5 warning signs of technology addiction
Adults and kids alike are spending more and more time with technology. Whether it’s for work, homework, or to engage in play or social interactions, people of all ages are using technology to participate in many of life’s activities.
When used in moderation, family members can enjoy technology without too much disruption to family dynamics. In fact, technology has many benefits, such as increasing access to information and giving shy children a way to connect with peers virtually, which can help lonely people feel more connected. Even playing video games, for which the benefits have long been debated, can yield some positive consequences.
“Research has demonstrated some positive outcomes of video game use, such as improved visuospatial ability, attention and reaction time. Video games are fun and can provide enjoyment and enhanced mood while playing,” says Dr. Gabrielle Roberts, a clinical psychologist at Advocate Children’s Hospital in Oak Lawn, Ill.
The challenge, of course, is moderating a family’s use of technology. Dr. Roberts points out that, like many other enjoyable things in life, it’s not technology itself that’s the problem, but how we use it. For example, playing video games can negatively impact kids when excessive playing time prevents them from developing other skills, replaces physical activity, fresh air, in-person socialization or other extracurricular activities or if it interferes with sleep.
“Technology becomes problematic when it starts to replace healthy, and needed, family interactions,” says Dr. Roberts. “Parents and children are all guilty of tuning each other out and tuning into technology.”
So, what is it about technology, especially video games, that makes it so addicting?
Dr. Roberts says technology is specifically engineered to be hard to put down, which makes adults and children want to keep scrolling through social media feeds and playing a video game until they reach the next level. Dr. Roberts says kids are drawn to technology for the fun, entertainment, distraction and socializing it brings. Games and other forms of technology are built to interact with our brains in a way that keeps us engaged, making them hard to put down. That, plus the social component, can cause them to become addictive.
“These days, the world of virtual socialization is paramount for children. It seems that children are connecting with peers to a far greater extent in the virtual world than in the physical world. Many video games nowadays, like Fortnite, also involve a social component, where children are speaking to peers and virtually playing together,” says Dr. Roberts.
Technology is a part of life, but how can parents ensure that kids are engaging with safe and age-appropriate content and recognize when their children are spending too much time in front of a screen? If parents notice any of the following behaviors, it could indicate that more limits need to be set around tech:
- Turning off or setting limits on technology frequently causes disrespectful behavior, aggression or melt downs.
- Using technology greatly interferes with the child’s participation or interest in other activities.
- Using technology takes much time away from peer contact and socialization outside of the home and outside of technology-based interaction.
- The child has become much less physically active due to the use of technology.
- The child is experiencing emotional problems related to using technology (e.g., bullying)
Dr. Roberts recommends caregivers set boundaries and rules around technology well before use becomes problematic, as well as lead by example by monitoring their own screen time.
“I encourage parents to be proactive in limiting the time their children spend with technology and promoting a healthy balance of activities. It is easier to set limits at the outset than it is to take away time from the use of technology once it feels problematic,” says Dr. Roberts.
Start by speaking with children to ensure that the rules and expectations around technology are clearly understood, which helps children adhere to the limits if parents implement them consistently. Dr. Roberts recommends giving kids a five-minute warning to help ease the transition before technology is taken away and encourages them to work with their children ahead of time to problem-solve how to power down when time is up.
“Like other fun activities, technology use is not only a privilege, but involves responsibility from both parents and children. Children need to be responsible for adhering to set limits, and parents need to set healthy limits,” says Dr. Roberts.
About the Author
Colette A. Harris, health enews contributor, is the public affairs and marketing coordinator at Advocate Lutheran General Hospital in Park Ridge, Il. She holds a Master of Science degree in journalism from Northwestern’s Medill School of Journalism and has nearly a decade of experience writing about health and wellness, which are her passions. When she’s not writing, you can find her practicing yoga, cooking, reading, or traveling.