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Screen Addiction: Are We Winning the Battle?

Parents are concerned that their children are spending too much time in front of screens. With teens using screens for an estimated average of 44 hours each week, it is not surprising that as many as 23 percent of teens already admit addiction to either video games or social media networks.

Parents, desperate to curb the behaviour, are quick to label significant or excessive screen time as an addiction. Some therapists are concerned however, that doing so might be contributing to the problem by pathologizing normal teenage behaviour as an addiction.

Screen Addiction is viewed in the therapeutic community as a legitimate psychological condition with some of these commonly listed symptoms:

  • Inability to control or abstain from screen engagement

  • Loss of interest in the world beyond screes engagement

  • Decline in academic performance due to screen use

  • Interference with family and lifestyle activities

It is not, however, listed in the American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM-V), with Internet Gaming Disorder as the closest listed diagnosis.

Disruptive sleep cycles, anxiety, depression and attentional disorders

Healthcare professionals agree that excessive screen time is like substance abuse addiction, with all the related negative side effects such as obesity, disruptive sleep cycles, anxiety, depression and attentional disorders. While the comparison to substance abuse makes sense because screens stimulate the same reward centres of the brain, there are also some important differences. Addictions are generally caused by a chemical that alters emotions and behaviour and leads to a dependency and higher tolerance levels. In contrast, screens are not substances and people do not need an increasing amount of screen time to manage their behaviour. Nevertheless, we are seeing addict-like behaviours, mostly due to social networks, apps and games that are intentionally designed to keep the users attention.

Teaching our children to set limits and better understand their usage

Treating this ‘addictive-like’ behaviour as a substance abuse addiction could result in the confusing demonization of ubiquitous technology that parents use and provide to their children or to fruitless attempts to censor content, both of which often lead to worse outcomes. In addition, abstinence, which is generally seen as a treatment for the pathology of addiction, is not an applicable treatment for excessive screen time. Instead we should be teaching our children to set limits and better understand the context in which they are using the device. What should we do?

We have found some of the following suggestions to be helpful:

  • Up to 2 hours per day of entertainment-based applications.

  • Limits of 45 minutes to avoid binge use.

  • Match ONLINE entertainment time with OFFLINE time (art, music, movement).

  • Keep school laptop and entertainment devices separate.

  • No smartphone or computer in bedroom at bedtime; put in central docking area.

  • Technology is turned off at least one hour before bedtime.

  • Technology remains off for at least one hour after awakening in the morning.

  • Prioritize face-to-face socialization, when possible.

This year, in the classroom, our teachers are working with parents and students to establish clear and positive parameters with daily usage guidelines. Our goal is to help our students develop greater self-regulation around their devices.

To talk to us about your student or book a meeting with our Therapeutic Program Director,

please email us at


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