The term “screen addiction” is considered to be harsh by many parents and carers. In the 21st century, children engaging in some form of screen time is somewhat inevitable, and often encouraged by guardians in certain situations—while still being mindful of the amount of time the child spends in front of a screen. 

“Screen addiction” is measured in the same way as any other addiction.  Medical practitioners often determine the impact of a 3rd party on the everyday life of the child as well as its impact when withdrawn. 

Here, parental control and digital wellbeing tool Qustodio reveals the 5 red flags that indicate a child is experiencing screen addiction, and presents adoptable tips that help prevent screen dependency.


“Time spent on a screen doesn’t reflect dependency.”

An assumption is often made that time spent on a screen is the first thing that must be analysed to establish how dependent a child is on it”, states Qustodio.  “However, this is not necessarily the case.  Failure to stop using screens without severe distress or continually referring back to the screen, so much so that it interrupts everyday activities such as play or human interaction, can serve as a bigger red flag then simply the amount of time accumulated on a screen.”

“Ultimately, the time spent on a screen doesn’t reflect dependency.   Parents and guardians should evaluate how a child responds to the removal of screens and if a lack of devices impact their day-to-day wellbeing.  For instance, if a child is willing to sacrifice basic needs such as eating or sleeping in favor of screens, this may indicate a form of screen addiction.”  


Sparking joy

Books, toys, social interaction, parks, and parties all hold the objective of entertaining and sparking a child’s joy.  If a child displays a continual loss of interest in traditional methods of entertainment and only exhibits true happiness when in front of a screen, they may be placing too much value on their devices.

“It is a good idea to monitor a child’s reactions to an-array of situations,” advises Qustodio. “Not only does this give insight into their general interests, but it also presents the opportunity to examine any unhealthy habits that they may be developing.  If screens are the only means to boost their mood, it may indicate that they are developing an unhealthy relationship with devices.”


The art of manipulation

Manipulation is often a tactic used by those that wish to participate in an activity that they know may not be agreeable to those around them.  As a result, they use methods of manipulation to achieve their goals.

“If the child attempts to manipulate the workings of their surroundings, this may indicate that they are investing too much in their screen time”, says Qustodio.  “For instance, if they attempt to ‘sneak’, their tablet into their bedroom in the evening or deny how long they have spent on it, it may be time to reevaluate boundaries.”


A physical impact

Excessive screen time can impact a child’s physical wellbeing.   Studies have shown that interrupted sleeping patterns, chronic neck pain, poor posture, delayed speech, and stilted social interactions can all be the result of prolonged screen time.

“The prospect of experiencing physical effects due to screen time can seem dramatic, however, it can be common in both adults and children,” says Qustodio.  “If the child is attempting to ignore the physical impact that screen time is having on them to continue using their device, it may be time to implement additional boundaries.”


Age and suggested screen time

18 months and under:  video chatting with family is a good way to introduce children to the digital realm.  They should never be left unaccompanied with a digital device.

2 – 7 years:  educational viewing that is accompanied by an adult.  Adults should continually educate children on appropriate viewing and mix with off-screen activity.

8 years and up:  adults should educate children on how their data is shared, potential dangers of online content and how to implement healthy on-screen boundaries.


Preventing screen dependency

  • Be mindful of learnt If you continually use your phone, a child is likely to mirror the action.
  • Do not remove devices without providing alternative entertainment or actions.
  • Adopt an “out of sight, out of mind” Remove all devices from view when they are not being used.
  • Set all boundaries in stone. They should be non-negotiable.