Screen Dependency Disorder is Real, and It Damages Your Child’s Brain

After the millennium almost every person has become digitalized meaning it has some type of smart device. The digitalization may have brought certain conveniences, but it has brought some other negative things as well.

The most affected by the use of smart devices are our children which makes them the most exposed to the blue screens that we all know how harmful they can be. It is normal for the children to be active and to try to find ways for entertaining themselves, but instead of going outside or doing some physical activity the easiest option for most parents is to give them the phone or tablet.

According to many studies, “screen time” can trigger various mental health and behavioral issues especially in small children. Video games and smartphone apps can lead to addictive behavior as a result of their overuse.

Extensive exposure and unregulated screen time can affect the brains of children as they are still not fully developed. Their brains are prone to changes in structure and connectivity which can stunt neural development and lead to the development of a screen dependency disorder, including:

  • Facebook addiction

  • Video game addiction

  • Social network site addiction

  • Mobile phone dependence

  • Internet addiction disorders

  • Internet gaming disorder

  • Problematic internet use

  • Compulsive internet use

  • Pathological technology use

  • Online game addiction

  • Pathological video game use

The psychologist Dr. Aric Sigman, in his research paper, released in the Journal of the International Child Neurology Association, defines this addiction as a result of children’s engagement in various screen activities in a dependent, problematic manner.

Symptoms of Overuse of Screen

If your child spends plenty of time in front of a screen, then this will compromise its ability to function. Here are the symptoms of too much screen time:

  • Loss of outside interests

  • Not being able to limit or stop screen activities

  • Preoccupation

  • Lower tolerance rate

  • Choosing to lie about the extent use of screen

  • Withdrawal symptoms

  • Continuation despite negative consequences

  • Screen use a way to escape adverse moods

According to a carried out 2015 study released in Behavioral Sciences (Basel), 12% of young American adolescent gamers are “pathological video-gamers.”

Excessive gaming, watching too many online videos or excessive use of social media can cause many mental issues as per the psychotherapist Dr. George Lynn who claims that 80% of his patients’ issues are result of these uses. He explains that this problem is not carefully acknowledged by most doctors and even psychiatric practitioners do not contribute it to the current personality issues of a child that has been sleeping only two to three hours at night due to extensive exposure to screen.

Screen Dependency Disorder

Claudette Avelino-Tandoc, a Family Life and Child Development specialist and Early Childhood Education consultant, lists the symptoms of a child’s screen dependency disorder: anxiety, vision issues, headaches, back pain, weight gain or loss, loneliness, insomnia, dishonesty, and feelings of guilt.

If the screen time is not being regulated, then the long-term effects will damage the brain. According to the findings of scientists screen dependency disorder can shrink the brain or lose tissue in the frontal lobe, striatum, and insula. All these brain areas are accountable for the suppression of socially unacceptable impulses, planning and organization skills, and for our ability to develop compassion and empathy.

If your child spends too much time in front of a screen ad shows the above mentioned symptoms, then according to Avelino-Tandoc it would be best for the parents to seek for a help from a development pediatrician.

Parents or caregivers should get concerned if their child cannot follow the regular family routine or perform tasks just because he or she cannot leave the screen.

When this child is being taken to the doctor parents need to explain the doctor their child’s behavior as they have observed it at home. The doctor may perform his own set of tests and questions for both, the parents and their child, in order to determine the right mental condition of the child.

Screen Time Balance is the Key for Good Health

Claudette Avelino-Tandoc explains that we cannot reverse time and throw away all the smart devices as they are beneficial for the acquirement of learning and communication skills. Plus, they can offer great entertainment, but one should never forget the time spent in front of them, and in order to obtain the best effects of their use, balance is the key.

Parents should do their best to find the right balance in the use of screens, and aside their use they can turn to the basic learning including the use of our hands. They should also stimulate their kids to follow some physical activity and better their language and socio-emotional skills. Children that are already at school should start drawing, coloring, scribbling just to feel in their hands the real material; and that should not be a smartphone or tablet. If your children like building structures, then as a parent you should find boxes and blocks and thus allow them to do their buildings.

However, what is most important is to encourage the children to interact with their peers face-to-face and play outside with them.

Here are the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics regarding the media use for children along with Dr. Lynn’s methods:

  • Children in the age range of 0-18 months should not use screen media, except for video-chatting.

  • Children from 2-5 years old should have screen time of 1 hour a day showing high-quality programs. Parents should be present to explain them the content of what they are watching.

  • Children in the age range of 6 and more should have limited screen time. Parents should make sure that the media is not taking over proper sleep, physical activity, and other important behaviors.

  • No media while dinning or driving.

  • Set up media-free locations in the home like the bedrooms.

  • Emphasize the importance of online citizenship and safety, and while online or offline treat others with respect.