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Ninety-eight percent of American homes with kids under eight years old have a mobile screen device.[1] Often children as young as three years old have their own! These bright, glowing, pieces of technology are incredibly attractive for the developing mind, so it’s no wonder kids may feel agitated, bored, or stressed when they must put it down and get to homework. Tantrums at the end of screen time may be a sign of screen addiction. If you worry your child has the potential for screen addiction, get the support you need with Dr. Bennett’s weekly parent and family coaching videos. Delivered on a convenient smartphone app, Dr. B will share the information, tips, and tricks the modern family needs to still use screens while staying safe and connected. Today’s article offers 3 GKIS recommended tips to effectively deal with these symptoms.

Hyperarousal & Screen Addiction

Immersing oneself with a screen device is associated with hyperarousal of our nervous system.[2] This type of arousal is associated with irritability in adults and tantrums in children.

Following hyperarousal, the brain attempts to return to balance with an opposite response. Sometimes this results in fatigue and low energy – as in “what goes up must come down.” Some consider this crash to be evidence of addictive withdrawal.

If your child is allowed too much screen time, especially with intense content, expect a tantrum followed by fatigue. Further, if a child repeatedly undergoes this neurological rollercoaster unchecked, excessive screen time can result in chronic mental health conditions.

A study by Anita Restrepo and colleagues analyzed 564 children and their screen usage. They found that the children with problematic internet use suffered from higher rates of sleep disturbance, depressive episodes, and a reduction in healthy behavior.[3] Gaming addiction symptoms, such as feelings of loss of control and play despite negative consequences to school and relationships, can also result from unchecked screen time.

Dr. Tracy Bennett developed the Social Media Readiness Course to empower tweens and teens to employ wellness strategies themselves. Utilizing these techniques backed by research and experience by Dr. B’s 25+ years in the field will aid in retraining your kid’s brain. Our course not only teaches screen use moderation but also offers important information about potential sources of digital injury and critical psychological wellness tools.

Validation and Support

If your child is demonstrating severe meltdowns after screen time, yelling at them will only escalate the situation. Instead, coach emotional stabilization by validating their experience (“You must feel really out of control right now”) and coaching them to calm down. Supportive teamwork teaches important wellness skills, builds problem-solving and resilience, and ultimately results in greater autonomy and less conflict and resentment.

Psychologists Shin and Kim analyzed two types of parenting approaches with screen use among 303 parents. Active mediation emphasizes family discussions about screen use. Restrictive mediation emphasizes one-sided rule-setting for screen devices. Families that use active mediation demonstrated better outcomes than those who preferred restrictive mediation.[4]

When a child is involved in family decision-making, they are given a greater sense of confidence and autonomy. As a result, they have a lower chance of developing resentment.[5] Completing a digital contract, like our free GKIS Connected Family Screen Agreement, is an awesome way to get started with cooperative dialogue and accountability!

Providing Incentive

Following through with priorities and practicing work before play are important life skills. This can be challenging for children when online work feels tedious, boring, and lacks a clear payoff. If your child seems to lose steam and get distracted with online work, rewarding effort with incentives can be helpful.

A study by Radhakrishnan and colleagues looking at 201 students found that giving incentives to complete homework increased their performance and completion rates.[6] Incentives can be material like a new toy, or experiential like a family picnic.

Material incentives are great occasionally but try not to let this be the only motivator that keeps your kid going. Dr. Bennett finds that kids habituate quickly from material rewards and they fail to work overtime. She says family activities celebrating your kid’s hard work well-done ends up working far better, especially when utilizing reward charts and checklists like the Bennett Boxes technique found in her book Screen Time in the Mean Time.

Don’t Give In

Children are incredibly clever at implementing pester power. Pester power wears us down until we cave and give in to their demands for toys, games, and screen time. Sometimes we might simply be exhausted and give them a “fine, 30 more minutes.” But what just happened there is a learning moment for your child. They learn that by bugging you incessantly, they will be rewarded

This parent-child dynamic exemplifies intermittent reinforcement, which means that a behavior that is rewarded occasionally will dramatically increase that behavior—just like with gambling. Once a behavior has been reinforced in this way, it’s more difficult to “undo” it later.[7]

To avoid this trap, stick to your rules with consistency and follow-through. This teaches your child that they can trust your word, and it’s not worth the fight to argue.


Thanks to CSUCI intern, Avery Flower for researching effective ways to deal with behavioral issues, and for co-authoring this article.

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


Photo Credits

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Works Cited

[1] Common Sense Media. (2017). The Common Sense Census: Media Use By Kids Age Zero to Eight. Retrieved from https://www.commonsensemedia.org/sites/default/files/uploads/research/csm_zerotoeight_fullreport_release_2.pdf

[2] Dunckley, V. L. (2017, June). Electronic Screen Syndrome: Prevention and Treatment. Retrieved from https://connect.springerpub.com/content/book/978-0-8261-3373-1/part/part02/chapter/ch12

[3] Restrepo, A., Scheininger, T., Clucas, J., Alexander, L., Salum, G. A., Georgiades, K., Paksarian, D., Merikangas, K. R., & Milham, M. P. (2020). Problematic internet use in children and adolescents: Associations with psychiatric disorders and impairment. BMC Psychiatry20. https://doi-org.ezproxy.csuci.edu/10.1186/s12888-020-02640-x

[4] Shin, W., & Kim, H. K. (2019). What motivates parents to mediate children’s use of smartphones? An application of the theory of planned behavior. Journal of Broadcasting & Electronic Media63(1), 144–159. https://doi-org.ezproxy.csuci.edu/10.1080/08838151.2019.1576263

[5] Roth, G., Assor, A., Niemiec, C. P., Ryan, R. M., & Deci, E. L. (2009). The emotional and academic consequences of parental conditional regard: Comparing conditional positive regard, conditional negative regard, and autonomy support as parenting practices. Developmental Psychology45(4), 1119–1142. https://doi-org.ezproxy.csuci.edu/10.1037/a0015272

[6] Radhakrishnan, P., Lam, D., & Ho, G. (2009). Giving university students incentives to do homework improves their performance. Journal of Instructional Psychology36(3), 219–225.

[7] Bijou, S. W. (1957). Patterns of reinforcement and resistance to extinction in young children. Child Development28, 47–54. https://doi-org.ezproxy.csuci.edu/10.2307/1125999

Avery Flower
Avery Flower
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