Parents and caregivers worry, with good reason, when technology is a constant focus in their child’s life and takes up hours of their day.
Below are some signs that your child's time online may be affecting their health and well-being, and tips for talking about their tech use.
Signs your child may be spending too much time online
- Use of screens and games take over other activities in their life. If screens and gaming start to become more important to your child than school and other activities, or time with friends and family.
- Loss of interest in other things. If your child is only interested in spending time on screens and loses interest in other activities they used to enjoy this may be a red flag. Remember, screen time includes computers, tablets, phones, TV, online games, etc. Is your child choosing screens over activities such as art, sports, music, volunteering, or spending time with friends?
- Use of technology interferes with sleep. If your child stays up too late on devices or playing video games, it can affect their sleep. Sleeping well is important to have energy for school, work, or other activities. Sleep is also a key part of child and youth development and for mental health and wellness.
- They are on screens for longer periods of time. Extra screen time can add up and have a negative impact on your child’s mental health and well-being. For example, your child used to watch 30 minutes of YouTube after school, and is now also watching it on a phone on the way home from school. Their craving for screens may be increasing.
- Technology use causes family problems. Tech use could be a concern if the limits you’ve agreed to as a family are constantly being ignored and causing arguments. Also, problems with behaviour that are linked to something they’ve seen on a screen can also be a sign for concern (mean pranks, inappropriate language, etc.).
- Loss of control. This can be an issue if you notice your child constantly looking at their screens and not able to turn them off. Or if they ‘need’ to respond immediately to notifications.
- They are dishonest about their technology use. If your child is sneaking their device into bed or lying about the length of time they’re using technology, this could lead to more problems with technology.
How to talk to your child if you’re concerned about their use of technology
Most families will experience challenges from time to time over screen use. This is an important time to revisit the boundaries and limits you agreed to as a family in your Tech Use Plan.
It is also important to talk to your child if you are concerned about their tech use. Look for a chance to bring up the topic as part of a conversation or when a situation arises. For example:
- If the subject of tech use comes up somewhere such as on TV or in the news, ask your child casually what they use their devices for. Try to get a sense of what they are spending so much of their time on - Is it social media? Is it games?
- Be curious – try to understand what the pull is for them? What is so interesting about what they are doing on their screens? Ask them to show you so you have a better understanding of who they are connecting with. If they refuse, and there’s not an issue of safety, respect their privacy and try again at another time.
- Have an honest conversation. Perhaps this is a time to revisit your family’s tech use plan. Give everyone a chance to share their concerns with the way tech use at home isn’t what everyone agreed to. Come up with ideas together on how to handle this. For example, have your child come up with a list of their Top 5 things to do while off screens.
- Check in often, in short conversations. For example, you could ask, "I noticed your mood seems low and you were playing video games for a long time today. How are you doing?" You will not deal with all issues in one conversation and see immediate results, this is a conversation you will probably have more than once
- Recognize and praise your child’s healthy tech habits when you see them, e.g. “I noticed you were on your phone and something on it was frustrating you. So you chose to turn it off and put it on the charging station. That’s a great thing to do in moments like that.”
Are you concerned that your child may be overusing technology and it is affecting their mental health and well-being? This is not something that you have to deal with alone. Reach out for support.
You can start by talking to your family doctor or reach out to a mental health professional. You can also contact us at the Kelty Centre and we can connect you to resources and services in your community.