Cyber Addiction: Managing Your Kids’ Screen Time

How happy kids are to be on vacation! More time to have fun, to draw, to read, to play outside and to… sit in front of a screen!

Now there’s a fight parents hate to engage in each summer…

By Julie Fortier, editorial manager, Naître et Grandir magazine 

Here’s a revealing little test you can try…  Ask what the maximum amount of time a child should spend in front of a screen each day. The answer (according to Canadian recommendations):  1 hour for kids 2 to 5 years of age; 2 hours for those 5 to 17 (that’s right, 2 hours at age 17!). And it’s recommended that you don’t let babies spend time in front of a screen before the age of 2.

And what do we mean by “screens”? That means all types, from the oldest to the newest: computers, tablets, televisions, smart phones, video game consoles, etc.

Whether it’s playing an educational game or a not so educational game; watching YouTube or going on Facebook, Snapchat, Instagram, Pinterest or Musical.ly; watching a cartoon or a movie on TV; or even watching someone play a video game; that’s all screen time.

It adds up fast. Already, at ages 3 to 4, only 22 % of our youngest Canadians spend les than an hour in front of a screen, says Stats Can. The numbers go up as the kids get older, until a teenager may spend the equivalent of a work week in front of a screen.

It Can Become a Big Problem

Screen management can become more complicated as kids get older. For this reason, experts say you should start teaching good screen manners early.

Though it is important to limit the time kids spend in front of a screen, it may not be enough (even though it could be exhausting!). It’s also important to worry aboutworry about their behavior in terms of video games or the use of a tablet, for example. American researchers have established a list of behaviors to watch for kids ages 4 to 11. Here are just a few:

  • My kids have trouble stopping their use of electronic devices.
  • My kids can’t seem to think about anything else but activities associated with screens.
  • My kids spend a lot of time in front of screens, and that takes away from their participation in family activities.
  • My kids get frustrated when they can’t use their electronic devices.
  • My kids hide their use of electronic devices.
  • Spending time in front of a screen seems the only thing that makes them feel good.

Not All That Cyber Addicted

You’ve no doubt observed some of these behaviors in your children. Be reassured. It doesn’t mean they’re cyber addicted.  According to a study by psychologist and researcher Magali Dufour, 1.3 % of all Québec teens suffer from a cyber addiction.  These kids spend between 40 and 60 hours online. Girls and boys are equally at risk, but kids with existing emotional issues (impulsivity, depression, anxiety, ADHD) are most at risk.

Cyber addiction is a complex problem that can only be diagnosed by a health care professional, according to Cathy Tétreault, an addiction counsellor and founder of the Centre Cyber-aide. She made this argument during an online conference.

She doesn’t think that cyber addiction is the plague it’s made out to be. She prefers talking about the abusive use of new technologies, or people at risk. She is very concerned about the safety of children on the internet as well as the negative effects of screens on a child’s health and development.

Be Interested, Be an Example

Cathy Tétreault doesn’t simply counsel parents to manage their kids’ screen time. They should also “follow the wave and adjust.” It will be easier to manage screen time if there are no conflicts. She also invites parents to become interested in the apps that their kids upload, and in the video games they play as well as the videos they watch.  

It’s also important to get teens to find balance in their use of technology by establishing priorities: eat well, get lots of sleep, do their homework, spend time with friends and family, do a physical activity, etc. When all this is accomplished, then they can sit in front of a screen.

Certainly it is easier to write this than to carry it out. There will always be adjustments to make.

Tétreault says there is no one way to handle these technologies. We have to act on a trial and error basis. Our children will probably be better equipped when it comes time for them to become parents.

But in the meantime, we can ask ourselves about our own use of devices and the example we set. Watching TV on your phone; answering a text message during dinner; spending a lot of time on Facebook, Instagram or Netflix; checking your cell phone during an outing with your child; not being able to separate yourself from your screens while on vacation… Sometimes what we ask of our children is inconsistent with how we behave!  

First seen on Raymond Viger’s blog, June 2nd, 2021

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