As the school year winds to a close, children are eagerly anticipating the less-structured schedule of summer. For many kids, free time to play may mean several hours a day spent with devices like tablets, cell phones and video game systems.
Yet that additional time spent on screens could mean trouble for some children.
"Almost 50 percent of parents in our country are concerned that their children are addicted to mobile devices, and there is growing concern that excessive media use is associated with increased risk for depression and suicide in adolescents," said Sarah Domoff, faculty member in Central Michigan University's
department of psychology and director of the
Family Health Lab.
In her work as a child clinical psychologist at the
Center for Children, Families and Communities at CMU, Domoff provides assessment and treatment for children and adolescents struggling with problematic or risky media use. She and her team of student researchers have developed tools to
help physicians and parents identify warning signs and an intervention to help adolescents at risk for digital addiction
develop coping skills.
To keep children healthy and safe this summer, Domoff offers these tips for parents:
Be sure the content your child is viewing is age-appropriate — Parents need to consider what their child is seeing when they are using devices. What is the content of the shows they are watching? What types of games are they playing? Is it age-appropriate? Is it scary for the child? Every child is different, and parents need to make choices in the best interest of their child.
Take note of when your child is using devices — Is the child not sleeping because he or she is staying up all night playing video games? Is gaming getting in the way of other activities with friends and family? It's important that parents consider when children are using screens.
Talk to your child about what they are seeing and hearing — If kids are watching a show or playing a game that is educational, asking them about it may help them deepen their understanding and learn more from it. And if what they are watching is scary or upsetting, the parent may be able to help the child work through the fear and respond in appropriate ways.
Designate screen-free zones in the house — Implement a rule of no screens in certain places in the home, such as in the bedroom and at the dinner table. I also strongly suggest that parents set and enforce time limits for their child's screen use."
Look for opportunities to engage in screen-free activities — Work on slowly reducing screen time by replacing it with other fun, non-screen activities that involve interacting with friends, playing sports and spending time together as a family.
Talk to your child's physician about your child's use of devices — Parents should talk with their child's medical provider about screen time at every well-child visit. A child may be presenting symptoms that look like another disorder but are really the result of staying up all night gaming.
Warning signs of problem behavior include inability to sleep; lack of interest in other activities, such as spending time with friends; and meltdowns when devices are taken away. If parents are concerned that their child may have a digital media addiction, Domoff recommends contacting a clinical psychologist specializing in child development or
contacting her clinic.
"Technology and digital media use isn't going away," Domoff said. "We have to look at how we can leverage it to enhance and improve the lives and well-being of children."