Signs and Treatments for Kids and Adults to manage “Screen Time”
The following is a summary related to internet & video games dangers and addiction. Addiction is real, and while it is not yet officially recognized as a diagnosable disorder by the American Medical and Psychological Associations, there is increasing evidence that people of all ages, especially teens and pre-teens, are facing very real consequences associated with impulsive and compulsive use of video games and computer/ internet use. Lets’ call this “Screen Time” that is excessive and disruptive to balanced living.
Through this excessive “screen time” the brain becomes fatigued. It goes for more stimulation through hormone (adrenalin) and dopamine (excitement).
The most common causes biologically speaking are likely ADHD, Impulse Control Disorders or Tourette’s. Dopamine production is fostered by the highly visually stimulating imagery with the goal of adventure or conquest that hang in the balance : “If I don’t attend I will miss out socially or loose feeling up and alert (adrenalin) when I go into this world.”
Dopamine is the neurotransmitter of excitement – the “Gimme Gimme Gimme “of “Pursuit and then Reward” – When an activity triggers dopamine release we want to revisit the behavior – thereby creating a habit, or in this case addiction — just like with such struggles as gambling or pornography.
So why would someone choose to spend hours engaged in a make-believe world instead of their own lives? The Limbic System doesn’t moralize – it just wants to feel and typically feel good, so it fosters creative motivations/ideas that in turn the pre-frontal cortex can then potentially slow down/stop, but it is often not mature enough to do so until individuals reach ages 25+.
A spiritual overlay also exists: realizing that anything that controls us is an idol. Idols are shallow, empty and without worth. Games and internet activity often trade deep thinking for shallow multi-tasking that comes with gaming – which is rapid, in-your face activity, with rapid (chemical) rewards from quick challenges and victories. By contrast, critical thinking occurs through contemplation and meditation – (anti-addictive) that are possible when we put functional limits on “screen time”.
- Decline in academic performance
- Reduced interest in hobbies
- Withdrawal from friends/family
- Irrational emotional responses/explosions/tantrums
- Social phobias
- Going over 19 hrs. a week is a sure way to get “pathological”
Treatment Helps- for Kids
- Talk daily about whatever they are engaged in doing (socially or “Screen Time”)
- No gaming when traveling together
- Curb” screen time” and phones or hand-held games to no more than 45 min. daily
- (use a timer)
- Have a family Facebook account vs. an exclusive one that triggers peer pressures
- Converse in a calm matter-o-fact verbal style about the need to avoid excesses and the family’s goals for balance
- Parents determine and clearly present a unified position so the child is not tempted (so easily) to manipulate a parent through tri-angulation
- Make violations fit the crime-don’t take it away if it (e.g. a privilege) pro wasn’t the area of violation
- Have alternative activity options for hobbies, sports, board games, magazines, books, to use in spare time
- Be sure there are chances for emotional intimacy so they don’t seek games, etc. with strangers to fill an emptiness
- Wean them off “screen time”, if it has gotten to an addiction level, vs. going “cold turkey”
Signs- for Adults
- Secretive patterns
- Increasing game/internet time
- Reduced sleep
- Reduced communications or helps less with family
- Avoids church Coarse language or sexualized/violent orientation
- Loss of interest in job, hobbies, friends, or sex
- In general > neglecting normal interests or duties previously pursued
Treatment Helps- for Adults
- Use monitoring systems (Net Nanny, Wise Choice, Be Secure)
- Don’t make up excuses for them with others, ask their friends to talk to them about balance vs. addiction
- Establish set times so the structure fosters self-awareness and accountability
- Use “Online Gamers Anonymous” support group
- Set goals for what being on the internet or playing the game is meant to accomplish before going there
- Can men handle sexually provocative characters – NO!
- Can women move away from cyber friendships as their primary source for emotional nurture – Yes!
- Be in prayer over the need to honor God with the:
- use of time
- thought life
- honoring spouse
- If you are the “widow”/”widower” own your hurts vs. attacking with blame that shames them or drives them deeper into avoidance
- Go to counseling (self or couples), read related books (see reference materials)
- Married couples share Facebook accounts so there is an accountability—fostering interaction vs. isolation or affairs
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Carnes, Patrick Ph.D., Delmonico, David Ph.D., Griffin, Elizabeth M.A., Moriarity, Joseph, In the Shadows of the Net-Braking Free of Compulsive Online Sexual Behavior. Center City, Minnesota: Hazelden, 2001.
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Gregory Sowles PhD, HSPP, LMHC, Clinical / Neuropsychologist Vision Counseling and Psychological Services
Author: Gregory Sowles PhD, HSPP, LMHC, Clinical / Neuropsychologist Vision Counseling and Psychological Services