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Electronic devices are now a bona fide part of everyday life. And since the world is becoming increasingly connected and online, it’s important for children to know how to navigate this world.

But the only problem is that children can develop a real addiction to electronics, and it can have a devastating impact on their health and wellbeing. Does your child have an electronics addiction? Here’s how you can find out.

There are many signs that your child is addicted to electronics, and that can go for everything from video games, to smartphones and the internet.

You might be surprised by some of these signs, thinking they belong in a discussion about drug and alcohol addiction. But the unfortunate truth is addictive patterns and behaviors can be the same across many different substances or items.

Withdrawal symptoms

This 2011 study asked 1,000 college students from all over the world to give up their smartphones for 24 hours. The students reported back to how they felt and what they experienced.

A Chinese student shared that “I can say without exaggeration, I was almost freaking out.” One Argentinian said, “Sometimes I felt dead.” A Slovakian student reported feeling “sad, lonely and depressed.”

These students showed signs of withdrawal. Going without their smartphone left them feeling unwell. And if your child feels anxious, sad, moody and even itchy and irritable when they can’t have their electronic devices, it’s safe to say that at the very least, they have an unhealthy relationship with it. At worst, they’re addicted.

Growing tolerance

If your child was once satisfied with 10 to 15 minutes of screen time, but now demands more and more time, this is a big warning sign. Like other addictions, children can develop a greater tolerance for their devices and use them for longer periods of time. This makes it even harder to break the bad habit.

Electronics are their only interest

Children usually enjoy a wide variety of activities. Maybe it’s sports, painting, dancing, playing with siblings or neighbors, or any number of things. But if they start to push these favorite activities to the side, making room only for their electronic activities, that’s a sign of an unhealthy attachment.

Tantrums and meltdowns

Now, it’s pretty common for children to throw a fit when they don’t get their own way. And a tantrum or meltdown, in and of itself, isn’t a sign of an electronic addiction.

However, as a parent, you know your child best. And if it seems like they simply can’t handle time limits, or being told “No”, when it comes to their electronic devices, it’s time to start taking action.

Coping mechanisms

It’s hard for children to deal with their emotions. Depending on their age, they may or may not have the vocabulary and communication skills to discuss what’s bothering them.

However, if you notice that your child always reaches for video games, an iPad or smartphone when they’re upset, it may be because they now rely on electronics to make them feel better.

What you should do if your child has an electronics addiction

If your child shows any of the five behaviors or signs listed above, it’s important to take action. Doing so will help to protect your child’s mental, psychological and physical wellbeing.

But if you’re not sure what to do, here are some guidelines to get you started.

Establish rules

Rules let your child know what’s allowed and what’s not. This way, you’re all on the same page. And when you remind them about these rules, they won’t feel blindsided. Here are some good rules to put in place:

  • Limit screen time to a certain amount of time
  • Set specific times when your child can use his or her electronic device
  • Set electronic-free zones and periods. For example, no devices at the dinner table, an hour before bed, in the bedroom, or in the car. It all depends on your family, but once you create these rules, follow through with them.

Establish replacement activities

It’s hard for everyone – including children – to replace bad habits when you try to resist them and deny them. But if you replace them with an alternative option, you make it a lot easier for children to gradually wean themselves off of their devices.

One way to do that is to set rules for other daily activities. This can be things like:

  • Reading an actual book about a subject they really love (and not on the Kindle!)
  • Playing outside for an hour each day
  • Helping with dinner while listening to music or an audiobook
  • Enroll your child in a sport to help them obtain feel-good hormones away from electronic devices

If your child breaks the rules or exhibits threatening or violent behavior, contact a therapist who can offer professional guidance and tips.

Is it really necessary to intervene with your child’s electronics addiction?

As a parent, it might be easier to let your child play on his or her iPad, smartphone or video game. After all, you can get dinner on the table and do your own thing, while they do theirs. But too much screen can negatively impact your child’s health.

Unhealthy weight gain

One study confirmed that too much video game playing led to an increase in food consumption for teens. Apart from eating more food, spending so much time online means your child is sitting a lot, and not staying active. This, too, can lead to unhealthy weight gain.

Decline in mental health

Children and teens who use their smartphones too much are at a higher risk for depression and even suicide, according to studies. How much time is too much time?

According to one of the study authors, Jean Twenge, “Three hours a day and beyond is where you [see] the more pronounced increase in those who had at least one suicide risk factor.” This reiterates the importance of setting and enforcing strict time limits for electronic devices.

Increase in metabolic syndrome

In a study that observed close to 2,000 adolescents between the ages of 12 and 19, researchers found that “Screen time was associated with an increased likelihood of [metabolic syndrome],” which is a precursor for illnesses like obesity and diabetes.

Screen time and electronic devices may seem harmless, but as you can see, the long-term consequences are quite dire. If you suspect that your child is addicted to their electronic devices, know that you can you support them in breaking this addiction and creating better habits.

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