Too Much of a Good Thing

By Samantha Georgson | Illustration by Ann Christianson

Many parents worry about their kids having too much screen time. Some are even concerned their children are developing obsessive behaviors regarding their smartphones or Internet enabled devices, but few know what to do about it.

One local expert says it’s useful to focus on understanding the increasingly prominent role devices have in our lives and in the lives of our children. Child and family psychologist Darlene Meiners has some tips on pinpointing toxic technology use behaviors and discusses how you can guide your children to foster healthier relationships with their devices.

“Technology addiction—if you choose to refer to it this way—is very situational,” says Meiners. “We all use our devices in different ways.” In her practice, Meiners has seen evidence of impulsive patterns in kids as young as 2, throwing temper tantrums when they’re refused access to their tablets, all the way through older adults and retirees battling an obsession with online gaming.

If you’re starting to worry about your child’s online habits, try to work through the details of their symptoms, suggests Meiners. “Is it interfering with their quality of life? Are they isolating themselves? Have you noticed any changes in behavior or an increase in anxiety directly related to their technology use?”

Instead of proposing several new rules regarding your child’s screen time, Meiners suggests focusing on two main household standards that must be upheld—respect and responsibility. “It’s important to teach kids these skills,” says Meiners. “Kids understand having expectations, they know what’s expected of them when they’re at school, so let’s try to get into the same routine at home.”

Meiners recommends using screen time as a reward for good behavior that can be earned by following these household rules. “You should keep a schedule,” suggests Meiners. “Start with a small amount of screen time, no more than 15 minutes, and once your child demonstrates respect or responsibility you can award them an additional 15 minutes.”

Holding your children accountable in this way will guide them toward becoming responsible adults. “It teaches them boundaries, it teaches them how to manage their time,” says Meiners.

“It’s important to have a conversation about it,” she says. “As a family, you should take the time to sit down and determine your family goals.”