New Tool Measures Screen Addiction in Children

By Rick Naurert PhD
March 17th, 2023
Medically reviewed by Paul Sietes, MD.
New Tool Measures Screen Addiction in Children

In today’s technologically driven milieu, it is common for young children to be focused on a screen for hours texting or gaming, lost in a digital world.

New research suggests, however, that the amount of screen time may not be the concern; rather, parents should focus on how children use the devices.

The finding comes from a study that found the way a child uses the device is the strongest predictor of emotional or social problems connected with screen addiction. This held true after researchers controlled for screen time.

“Typically, researchers and clinicians quantify or consider the amount of screen time as of paramount importance in determining what is normal or not normal or healthy or unhealthy,” said lead author Dr. Sarah Domoff.

“Our study has demonstrated that there is more to it than number of hours. What matters most is whether screen use causes problems in other areas of life or has become an all-consuming activity.”

Much research exists on adolescents and screen use, but Domoff said that to her knowledge this is the first tool in the United States that measures screen media addiction in children ages four to 11. She believes it will be a valuable tool for parents, clinicians, and researchers.

Some of the warning signs include: if screen time interferes with daily activities, causes conflict for the child or in the family, or is the only activity that brings the child joy.

Complete list of warning signs of screen media addiction:

  • Unsuccessful Control
  • It is hard for my child to stop using screen media.

  • Loss of Interest
  • Screen media is the only thing that seems to motivate my child.

  • Preoccupation
  • Screen media is all my child seems to think about.

  • Psychosocial Consequences
  • My child’s screen media use interferes with family activities.

  • Serious Problems Due to Use
  • My child’s screen media use causes problems for the family.

  • Withdrawal
  • My child becomes frustrated when he/she cannot use screen media.

  • Tolerance
  • The amount of time my child wants to use screen media keeps increasing.

  • Deception
  • My child sneaks using screen media.

  • Escape/Relieve Mood
  • When my child has had a bad day, screen media seems to be the only thing that helps him/her feel better.

Kids who use media in unhealthy ways have problems with relationships, conduct, and other emotional symptoms, Domoff said. The study didn’t examine whether the emotional and behavior problems or the media addiction came first.

The study  appears in the  Psychology of Popular Media Culture, a journal of the American Psychological Association.

Source: University of Michigan

Dr. Rick Naurert has over 25 years experience in clinical, administrative and academic healthcare. He is currently an associate professor for Rocky Mountain University of Health Professionals doctoral program in health promotion and wellness. Dr. Naurert began his career as a clinical physical therapist and served as a regional manager for a publicly traded multidisciplinary rehabilitation agency for 12 years. He has masters degrees in health-fitness management and healthcare administration and a doctoral degree from The University of Texas at Austin focused on health care informatics, health administration, health education and health policy. His research efforts included the area of telehealth with a specialty in disease management.