Young boy watching a tablet while wearing headphones during screentime

How Much Screen Time is Too Much?

A lot of parents with strict screen time rules before the pandemic have changed their views or fully “given up” by now, but many are questioning their decisions. Too much technology is certainly a modern life concern, and it’s complicated; technology can be incredibly helpful. So how do you know when your child has had too much screen time? As a psychologist, when I talk to parents about screen time, I ask them these two questions:

1. Do you think your child is addicted to technology?

The same thing that makes some adults prone to more common addictions can cause kids (and adults) to become addicted to screens, too. Interestingly, this has very little to do with a specific number of hours. Some kids can show signs of addiction in minutes whereas others could spend countless hours without any concerning signs. 

For those concerned about addiction, there are some telltale signs: 

  • What happens when you turn it off? 
  • Does behavior change before and after screentime? 
  • Does your child talk incessantly about his/her videogames or shows and can’t put the topic aside? 

While the current diagnostic manual for mental health disorders (DSM-V) does not have a formal diagnosis for “screen time addiction,” it will soon be a diagnosable disorder in the near future. 

If your child is showing these concerns, treatment is available in the forms of CBT and behavioral therapy. Additionally, there is more research and more resources coming out to help parents and kids with understanding screen time addiction.

2. What concerns you about your child’s screen time use?

What is the most upsetting thing about your child’s screen time use? Are you worried about your child losing interest in other activities? Are you concerned about your child’s obsessions with video games and computers? Do you fear they will not have enough physical activity or more diverse interests like reading or developing other hobbies? Or are you worried about how screen time affects a child’s brain or eyesight? 

First person view of a teenager's hands on a video game controller sitting in front of screen playing a sports game

What if screen time is out of control?

If screen time has gotten out of control, think about balance. Just as you balance your diet, your family could benefit from a more defined screen time experience. And just as other families have different views on what is a balanced diet, screen time balance is subjective as well. Do you want technology in your family to be a main course, a snack, or a treat? Think of what your child is missing (what are “veggies” in your house – reading? Physical activity? Music?) Ensure that your child gets those “veggies” first. Most screen time is okay if it isn’t taking away from your child’s other daily “nutrients.”

If you find that you’re getting a surprising amount of struggle or new behavioral challenges when trying to make these changes — think obsessive talk or meltdowns whenever it’s time to turn it off — you may be moving toward addiction territory. If struggles don’t seem to be getting easier over time, a psychologist or therapist may be able to help. Many games are actually designed to create addiction. There is no shame in breaking that bond!

Despite how scary addiction sounds, remember that with moderation and balance, screentime can have positive impacts at home, school, and beyond.


About the Writer

Dr. Claudia Ma

Licensed Psychologist & Founder, Modern Life Psychology

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Author: Dr. Claudia Ma

Licensed Psychologist & Founder, Modern Life Psychology.

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