My brother has been living in Singapore, Malaysia, for his freelance job. He recently told me he feels like he is constantly on his screen for work and communication and thinks maybe his virtual life may be overtaking his nonvirtual life. He also noticed that when he recently babysat for a coworker, he was frustrated with how difficult it was to engage the kids away from their screens. He shared with their dad that he was concerned the kids were screen addicted. He was surprised to hear that the dad was not concerned, explaining that all kids are preoccupied with screen media. The dad believed his kids would grow out of it. No big deal.
Online overdose in Singapore
Is it a big deal? Well it turns out that, with the exception of India, Singapore citizens spent more time online than people of any other country in the world (Williams, 2014). More than half of Singaporeans admit that they are online for as many as 12 hours a day (Williams, 2014).
Screen addiction has been defined as 38 hours or more of screen use per week resulting in clinically significant impairment in work and relationships, a loss of control (inability to stop despite unpleasant consequences), and evidence of tolerance (increasing use to get same sense of satisfaction) and withdrawal (irritability and anxiety when prevented from screen time) (Flisher, 2010).
Clearly it’s not just adults that are screen addicted. Many kids in Asia are as connected as their parents, growing up with the newest technologies always online and up-to-date to the latest trends. For some families, too much turns into way too much. Due to high screen addiction numbers, Asian countries like China, South Korea, and Singapore have more inpatient treatment facilities for screen addictions than any others.
We may not want to face it, but based on alarming statistics it appears American kids may be catching up. In 2005, 9 – 15 million people in the United States used screens every day. Every three months the rate of use is increasing by 25% (Wieland et al., 2005). Over 50% of teens feel they are addicted to their smartphones (Common Sense Media, 2016). Perhaps Americans have some things to learn from Asians in terms of clinical treatment and government regulation.
Rules & Regulations
The Cinderella/Shut Down Law
At the last stroke of midnight, the spell will be broken
~ Fairy Godmother
Too many parents are naïve to the risks of screen addiction. In response to escalating addiction rates for South Korean kids aged 9 to 12 (14% in 2010), the South Korean government implemented the Cinderella or Shut-down-law (Lee, 2011). This law blocks access to gaming websites after midnight until 6 AM for those under the age of 16 (Lee, 2011). Under the control of the Ministry of Culture, Sports, and Tourism (MCST) and the Ministry of Gender Equality and Family (MGEF), South Korean parents are only allowed access after midnight if they enter their social security number. The idea behind this law is to force teenagers to sleep instead of game, ultimately improving school performance (McLellan, 2011).
The Cooling Off System
Another approach from the South Korean Government to regulate screen use is the Cooling-Off System. It aims to regulate screen time by programming the gaming system to shut down automatically every 2 hours for 10 minutes, with gamers only able to log back on once every 24 hours (Hawkins, 2012). Due to the fact that screen addiction is connected to adolescent bullying and suicide, the idea behind this law is to get these issues under control (Hawkins, 2012).
Screen Addiction Treatment
Outpatient treatment services are day programs that clients can attend while maintaining a normal school schedule and home life. Schedules typically vary from one to six hours/per day. Addiction treatment programs offer services life individual and group psychotherapy, psychoeducation, medical evaluation and medication management, art and music therapy, life skills and mindfulness training, exercise and yoga, academic tutoring, vocational training, and general skill building programs, like goal-setting, relaxation, and assertiveness and social skills. Well-rounded treatment is based on the biopsychosocial team treatment model, meaning all aspects of the individual are cared for from brain, self, and environment with the facilitation of a team of experts and other clients. Outpatient care is usually preferable for mild to moderate screen addiction.
Inpatient treatment means that clients sleep on site and are offered round-the-clock medical and therapeutic services like those listed above, either voluntarily or involuntarily. Involuntary treatment may be indicated only in cases of danger to self or others, like suicide or homicide, or the inability to get food, shelter, or medical care due to severe mental illness.
According to Dr. Tao Hongkai, an anti-videogame activist and university lecturer, inpatient treatments are the first-choice in treating kids with serious screen addiction. He claims that screen addiction is “an insidious disease that destroys relationships and deteriorates the body” (Zigor, 2015). Examples of impairment related to screen use include eating disorders, reduction of brain capacity, and repetitive use injuries like eye strain, hearing loss, and back and neck pain (Zigor, 2015).
China is at the forefront when it comes to inpatient treatment. There are over 250 inpatient treatment boot camps in Asia. Screen addiction boot camps combine military discipline with traditional clinical techniques to overcome addiction. These programs incorporate excessive workouts, group punishments, music, art and psychological counseling to get clients free of their screens.
According to Tao, who began specializing in addiction treatment in 1991, these are necessary and inevitable methods to teach discipline in the treatment of addicted kids (Zigor, 2015). In his screen addiction boot camp, the children stay from three to six months dependent on their progress. Tao boasts a success rate of 75% since 2008, which is far higher than recovery statistics from traditional inpatient addiction treatment. Tao admits that long-term success is difficult to maintain. While most of kids will soon fall back to old patterns after leaving the camp, Tao designed an after-care schedule while also educating parents on how to supervise their child’s gradual reintegration to the web (Zigor, 2015).
What you can do to GetKidsInternetSafe and avoid screen addiction
- Be perceptive and get to know your child, offline and online.
Keep learning about screen issues and carve out the time to engage with your child. Build a warm, supportive relationship. Acknowledge their struggles and feelings and solve problems together.
- Set limits.
Limit your child’s screen use. Utilize timekeeper apps like Dinner Time, Screen Time or Time Away and set up blackout times and techfree days. Maintain a positive, collaborative dialogue. Avoid shaming lectures and rash punishments.
- Create opportunities for fun offline activities and encourage a healthy lifestyle.
Outdoor and team play helps keep kids offline, enhances health, and helps with team skills and social engagement.
- Read together.
For little kids that means bedtime stories. For big kids that means lazy Sundays reading on the couch together. Quiet time before bed is particularly effective to soothe over-stimulated nervous systems and exercise concentration and reading comprehension. Did you know that LED lights from screens stimulates the photosensors in the retina that signal the brain to suppress melatonin production (our sleep-regulating hormone)? Less melatonin means disrupted sleep. Disrupted sleep means a dangerously compromised capacity to self-soothe and learn.
- No screens in the bedroom, bathroom, or behind closed doors.
Bedrooms and bathrooms are private spaces where we let down and relax from stressful days. As our walls go down, so does our judgment. No screen zones decrease the risk of sexualized online behaviors like pornography searches, sexting, and nude selfies.
- No screens at mealtime.
A 2014 study found that old-school family dinners decrease the risk of adolescent mental health issues and cyberbully victimization (Elgar, 2014). Screens at mealtime is also associated with poorer family communication and poorer nutrition choices (Fulkerson, 2014). Mealtime and car rides are awesome opportunities to inquire about your child’s daily highs and lows, share screen-relevant stories, and teach important skills that will get your kids Internet safe.
Thank you to CSUCI Intern, Lisa Sommer for her work on this article. What do you think? Are we headed for high addiction rates like what’s happening in Asia? What is the key to addiction prevention? Would you agree to country-wide regulation like the Shut-Down Law? How about inpatient treatment with military tactics?
I’m the mom psychologist who will help you GetKidsInternetSafe.
Onward to More Awesome Parenting,
Tracy S. Bennett, Ph.D.
Mom, Clinical Psychologist, CSUCI Adjunct Faculty
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Baby Wearing Pink Crew Neck Cap Sleeve Shirt Between 2 Person Standing during Daytime, 2016, CC0 1.0