The pandemic has changed the world in many ways, most significantly affecting our children. During the pandemic kids were forced to stay home, away from school, friends and public places. Playgrounds were closed and play dates became a thing of the past during the pandemic and we are continuing to feel the effects of this loss of physical play. Many kids increased their use of electronic screen time including tablets, gaming systems and cell phones affecting their mental health.
According to the Entertainment Software Association, the estimated number of American gamers climbed from 214 million to 227 million — about two-thirds of the population — and 55 percent said they played more during the pandemic. In the United States, children spent, on average, 97 minutes a day on YouTube in March and April, up from 57 minutes in February, and nearly double the use a year prior — with similar trends found in Britain and Spain. The company calls the month-by-month increase “The Covid Effect.”
The concern is not just over the habits of teens and tweens. Children under the age of ten are giving countless hours to games like Fortnite, and apps like TikTok and Snapchat. An app called Roblox, particularly popular among children ages 9 to 12 in the United States, averaged 31.1 million users a day during the first nine months of 2020, an increase of 82 percent over the year before according to a New York Times report.
Normal electronic usage can turn into an addiction and it’s important to recognize the difference. An addiction is defined as a person’s inability to control use of a substance or behavior, despite negative consequences. Some people who are engrossed in screen time or video games while ignoring other normal activities could be close to meeting this definition. Electronic usage for some children became a way to cope with anxiety, depression and other stressors brought about by the pandemic. When using electronics, the brain produces a chemical called dopamine in response to this pleasurable experience. The child can develop a strong drive to seek out that same pleasure again and again causing addictive behaviors.
All children are different and healthy electronic use looks different for each child. Some children can self-regulate and might even put the screens down to go outside without you prompting them. Other kids become noticeably more anxious and quicker to lose their tempers when they spend a lot of time on screens. It’s important for parents to communicate with their children and put controls and restrictions on their children’s practice of electronic games.
Knowing when to seek help for video addiction can be difficult. If your teen is experiencing any of the following symptoms, a psychiatric evaluation may be needed:
- Child lacks enjoyment in activities he/she formally enjoyed doing with a preoccupation in electronic gaming/device use
- Losing interest and not doing well at school
- Withdrawal symptoms such as depression, aggression and anxiety when electronics are taken away
- Self-care has decreased: hygiene, self-care and nutrition
- Wanting to spend all time online/using electronics
- Using technology to escape from or relieve negative moods, such as grief, anxiety, or hopelessness
- Lying to loved ones about time spent on electronics
It is important to note that not all screen time is “bad.” In today’s society, children learn using electronic devices in school and at home. Screen time can be used as teaching tools, to reach students where they are both physically and educationally, to review material and to test what students have learned. It is important to evaluate the difference between quality and quantity of screen time. Limiting “passive” time on screens may be something parents evaluate.
Contact University Behavioral Center
If you feel your child is suffering from symptoms of depression, anxiety or a more serious mental health issue, please call us at 407-281-7000. You can also reach out to us online by completing the form on our contact us page.
- Video Game Addiction Is on the Rise. Here’s What It Looks Like – Discover
- Covid-19 pandemic and its impact on increasing the risks of children’s addiction to electronic games from a social work perspective – ScienceDirect
- Children’s Screen Time Has Soared in the Pandemic, Alarming Parents and Researchers – The New York Times (nytimes.com)
- Violent Video Games and Aggression in Kids (verywellfamily.com)