Screen time is kind of a thing, in case you haven't noticed. Even those of us with the best of intentions — "I will never just sit my kid in front of the television!" — have discovered that a little iPad or television every now and then isn't the end of the world. But when does it cross over from "Mama needs a little time to herself" to just being a binge fest of Dora the Explorer? Here are some red flags your kid needs less screen time because it's getting harder and harder to avoid.
First of all, let's be clear: I'm not going to shame you for allowing your little one some time with Daniel the Tiger or their favorite game on the tablet. After all, if you're anything like me, then you already have enough mom guilt to shoulder for a lifetime. The truth is, screen time can be a lifesaver when you are trying to score a moment to yourself in the bathroom — such a luxury, am I right? — or finish up an important work email.
No, I'm not about that. But what I am focused on is the extreme end of things, warning signs that your kid is too involved with life inside the screen. I'm talking red flags, like irritability, headaches, and a lack of interest in friends.
Read below for the details you should be looking for, and information about how to nix it once and for all.
1. They Have A Sudden Mood Change
If you notice your child's mood feels a little Jekyll and Hyde, then you may be sign that they are indulging in too much time on the iPad, especially if the change comes after using screens, says Dr. Colleen Carroll, a childhood screen addiction specialist and author of Hooked on Screens. Carroll tells Romper in an email interview that one way to moderate this behavior is by setting boundaries around how much time is appropriate in the home and what hours screens are allowed.
2. They Can't Seem To Follow Directions
Phil Weaver of Learning Success tells Romper that kids may be showing you they are on screen time overload if they cannot follow multi-step directions, which requires all three major sensory systems. "We hear the directions and transfer that sensory input into an internal visualization," he says. "Since that visualization is spatial in nature it also involves our spatial (proprioceptive) memory. All three combine to be able to remember and carry out multi-step instructions. So if there is a difficulty in this area it could indicate a weakness in one or more of these cognitive systems." Put simply, Weaver says, too much screen time can lead to weaknesses in these cognitive skills.
3. They Complain About Headaches
Casherie Bright, a Utah-based counselor who works mainly with children and teens says too much screen time might lead to your child complaining about headaches or blurry vision. "This is a big red flag because it means your child's health is being affected negatively by their electronics," she says. Like Carroll, Bright recommends setting a limit on how much screen time is appropriate for each child in your home.
4. They Are Having A Tough Time Sleeping
"Sleep problems are an indicator that your child is getting too much screen time, particularly in the evening," Chris Brantner, a certified sleep science coach at SleepZoo.com, tells Romper in an email interview. Brantner points out that 75 percent of children have access to media devices in their room, and more than 50 percent of children aren't getting the recommended amount of sleep on a nightly basis. What's worse, he says is that research shows while screen time can have a negative impact on adults sleep habits, it's even worse for children. One reason why? Kids are more sensitive to light. "If they're using devices in dark rooms before bed, their pupils dilate and let even more harsh light in," Brantner says. "This light confuses their brain and inhibits melatonin production, which prevents them from getting to sleep."
5. They Stop Chatting With Their Friends
Another red flag, says Carroll, is if your child stops socializing with friends in favor of screen time. "Ensure kids have other interests and hobbies, especially exercise and sports, and be sure kids get their responsibilities done before screens are allowed, chores, homework, and so forth," she says.
6. They Just Don't Get It
"When we read or listen to a story we also use our visualization skills and our spatial memory to 'see' the story in our mind," Weaver says. "When these skills are weak from lack of development comprehension can be lacking." So, if your kid is filling up their brain with screen time, then there might not be room for understanding life beyond the iPad, you know?
7. They Refuse To Follow The Rules
If your child is refusing to do things that are expected, like homework and chores, then they might be spending too much time on electronics, Bright says. Falling behind on grades and expectations, like attending extracurricular activities, are also red flags. Bright says it's also important to monitor your child's screen time use for suspicious behavior. "If your child begins to be sneaky about their computer behavior, changing screens, deleting histories, and so forth, then take this seriously and have a conversation with them about pornography," she says. "If they are accessing pornography, consider stronger internet filters and possibly consider having them see a counselor."
Check out Romper's new video series, Bearing The Motherload, where disagreeing parents from different sides of an issue sit down with a mediator and talk about how to support (and not judge) each other’s parenting perspectives. New episodes air Mondays on Facebook.