What You'll Discover

  • Technology is not all good or all bad. There are signs to look for to see if your child has gotten out of balance with their technology use.
  • You can help them rebalance when needed.
  • Setting boundaries and consequences will help them understand healthy limits.

Worried your kid has a screen addiction? Learn about the signs that your child may be suffering from negative mental health impacts because they are spending too much time with social media, gaming or other screens.

Warning Signs

Look for these warning signs, especially ones that persist for several days:

Losing track of time

Children may minimize or lie about the amount of time they are spending on devices. Compare the time your child thinks they spend on screens to the time they really spend online.

Preoccupation/Distracted

Has time on devices become more important than other activities? Notice if your child is distracted during offline activities and feels an urgency to get back to their device(s) or screens.

Isolation

When technology takes on outsized importance, kids spend less time connecting with friends and family face-to-face. Look out for a lack of interest in “real life” social activities.

Irritability

Being always on or focused too much on the rewards of games/social media can make kids’ brains tired. Kids may get defensive when asked about the time they spend on their devices, what they’re doing, and when having to turn them off. If you notice anger or irritability while playing (which could include throwing a controller, yelling or breaking things) this is a sign there’s a problem, especially if it happens multiple times.

Physical signs

Keep an eye out for drops in sleep and physical activity. Notice changes in eating patterns or an increased focus on appearance.

Impact on offline activities

Tune in to negative changes to family and school responsibilities.

Help your child rebalance

If you’re seeing multiple warning signs or a sign persist over time, try these strategies to help your child rebalance their technology use:

  • Check your own technology use. Remember, your children learn by watching you. Modeling healthy behaviors is important.
  • Bring up your concerns in a caring way. Our conversation starters help you if you’re concerned about your child’s mental health, along with conversation starters specifically about social media.
  • Revisit your family social media plan or your gaming plan.
  • Consider a technology “vacation” – taking away devices for a certain period.
  • Encourage real-life meetups with peers.
  • Increase offline family time.
  • Find more opportunities for physical activity.

Setting boundaries

Just like there are limits around bedtimes or how many sweets your kids can eat, it’s healthy to have boundaries around technology use as well. Some boundaries could include:

  • Having regular check ins – Having a few minutes each week when you talk with your child about what they’re seeing/doing on their devices can help you spot problems faster and respond to issues before they grow.
  • Protecting sleep – No screens for at least an hour before bedtime. No phones allowed in bedrooms.
  • Engaging in physical activity – Making sure your child is active every day not only helps them sleep at night, but it also improves physical and mental health!
  • Taking breaks – Agree on a plan for when your child is allowed to use technology and when they’re not. Need help? Learn how to create a family social media plan or how to come up with a family gaming plan.
  • Prioritizing in-person activities – If possible, prioritize activities like sports and clubs that happen in person.
  • Earning screen time – Pair screen time with a task they don’t like to do (such as chores or exercise). After they complete the challenging task, they can earn time on screens. For example, after you’ve exercised for 30 minutes, you can have 60 minutes of screen time.

Consequences

If your child isn’t following the plan or isn’t working with your boundaries, there has to be a consequence.

Think ahead of time about what the consequence will be and talk about it with your child. For example, if they are on devices longer than was agreed to, they lose their phone for a week.

It’s not fair!

No matter how carefully you approach talking to your kids, discussing screen time and working together on a plan, they may still insist that their friends don’t have any limits on technology, have different/better devices than they have, and they may beg for access to platforms you’re not comfortable with.

What can you do?

Boundaries are safe and effective. You can remind your child that when they play games or sports, there are rules. Some of the rules are clear and obvious. Sometimes the rules seem restrictive but keep the players safe. You are working to keep them as safe and healthy as possible.

Take care of yourself. It’s hard when a child is pushing against your rules constantly. Take time with friends, relax in ways that give you energy, or practice other forms of self-care.

Give yourself a break. This is hard work! While it may not seem like, many parents struggle with their children’s screen time, gaming and social media use. It’s OK to make mistakes.

As you and your family work through these issues, you’ll grow your understanding of what type and amount of technology is OK for each of your kids.