If you are a parent of a tween who has their own smart device, you are familiar with your kid’s tilted posture when they are looking at the blue lit screen. They likely are watching videos, movies, a popular series or playing games — or viewing others playing games.
While these activities are not alarming to some families, others might feel it’s too much, every day.
Electronic addiction is worrisome among medical professionals. The World Health Organization reported last year, “Use of the Internet, computers, smartphones and other electronic devices has dramatically increased over recent decades, and this increase is associated not only with clear and tremendous benefits to the users, but also with documented cases of excessive use which often has negative health consequences.”
Dr. Jay Berk, of Jay Berk PhD & Associates in Beachwood, and author of “A Parent’s Quick Guide to Electronic Addiction,” specializes in treatment of electronic addiction.
“There is research that it is impacting speech development,” Berk says. “Kids are falling asleep at school due to texting and playing games at late hours. It is also impacting social skills because kids don’t know how to start conversations with friends — it’s all electronic based.”
With popular online games — such as Fortnite, which is heavily played by kids and adults — it’s not surprising the World Health Organization would classify gaming disorder as a disease. According to the WHO, gaming behavior is someone who gives increasing priority to gaming over all other activities and interests, despite any negative impacts.
It defined a diagnosis for the disorder as “the behavior pattern must be of sufficient severity to result in significant impairment in personal, family, social, educational, occupational or other important areas of functioning and would normally have been evident for at least 12 months.”
“I see changes in kids’ behavior when on games too long,” Berk says. “They get aggressive and moody, another sign of addiction behavior.”
It’s not just games, but also other forms of electronic media.
Berk says social media apps where tweens can share photos, videos and group chats can bring bullying and social rejection.
“Boys lean more toward video games and girls are more social media,” he says.
Parents of children who have smart devices and who are seeing behavioral problems due to overuse can help their kids pull the plug and bring back some balance in their lives.
Berk says when possible, a collaborative approach works best.
“What is a reasonable amount of time?” he tells parents to consider, adding they should create a time limit that is easily enforced as it will be more likely to work.
“You can’t totally take electronics out of a kid’s life,” he says, but recommends parents have a talk with their child.
It’s not just about screen time; families also need a balance of activities.
“Start to build a healthy routine early on,” Berk says. “A lot of kids who use electronics lose their balance. (For example) they are not playing a sport anymore because they want to get home to play a game. (The kids) never learned how to manage their gaming. Teaching parents and kids to help ease the use of electronics starts the goal of getting kids to manage it on their own.”
Dr. Jay Berk will hold a discussion, “Electronic Addiction: The New Epidemic,” on Thursday, Jan. 31 at the Parma-Snow Branch of Cuyahoga County Public Library at 2121 Snow Road. The free event is from the Connecting for Kids “Speaker Series.” For more information about this program or to register, visit connectingforkids.org/speakerseries.