Addiction  |  Supporting Children

Is your Child Spending Too Much Time on their Digital Device?

21 October 2020  |   7 min read

Has your child’s teacher been calling about his/her incomplete homework? Is your child often glued to their digital device until the wee hours of the morning? Do you have frequent arguments with your child about acceptable screen time?

Caring for a child with excessive device use can be difficult and trying for parents. Especially when they are aware that it is throwing their child’s life off-balance and causing serious problems. Your child seems to be so focused on the device that their basic hygiene, nutrition, sleep, work, and relationships are being affected. As a parent, you constantly worry about the long-term impact of your child’s unhealthy device usage habits and if the device would eventually draw your child away from you and a healthy and balanced life.

You try your best to talk it out with your child. You reason, negotiate, nag, punish, and scold to no avail. You try to structure a timetable for your child to follow, work out an agreeable contract, and even resort to Wi-fi usage restrictions. Yet, nothing seems to improve. Frustration, stress, and a sense of helplessness begin to set in, as your patience runs thin.

Impact on Mental Health

The following experiences are not uncommon among parents of children with excessive device use. Some of these struggles that parents face are:

  • Anxiety: Parents may feel anxious over their child’s health, socio-emotional development, performance in school, and how it affects their future.
  • Frustration: When expectations are not met, parents may express frustration and anger by shouting at their children, threatening them, criticising them, locking up their children’s devices, and restricting their access to Wi-Fi
  • Stress: Caused by frequent augments and conflicts with children
  • Helplessness and fatigue: Disappointment may turn into helplessness and fatigue because parents are unable to control their children and do not know what else to do anymore.

6 Tips for Parents

It is often easier to prevent an addiction rather than to intervene after it becomes an issue. Here are some tips to help parents prevent and manage their child’s excessive device usage:

1. Self-Care

Before taking care of your children, you need to first take care of yourself. Consider taking some time off to engage in self-care activities, with the intention of nurturing your physical, mental, and emotional health. Some examples include spending time with nature, going out for a run, and taking stock of the things in your life and family that you are grateful for.

Have open and ongoing discussions about the responsible use of technology with your children.


2. Communicate and be involved

Have open and ongoing discussions about the responsible use of technology with your children. Encourage them to reflect on the pros and cons of their tech usage, as well as how it affects them and others. To foster stronger engagement and ease your children to open up, refrain from embarrassing, blaming, or judging them for their choices. You may want to find a good time to talk with your children. Avoid such conversations when you have had a bad day at work or when your children are in the midst of playing a game or watching a video.

You can also consider learning to play games that your children enjoy and to use gaming to bond with them. This could be a good opportunity for parent-child communication which would help you better understand your children’s perspective of the online world.

3. Help your child to develop other coping strategies

Screen time can be an easy way for children to cope with life’s stressors. However, in the long run, it is important to balance screen time with other healthy activities to develop other coping mechanisms. If your child is meeting all their psychological needs through screen time or using screen time to keep negative thoughts and emotions at bay, removing screen time completely could be harmful. One way to work around this is to gradually build enjoyable alternative activities into their schedule. An example of such an alternative activity is exercise, as your child can naturally boost their feel-good hormones while maintaining their level of physical fitness. If your child is meeting all their social needs through their devices, it may also be helpful to encourage them to hang out with their peers in real life.

Lastly, encouraging them to pursue something else they are good at may help them divert their focus to their interests. That may lead to them spending less time on their devices.

4. Set ground rules and limits

As a preventive measure, having a mutual agreement with your children on device use is very important. It helps to set the limits and boundaries for how long your children can go online, what they do online, and where they should use the electronic devices. It is always good to keep computers and mobile phones to common areas so that you can monitor their activities. Parents may also consider prohibiting the use of any devices at mealtimes or a certain number of hours before bedtime. This encourages family bonding during meals and a healthier sleep pattern. Parents should also remember to adhere to those rules themselves and set a consistent example for their children to model after.

Rules are collaboratively developed. To help children to better achieve the desired behaviors, firm boundaries and rules should be consistently enforced. When screen-time-related problems escalate, so should the level of restrictions and limits that are imposed. This can come in the form of apps that track or control screen time. Parents need to be prepared for strong negative reactions from their children when intervening more forcefully and applying stricter limits.


5. Remember to get along well too, and love them always

It is also important to note that when a child’s device use becomes excessive and detrimental, excessive attempts to restrict them might also result in more harm than good. It may result in increased resentment, frustration, and conflicts at home. The family’s overall sanity may be affected by a prolonged tense atmosphere at home. As parents, it is important to weigh the harm of excessive screen time alongside the undermining of familial relationships and the overall unhappiness caused by attempts to restrict your child’s screen use. While it is important to manage screen time, remember to put the relationships between your children and other family members into perspective: they are more important and enduring than screen time, housework, homework, and meeting set expectations. The patient and persistent care and concern of parents for their children will bear fruit eventually.

6. Seek external help

To avoid perpetuating the problem, which would further entrench their child in their addiction, parents may also wish to seek help from others. They could be a child’s relative, trusted adult, mentor figure, or even a trained counsellor.

While some parents may want their child to seek help, it is important for their child to first acknowledge that their device use has become an issue and to personally want a change.

Instead of berating them or speaking to them in a judgemental tone, parents need to show their children that they care by analysing the issue with them, weighing out options together, and identifying alternative solutions with them.

To learn more about how you may approach seeking professional help for your child, please take a look at this article:

The article is contributed by TOUCH Integrated Family Group.