7 Steps to Avoid Screen Addiction in Children (and yourself)

7 Steps to Avoid Screen Addiction in Children (and yourself)

Screen Addiction. Is it the most addictive substance of our time?

By now, most everyone is aware of the problem posed by having too much time in front of a tech device. Known as “screen time” to encompass TV, tablets, smart phones, video games, social media and more, there have been many articles discussing the addictiveness associated with these devices. But the question is, what on earth is to be done about it? It is not practical for most families to simply ban the use of these devices and furthermore, they do serve a very useful purpose in the modern age. The following article will discuss current recommendations and concerns as well as strategies for teaching your kids (and yourself) to develop a healthy relationship with Screens.

So what’s the deal with Screen Time anyway?

Why is it so addictive? Dopamine (“the happy neurotransmitter”) is released in the brain from each “like,” text, tweet etc. Dopamine is a stronger reward than opioids and it keeps us going back for more. In a way, technology use has the potential to be more addictive than cocaine or heroin. Furthermore, it has no inherent “shut-off” mechanism compared to other addictive substances. For example, when a person drinks too much alcohol, they tend to get drunk and eventually pass out. There is no physiological reaction to internet use that makes us stop once we’ve reached the “overdose” point.

Is this a problem just for kids and Millenials?

No! A recent study showed that adults 35 to 49 were found to spend an average of 6 hours 58 minutes a week on social media networks, compared with 6 hours 19 minutes for the younger group. More predictably, adults 50 and over spent significantly less time on the networks: an average of 4 hours 9 minutes a week. And this report  in 2016 found that Generation X-ers were more addicted to technology than Millenials. However, kids are most at risk for negative effects on their developing brains. Another recent study found that kids who had online gaming addiction were found to have decreased grey and white matter in areas of the brain associated with decision-making, behavioral inhibition and emotional regulation.

What do the Experts Say?

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommendations were previously more stringent stating that kids under age 2 should not be exposed to any screen time at all. However, they were recently revised due to the recognition that this was simply not practical for most families. The current AAP recommendations are as follows:

  • For children younger than 18 months, avoid use of screen media other than video-chatting.
  • Parents of children 18 to 24 months of age who want to introduce digital media should choose high-quality programming, and watch it with their children to help them understand what they’re seeing.
  • For children ages 2 to 5 years, limit screen use to 1 hour per day of high-quality programs. Parents should co-view media with children to help them understand what they are seeing and apply it to the world around them.
  • For children ages 6 and older, place consistent limits on the time spent using media, and the types of media, and make sure media does not take the place of adequate sleep, physical activity and other behaviors essential to health.
  • Designate media-free times together, such as dinner or driving, as well as media-free locations at home, such as bedrooms.
  • Have ongoing communication about online citizenship and safety, including treating others with respect online and offline.

So is addiction a concern for my child?

An estimated 5-10% of people will actually develop Internet or Screen Addiction. Even though this is a relatively small percentage of the population, there is still a “gray area” of inappropriate or unhealthy internet use that a much larger percentage of the population. A recent study identified 30% of Korean middle school students were at risk for developing Internet Addiction.

If you are concerned that you or your child may be at risk for addiction, this excellent resource is available for a step-by-step guide for a 4-week plan for a technology fast. If you are concerned that your children may be exposed to less than ideal online programming, this resource is available to help you choose only high-quality media.

How to avoid Screen Addiction

How many times have you found yourself reaching for your phone subconsciously without any real need to make a call or check on something? For most of us, true addiction won’t be an issue, but regardless, there are many negative social affects that can come from inappropriate screen use. The more we are on our devices, the more detached we are from the physical and social world around us and that includes our relationships with our kids. And as we all know, kids learn primarily through observation, so the best way to avoid screen addiction in your children is to be very honest with yourself about your own use.

In my practice and my own personal life, I’ve come up with a litmus test for appropriate screen use. In each instance, I ask myself: “Am I using this device or this time online as a tool or is it using me?” Furthermore, I’ve come up with the following 7 strategies to help keep you from being controlled by your electronic devices.

Dr. De Soto’s Evidence-based Guidelines to avoid screen addiction:

  1. Play in Nature every day
  2. Start making changes today!

It’s never too late to change a habit! For every 30-min of daily screen time substituted with a positive activity, there is a measurable increase in life expectancy

  1. Develop meaningful, in-person relationships

Social Media addiction can happen due to a feeling of rejection from one’s peers. People try to connect with others through social media when they lack strong connections in their own community


Many ill effects from internet and TV use come from the fast-pace of modern shows and games meant to grab attention. Watching slower-paced shows like documentaries or music programs is less triggering of ADD and anxiety behaviors. Furthermore, creativity thrives when a person is allowed time to free play and explore.

Check out the new movement in Norwegian TV called SLOW TV on Netflix!

  1. Make a Family Media Plan: Here.
  2. Have at least 2-3 “screen-free days” a week
  3. Avoid sensationalism online

Teach older kids (and yourself) how to dig through online information for what is substantiated and what is not. And check out this resource for Fake News websites.

Make technology your tool, not your slave-master

Be conscious of your use of technology and at all times choose to make it a tool to help improve life, rather than a drug that detracts and distracts from it.


  1. Wijndaele, K. L., Sharp, S. J., Wareham, N. J., & Brage, S. (2017). Mortality Risk Reductions from Substituting Screen Time by Discretionary Activities.. Medicine and science in sports and exercise, 49 1111-1119.
  2. Meredith E. David and James A. Roberts. Phubbed and Alone: Phone Snubbing, Social Exclusion, and Attachment to Social Media. Journal of the Association for Consumer Research 2017 2:2, 155-163
  5. Amy E. Mark,, Ian Janssen, Ph.D Relationship between screen time and metabolic syndrome in adolescents Journal of Public Health, Volume 30, Issue 2, 1 June 2008, Pages 153–160
  6. Melissa Zimdars, assistant professor at Merrimack College made this comprehensive guide of Fake news sites:
  7. Young Lee, Kylie D. Hesketh, Ryan E. Rhodes, Christina M. Rinaldi, John C. Spence and Valerie Carson. Role of parental and environmental characteristics in toddlers’ physical activity and screen time: Bayesian analysis of structural equation models. International Journal of Behavioral Nutrition and Physical Activity201815:17.© The Author(s). 2018 Received: 20 November 2017Accepted: 26 January 2018Published: 9 February 2018
  8. Seong-Soo Cha, Bo-Kyung Seo. Smartphone use and smartphone addiction in middle school students in Korea: Prevalence, social networking service, and game use. Health Psychology Open. 2018.
  9. Xiao Lin, Guangheng Dong, Qiandong Wang, Xiaoxia Du. Abnormal gray matter and white matter volume in ‘Internet gaming addicts.’ Addictive Behaviors,2015. 40:137-143.
Corinne Maul De Soto

Dr. Corinne Maul De Soto is a licensed naturopathic physician practicing in Kailua Kona, Hawaii. She focuses in pediatrics and women’s health. Dr. De Soto’s approach to family medicine optimizes healthy habits and routines so that the family as a whole can be at its best. She enjoys time with her husband and two daughters, good food, acro yoga, beach time and adventuring outdoors. Find Dr. De Soto at <a href=""></a>

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