How to Tell if Your Child has a Digital Addiction

Last week, two Apple shareholders urged Apple to create ways for parents to limit the use of technology for children. Thats right, the people that make money from your kids spending time on their devices are noticing that there is serious concern. In the open letter to Apple Executives, Jana Partners asks the company to consider developing software that would allow parents more options to limit screen time.

Wondering how to spot “digital addiction” in a child? Fear not, we have created a simple exercise that can be used to determine if your child is addicted to technology. Before giving this a try we recommend that you already have a “digital allowance” in some form in place. One approach, and our recommendation is the “time period” approach, giving children a set time period that their child may enjoy their device (example: 6-7:30pm on weekdays and 1-4pm on weekends). Some parents may prefer a “time per day” approach limiting use to a set number of minutes or hours which is a great approach for families with varying daily schedules.

Step One: Act normal

Give your child their normal amount of screen time during a time that you can control a potential situation (please don’t try this while on a crowded airplane if your child may scream…) If you just handed them their iPad, allow for them to get started playing a game or watching a show. Wait until they have been playing for at least 10 minutes before moving on to step two.

Step Two: Remove device

For 30 minutes. Out of nowhere, during their normal screen time.

The way you go about this should depend on your parenting style.  If lying to your child (oh come on, the nice/naughty list is a lie) is your style, tell your child you need to update it. If you’re willing to deal with the situation, simply tell them that you need it because you want to play their game, watch their show, etc. Either way, let them know that they will need to find something else to do for 30 minutes.

Whatever you do, DO NOT BRIDE them to behave for 30 minutes. Do not tell them that if they behave, they can have it back. No “Johnny, if you behave for 30 minutes, I’ll know you don’t have an addiction and we won’t have to address it”. Your child should have no idea that you are testing them for digital addiction. If you get the “BUT YOU JUST SAID I COULD PLAY IT!” just tell them that you changed your mind….or that this is a very important update that you must do to prevent bugs from coming out of it and biting them while they’re sleeping. It’s 30 minutes.

Oh! (Obviously) the 30 minutes needs to be spent away from any screen. No watching tv or using your phone instead.

Step Three: Watch the reaction

Signs of addiction

Anger: If your child is throwing a fit or having a melt down because of this situation, your child may have a digital addiction. (And if your child hits you, honey, you need a set of our hand mitts and a sterner voice. Your child should NEVER hit you out of anger).

Sadness: Crying? Over 30 minutes? Yep. Your child might be addicted. Chances are you will feel a tiny bit of guilt for taking their device away and you might think about giving it back before the 30 minutes are up. Stay strong, parent warriors. You got this.

Persistent Questioning: Maybe your child hasn’t thrown a fit or turned on the water works but are they actually finding something else to do for 30 minutes? Are they unable to understand why you took their device away and searching for answers or trying to talk you into giving it back to them? Your child just might have a problem.

Care to share their reaction? Use #AddictedToTech

Signs that your child is not addicted

“Okay.” “No problem.”

Yay you! Your child respects you and is NOT addicted to technology. Give yourself a parenting high five. Proud? Share your child’s reaction online and use #NOTaddicted. 

“When can I have it back?”

We don’t want kids to be discouraged from asking questions, it is how they learn. Some children just need a good explanation and for you to tell them that you will let them know when they can have it back. As long as your child finds something else to do for 30 minutes, go you, they are NOT addicted. Yay you!

“But what am I supposed to do?”

Your kid may have forgotten how to be a kid but good job you, your child does NOT have a digital addiction. Suggest activities like reading, coloring, playing outside or riding a bike. But parents, let them figure this one out on their own. This is not 30 minutes for you to have to find something else for them to do and keep them entertained, this is 30 minutes for them to be a kid and entertain themselves.

Share your child just being a kid and #KidTime.

Stay tuned for tips on how to address digital addiction and help your child harness technology


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Olivia Roney