Top Story, Diagnostics

Could screen addiction soon become a clinical diagnosis in children?

Tablets, cell phones and laptops might be considered the new pacifiers for young kids, but it can sometimes go too far.

Many kids spend excessive amounts of time in front of electronic screens – whether it be cell phones, computers, tablets or TVs. But when does it become actually dangerous?

In the U.S., Internet addiction is not considered a clinical diagnosis currently, but in China, they’ve made that distinction and have even established rehabilitation programs, according to The New York Times.

The 2013 documentary “Web Junkie” will be shown next Monday on PBS, and it highlights the alarming phenomenon and resulting psychological affects of teenagers being glued to screens playing video games for startling numbers of hours at a time.

Putting a screen in front of a young child has become a go-to distraction used by many parents these days, and, sure, it can provide some unique learning tools, but when does it go too far?

In a 2013 policy statement titled “Children Adolescents, and the Media“, the American Academy of Pediatrics pointed to slightly disturbing numbers found from a 2010 Kaiser Family Foundation study. They found that “the average 8- to 10-year-old spends nearly eight hours a day with a variety of different media, and older children and teenagers spend more than 11 hours per day.”

A lot of parents may limit the amount of time their child can spend in front of the TV or computer, but two-thirds of kids surveyed in the Kaiser study said their parents had no rules about how much time they spent with media.

“We’re throwing screens at children all day long, giving them distractions rather than teaching them how to self-soothe, to calm themselves down,” Catherine Steiner-Adair, a Harvard-affiliated clinical psychologist and author of “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age” told The Times.

Not only does spending countless hours in front of a screen deprive young children from social interaction, spending time outdoors and development of the imagination, it can also desensitize them from violence and potentially be a detriment to their learning abilities. As Dimitri A. Christakis of the Seattle Children’s Research Institute explained to The Times, kids who see a lot of simulated violence can become less empathetic and act out violently more often.

Beyond general media consumption, frequent texting (not surprisingly) is becoming more and more prevalent with teenagers. A 2012 Pew Research study found that half of teenagers send at least 50 text messages a day. Presumably that number has continued to go up in the last few years.

Ideally, caregivers can take the current information we have about screen addiction into consideration and not allow this situation to get to a point where there are more kids and teenagers in need of rehabilitation.

Photo: Flickr user Wesley Fryer