will look for a show, just to have something to watch. In fact, the most frequently used words that youth used to describe their TV use were  ‘routine,’ ‘habit,’ and ‘instinctively.’
  • Students realized how distracted they’d been while staring at screens. One student in Mexico said, “I interacted with my parents more than the usual. I fully heard what they said to me without being distracted with my BlackBerry.” Another student from the U.S. noted, “I’ve lived with the same people for three years now and I think that this is one of the best days we’ve spent with together. I was able to really see them, without any distractions, and we were able to revert to simple pleasures.”

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Addicted Kids Become Overly Addicted Adults

Older adults of this generation didn’t grow up on screens and even younger adults had fewer technology options than kids today, yet they’re just as addicted, if not more so. A 2011 national survey by TeleNav, Inc. showed that adults are far more willing to give up everyday activities if it means they can keep their screens, especially their cell phones. The survey revealed:

  • 40% of iPhone users would give up their toothbrush for a week before their phone.
  • 83% of iPhone users said other iPhone users would make the best romantic partners.
  • Half of all adults surveyed said they sleep with their phone.
  • 1/3 of mobile phone users would give up sex before their phone.
  • 55% of adults said caffeine would be given up before their phone.
  • 63% of survey respondents would give up chocolate for their phone.
  • 70% of people said they’d rather give up alcohol before their phone.
  • One in five people said they’d go shoeless rather than phoneless for a week.

The same TeleNav survey showed that smartphone users are less socially adept and more likely to be rude or have poor manners and poor human interactions than people who own a regular cell phone. For example, 26% of smartphone users said it’s appropriate to use phones at the dinner table and insanely, many iPhone users said they’d give up their significant other before their phone. Smartphone users also judged people based on the type of phone they carry, 31% said they use their phones during theater movies, and unfortunately, would rather give up showers than their phone. Ugh.

computer addiction, get outside, green kids, green parenting, health hazards of screens, nature kids, screen addiction, screen dangers, screen free, screen time, too much screen time, tv dangers
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Further Proof of Tech as a Real Addiction

  • A University of Glasgow study found that many people check their email once an hour all day long, but many check their email up to 30 to 40 times an hour.
  • An extremely large study by the University of Chicago Booth School of Business, shows that the desire to check a social network like Twitter or Facebook is stronger than the need to smoke a cigarette or drink alcohol.
  • Kids are being put in therapy (yes, therapy) for what parents say is compulsive behavior after watching a child become increasingly “distressed and inconsolable” when an iPad is taken away from said kid.
  • Some professionals think technology is a real addiction based on how video game and internet addictions share characteristics of other addictions such as emotional shutdown, lack of concentration and withdrawal symptoms if screens are taken away. If these folks get their way, tech addiction may soon be categorized as a real mental illness.

computer addiction, get outside, green kids, green parenting, health hazards of screens, nature kids, screen addiction, screen dangers, screen free, screen time, too much screen time, tv dangers
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Is Your Family Addicted?

If you’re concerned that your family may have issues with technology taking over your world, check out the following red flags and see if they apply to you.

  • One or more family members are upset due to how much other family members use screens.
  • One or more family members are upset because limited screen time is available.
  • Your child can’t get through one meal, car ride or family outing without checking her phone or iPad (or you can’t).
  • Your family watches a lot of TV. Most health organizations recommend that the appropriate amount of TV time for a child under the age of 2 years is no TV and youth older than that should watch only 1-2 hours a day.
  • Your child freaks out if screens aren’t part of the equation. Depression, mood swings and angry outbursts should not occur simply because screen time is limited or interrupted. If your kid (or you) freaks out like this when screens aren’t available, it’s very bad sign.
  • Your child races through mealtimes, chores, homework or other activities in order to get back to her screens.
  • You own more than one TV.
  • The only time your child sees the great outdoors is on a brightly lit screen.
  • Your kids fight over who gets to use the computer or TV next – often.
  • Your child cannot self regulate screen time, even with a timer.
  • You have to repeat yourself continually because another family member is so into their screen they can’t focus on what you’re saying.
  • Someone or everyone in the family falls asleep with the TV on more often than not.
  • Your family never does anything other than sit in front of screens or screen time takes priority over most other activities.
  • You always eat in front of a screen, never at the table as a family.
  • Your child owns every tech item there is. Kids don’t need a full collection of cells, e-readers, computers, TV and tablets. The more gadgets your child owns, the easier screen addiction is to feed.
  • Your child has a lot of solo screen time. In general, screens as babysitters is a bad plan, though 70% of parents admit to using screens in this way. Research shows that kids who are shy, socially avoidant or anxious are more at risk for excessive solo screen time and addiction to screens. That said, even socially outgoing kids shouldn’t spend hours on end alone staring at screens.
  • Your child needs to be entertained 24/7 by you when there are no screens around. Kids in my generation weren’t exactly ignored, but we did have much more alone time it seems than kids today and we found ways to entertain ourselves. The kids I know today can’t figure out what to do with themselves without tech. Kids need parent time sure, but they should also be able to be on their own for a while.
  • Your child used to have varied interests but not anymore. If your child’s world revolves around screens and everything else holds less value, for example physical activity, real life friendships, family, art, board games and so on, it may be a sign of screen addiction.
  • Your child exhibits extremely odd behaviors such as a lack of interest in personal appearance, neglect of hygiene, neglect of responsibilities, major depression, low self-esteem and is increasingly personally isolated it’s a bad sign and may be related to too much screen time.

computer addiction, get outside, green kids, green parenting, health hazards of screens, nature kids, screen addiction, screen dangers, screen free, screen time, too much screen time, tv dangers
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It’s Not About Abstinence, It’s About Balance

All of the above makes me sound like a crazy person who thinks all screens should be blown up. Honestly, I get so sick of interacting with people who ignore other humans due to screens that I do sometimes feel explosive, but believe it or not, I’m not actually against screen time. Abstinence doesn’t work in most situations, especially in today’s tech minded world. While screen addiction should be a parent concern, it’s not about cutting screens out entirely. Screen time and tech are valuable and often enjoyable resources, in moderation. Plus, with the continued growing use of technology for work and school, it’s ultimately better to teach your child how to be a responsible, moderate technology user rather than to teach total abstinence. Balance is key. Teach your child how to use technology to her benefit without compromising the wide range of screen-free experiences, activities, and opportunities kids need to thrive. It’s a fine line to walk, especially for today’s parents and kids who are living in a world where babies own cell phonestoddlers get iPads to entertain them and you see whole dinner tables of friends not talking to each other, but texting. With this in mind, stay tuned, because next up in our Inhabitots tech series, we’ll look at some ways to balance technology with the rest of the life your family should be participating in.