Renate Engelbrecht
Content producer
3 minute read
29 Sep 2021
1:18 pm

How to break your child’s screen addiction

Renate Engelbrecht

The topic of screen time has been on many people’s lips lately and with good reason. It seems screen addiction is not only real, but it also poses health risks.

Screen addiction is a thing. Picture: iStock

Video games and screen technologies have been dubbed digital drugs by Dr Andrew Doan – an expert in technology and video game addiction who heads addiction research for the Pentagon and the US Navy.

He says many technologies are so stimulating that they raise levels of dopamine, the feel-good hormone often linked to addiction.

According to Doan, long stretches of screen time can have the same effect on your brain’s frontal cortex as cocaine.

A recent summit held by the TechnoLife Wise Foundation on the effect of technology on humanity, health and happiness, aimed to educate young and old on the effect of the overuse of technology, as well as the associated impact on our health due to the exposure to different levels and frequencies of unnatural electromagnetic field radiation.

Johannesburg-based digital wellness and screen addiction expert, Dr Marlena Kruger, says people need to know how overusing technology can make you physically and mentally ill.

The signs of screen addiction

People who are addicted to screens often struggle to control their screen use. They also lose interest in other activities like books, toys and sports and get more excited about “tablet time”.

It also poses as a concern when what you see on screen preoccupies your mind off screen and if it interferes with socialising and family activities.

People who are addicted to screens also often show signs of withdrawal and if screens appear to be a mood booster, it might be time to reassess the balance between real life and screen time.

Screen time
Screen time. Picture: iStock

What are the effects?

“Depression, anxiety and aggression have all been linked to excessive screen time, and can even spur psychotic-like features,” says Doan.

“Further research shows that as more kids use digital media, their social skills erode. And the more time a child spends dedicated to cyber-reality, the more they lose their ability to interpret real-life emotions.”

According to the Mayo Clinic, research has linked excessive screen time among kids to a loss of social skills, behavioural problems, less sleep or irregular sleep, obesity and even violence.

Adults have also had to get accustomed to a digital world of online meetings with disrupted conversations from spotty internet connections.

People’s brains have had to get used to exaggerated expressions and lack of eye contact and many adults have been struggling with what has now been dubbed “Zoom fatigue”.

ALSO READ: Signs of e nervous breakdown – When moms need intervention

How can you break screen addiction?

Limiting screen time and time spent on social media might just be what you and your kids need to feel more connected as a family, and also with friends.

According to Kruger, people need to be mindful of how much time they spend in front of screens so that they can reduce the time. Here are her tips:

Balance screen time and real life
Balance screen time and real life. Picture: iStock
  • Ask critical questions about whether your screen time adds quality and value to the purpose of your life, to ensure that you don’t waste valuable time.
  • Replace screen time with physical activities and/or hobbies and games.
  • Replace screen time with green time – go out into nature, get sunshine and ground yourself by walking barefoot on the ground or grass as much as possible.
  • Switch off all notifications that interrupt your focus and reduce your productivity.
  • Switch off your cellphone (or switch to flight mode) and other screens at least one to two hours before bedtime to limit exposure to blue light emissions and harmful, unnatural electromagnetic radiation (electro-pollution) to ensure restful sleep.

Recommendations

According to premierhealth.com, the screen time recommendations for children have shifted over the years, with the most recent recommendations being:

  • 0-6 Months: No screen time.
  • 6 months to 2 years old: Use screen time only for interactive social play with an adult or to video chat with loved ones.
  • 2-5 years old: No more than one hour of screen time per day.
  • School-aged kids and older: No set time limit, but social media use and gaming should be limited.