Shockingly, CNN reported that teens in the United States “on average, spend more than six and a half hours on screens and tweens more than four and a half hours.” That is a concerning figure, especially as this doesn’t include any media used at school or for studies.

Multitasking expands screen exposure further. Many tweens and teens spend their free time on more than one device. Often playing games while chatting on social media, or playing games on their phone while watching TV.

Parents are now dealing with a generation of teens, tweens, and even younger children that can’t be without their digital devices. These screens offer a world of information and fun activities, but as with many good things in life, the amount consumed needs to be moderated.

When is it an addiction?

Tweens today always feel a need to consume screens and media, but is it necessarily a problem? Too much screen time can impact a child in big ways: obesity, social skill development, behavioral issues, depression and more. These are all signs that an addiction to screens and the internet is setting in. When teens feel a ‘need’ to be online, or in front of a screen, it becomes cause for concern. The internet and games often offer instant gratification which with time, the brain adjusts to. Hence, the teen starts to need more time in front of a screen to get the same satisfying effects.

“An addiction is defined as being “a strong and harmful need to regularly have something (such as a drug) or do something (such as gamble).”

Addiction also normally comes with withdrawal symptoms. If you are a parent and have tried to ban the use of a smartphone for any length of time, chances are you have seen some of these symptoms. This is when resolve and action to cure or at least control the addiction are required.

The concerns:

Socializing is a skill that needs to be learned. However, this doesn’t mean that screens are the enemy. An article from CNN and a report from Common Sense Media showed that “When it comes to relationships with friends, more than half (52%) of teens said social media has made them better versus just 4% who said it has negatively affected those relationships.” Digital media also provides teens with expressive outlets and social networks that may not be possible in the ‘real world’ (such as having international friends that help to build cultural understandings).

However, there needs to be a balance. Tweens also need to make time to spend with friends, preferably doing something that doesn’t involve a digital device. These human interactions are vital to living a successful life, particularly where employment is concerned. Social skills online and offline are a part of modern social development and integration in society.

Multitasking has its benefits. However, with screen addictions, there are some serious concerns. Many tweens will use their phone while studying – many even do this in class – which reduces their concentration and how much they actually learn. While they may be able to complete the task itself, their mind is focussed on other things, making it harder for them to learn and remember the information. Add to this that brains need to relax, multitasking can cause other issues. For example, people who watch TV and play on their phone up until it’s time to sleep may have problemsgetting a good night’s rest. There is also an almost compulsive need to keep checking phones while doing other activities. This is when addiction really becomes a concern and multitasking isn’t such a good thing.

How to reduce and manage digital addictions

Teach your child about media and how it works. It is important that children learn about advertising and strategies used by TV companies, apps and games. If they understand what is going on, the effects can be reduced.

Encourage social interaction with real people. While this may cost more, or require more effort from all parties involved, real world interactions can greatly reduce the desire to spend time on a phone or tablet. When a child is having a great time with friends, they get a natural high, which helps to reduce the need of instant gratification provided by digital media.

Create a plan with your tweens to reduce the amount of media the family uses. While tweens maybe addicts, a lot of other family members aren’t doing much better. By talking as a family, setting limits and making plans for alternative activities, the addiction can be squashed.

Beat back boredom as much as possible. Boredom leads to surfing, browsing, and other activities to fill the time. Screens are not always a distraction, but are often just used as a ‘quick cure’ for boredom. Remove the boredom to remove the need for a screen. Keep your child’s mind active with puzzles, game nights, and spending time outdoors.

It is clear that we are raising a digitally addicted generation. Parents need to take control and promote a better balance for their children. As this occurs, it will hopefully affect other children around them in a positive way.