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When is a lot too much? Between addiction and extreme media use

3 minutes reading time
6-17 years
Social Media
© photothek.net

It is not uncommon for the use of cell phones, tablets and the like to lead to arguments in the family. Surely you are familiar with the discussions about how long the child is allowed to play on the tablet. Many parents worry that it’s unhealthy for their child to spend too much time with digital media. But at what point is way too much and constant media use already addiction?

Why do children and young people often spend so much time on the Internet?

Apart from the fun factor, there are some psychological aspects that make it hard for us to put the tablet or game console aside again. For example, many computer games, whether played on a smartphone or a console, do not have a set ending. The things we do in everyday life usually have a beginning and an end and we turn to something else after that. That’s not usually the case with games. Your child could theoretically play endlessly from level to level. Each level becomes more challenging and your child gets the ambition to pass the next level as well.

It’s a similar story with messenger services and social networks. About WhatsApp, Instagram, etc., we are always reachable and can communicate with others quickly and easily at any time. Social networks are specially designed to keep us on the platform for a long time by always displaying (new) information through scrolling. This can also influence the mood of the users. And when your son or daughter posts a picture on Instagram and gets likes and positive comments on it, it acts like a social reward. It activates the same areas in the brain as eating candy or taking drugs.

What should parents pay attention to?

Let me say right away: There is no such thing as an “Internet addiction”! But certain things and activities on the Internet can be addictive. However, to speak of addiction is often not correct at all, because there is more to it than spending a lot of time with one thing. If you want to know more about it, read this post by Quarks.

As a parent, you should be aware that excessive use of certain media is not uncommon among children and young people at times – for example, in times of a pandemic or during puberty. However, if your child’s behavior with certain media seems conspicuous over a longer period of time and causes you concern, you should observe your child closely and take action if necessary.

The most important tip for dealing with media is: Talk to your child about what media he or she uses and why. Show interest and stay in the conversation about what your child’s current favorite game is, what videos they like to watch, what platforms they’re on, and what’s so great about them. Sharing can prevent problematic behavior. Explain to your child what platforms like Instagram work to keep users with them as long as possible.

If your child’s media use seems uncontrolled and too much, and your son prefers to sit in front of the screen instead of meeting friends, you should agree on fixed media times together. Extreme mood swings before, during and after using certain media or neglecting school and friends are also indicative of problematic use. It may also mean that your child is not yet ready to use media completely independently. Which is not to say that media should be off-limits. Guide your child in their use and agree on rules about when they can use what media.

If you are at a loss and your child’s problematic behavior continues, you and your child also have the option of visiting addiction counseling centers at any time.

You should also monitor and investigate whether there may be other reasons behind constant media use. For example, your child may want to distract himself from other problems by playing computer games. Seek discussion with your child and get outside help if necessary!

The German Children’s Fund’s Children’s Report 2021 also deals with media addiction and how children, young people and adults perceive excessive media use.

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