Phone Addiction: How too much screen time affects kids

Phone Addiction: How too much screen time affects kids

TRI-CITIES, Wash. -- We take it with us everywhere—work, the dinner table, sometimes even the bathroom. Smartphones and screens are a part of life for so many of us, and some people are finding it hard to balance.

Experts say one of the reasons smartphones can be so addicting are all the bright colors--shiny and screaming for your attention--and it can be hard for people to snap out of it. But experts say it's even harder for children to look away.

“It's a lot of work,” Richland parent Cady Schwallier said of her twin boys. “But they always have a buddy.”

Like most other parents, Cady has to make a choice for little ones--how much screen time do they get?

“If I give them a tablet and then I take it away 30 minutes later,” she said. “And they're nagging me the rest of the day to have it, to me it's just not worth the fight, and so I try to limit it quite a bit.”

Screen addiction in children is a problem that's concerning experts who work with kids.

“Many kids come and they wait in our waiting area,” said Michelle Duckett, Kadlec speech language pathologist. “And they usually have a phone of some kind. And the difficulty was, once those tablets went away, it was causing a lot of negative behaviors.”

Duckett said the reason kids are so susceptible to screen addiction is their brains are still developing, and they become hyper focused on the screen--screens that show them things at a fast rate.

“And real life doesn't run at a fast rate,” Duckett said. “So as soon as you take that away, they go from being hyper focused, to having to go back to that slow routine of everyday life.”

She said kids don't know how to make that transition--which is why they often scream or cry when you take a phone away.

“It's okay for children to cry,” Duckett said. “They cry in public. Giving them instant gratification by giving them a screen is not going to help them learn how to soothe themselves. It's not going to help them problem solve how to find ways to stimulate themselves individually.”

“So when we give them screens immediately, we're actually not doing them a favor.”

And with all their attention on a phone, they don't see what's going on in the world around them.

“And so they miss out on those little intricacies that we often learn just by chance,” Duckett said. “But now we're having to actually teach children how to react in different situations, and we're having children with a lot of social and emotional delays and social disorders because they're not knowing how to interact with their peers or even their parents sometimes.”

Duckett said the best thing you can do for your kids is let them play.

“If they're having a play date or playing with other children, they're going to learn more from that experience than they are from watching kids play on TV,” Cady said. “They're going to learn different ways to interact and get what they need from peers--sharing, taking turns, being patient if they don't get what they want.”

“A lot of kids don't know how to play, and that's how we learn our social skills,” Duckett said.

“Play time as a parent is a dying thing,” Cady said. “The more time you can spend with your kids in a fundamental experience without any screens, the better.”

How much screen time a child should get depends on age and needs. A guideline for reference can be found here, by the American Academy of Pediatrics.

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