There are several different theories currently being popularized when referring to “screen addiction.” While “screen addiction” has previously been classified into either one of two categories, computer/Internet addiction or television addiction, more recent ideas (such as those proposed by Nancy Levant in her series on “Manipulating America”) combine the two forms of addiction into a single category. The term therefore applies to unhealthy and often compulsive behaviors which appear in either a computer/Internet addict or a television addict.

Just because your child has difficulty separating himself from either the computer screen or the television screen does not automatically make him an “addict.” The term addiction refers to the obsessive/compulsive use of any substance (or non substance) without regard to the consequences of such use. A tween who enjoys watching television for a couple of hours in the evening, is not the same as one who seems literally unable to turn off the television to the detriment of social relationships, family, school or other important factors in their lives.

How Can I Tell if My Child is Screen Addicted?

Some warning signs that may signify your child has a problem include:

Preoccupation with the Internet/television. You may notice that even when your child is not watching television or engaging in internet activities, he/she is talking or thinking about the last TV/Internet experience, or is focused on the next one.

Spending more and more time on the addiction.Just as a drug addict eventually builds a tolerance to the substance of choice, a screen addict will also begin to need more and more time in front of the TV or online to achieve the same amount of satisfaction. If your tween seems to be getting to the point where he is either watching television, or using the Internet for longer and longer times each day, this can indicate a problem.

Attempts to stop “using.” The screen addict may resolve to “cut back” on the amount of time spent watching TV or using the Internet, but never seems to be able to follow through. They may experience feelings of restlessness, moodiness, anxiety, or depression, when attempting to limit their use of the TV/Internet.

Risks serious losses because of the addiction. The screen addict may lose friendships or other social relationships because of their problem. Family, school, and extracurricular activities may suffer as a result of the addiction.

How Can I Help My Tween Beat Screen Addiction?

If you believe your child has a problem with screen addiction there are steps you can take to help them overcome their addiction.

  • Learn as much as you can about your child’s addiction. Knowledge is power. Some helpful websites you can visit to gain more information include:
  1. Turn Off Your TV
  2. Illinois Institute for Addiction Recovery
  3. Escape Your Television
  • Talk with your child about your concerns. Point out the behaviors which you have noticed, and give your child the chance to share with you what they are going through.
  • Share with your child what you have learned and read about screen addiction, and give him resources where he can learn more.
  • Limit your child’s exposure to TV/Internet, and role model the behaviors you would like your tween to have.
  • Involve your tween in extracurricular activities that get her away from the screen, and help her form new social relationships.