Skip to main content

Why kids are getting addicted to digital media

Children are using screens more than ever, and some experts are worried that the trend could lead to a form of digital addiction.

A new study found that children’s media use has grown more in the last two years than in the four years prior. State lawmakers across the country and at the federal level are proposing new legislation to crack down on social media platforms for their addictive algorithms that keep children hooked.

Related Videos

“The negative consequences from uncontrolled online access can range from social withdrawal and problems in school to both physical and mental health challenges,” psychotherapist Laurie Singer, who treats children with problems from spending too much time on media, said in an interview.

Too much screen time

An iPhone displaying a high level of screen time next to a set of Apple AirPods Pro.
Omid Armin/Unsplash/Digital Trends Graphic

The survey, published by the nonprofit research organization Common Sense Media, found that overall screen use among teens and tweens increased by 17% from 2019 to 2021 — growing more rapidly than in the four years prior.

Daily screen use on average increased among tweens (ages 8 to 12) to five hours and 33 minutes from four hours and 44 minutes, and to eight hours and 39 minutes from seven hours and 22 minutes for teens (ages 13 to 18).

Mo Mulla, a father of two children and a parenting expert, said he knows firsthand the problems of too much screen time. He said in an interview that his daughter is “addicted” to media consumption on screens.

“Honestly, it’s due to the modern world and that we all need relief from its pressures,” Mulla said. “In some instances, having a smartphone has helped her when she’s down or needs something to do, but in other cases, it can be overused and addictive.”

A group of teenage girls on their phones.
Mark Mawson/Getty Images

Singer said the most critical reason why screen time is on the increase is that more children are being allowed relatively unfettered access to devices and social media by their parents.

“Perhaps it’s pressure from their children because “everyone is doing it,” Singer said. “But I think parents working from home during the pandemic, with many continuing to do so, has contributed as well. It provides their children with something to keep them busy while they’re working.”

Social media is a way for kids to feel accepted and interact with their peers, keep up to date with the latest trends, feed whatever online interests they may have, and receive instant gratification with a like or a supportive comment, Singer said. This feedback can become very addictive for both children and adults.

What parents can do

Parents who are worried about the amount of time their children spend on screens should consider if their child is mature enough to have access in the first place, Singer said.

“Just because a child is a certain chronological age doesn’t mean they’re prepared to log in to social media sites,” Singer added.

Two children use smart devices while sitting on a sofa.
MoMo Productions/Getty Images

Experts say that communication is key around the issue of allowing or disallowing a child to have access to the internet. Singer notes that before the internet, there was a built-in separation between children and adults when it came to content.

“That doesn’t exist in the same way today,” Singer said. “Going to a website that asks “Are you over 18” and clicking a box is a very different thing than trying to sneak into an “R-rated” movie. Children need to be made aware of possible scenarios they could encounter online and how to best handle those situations.”

Mulla recommends that all parents take a media detox day every week. This involves turning off all devices and spending the day as a family enjoying each other’s company.

“Additionally, I would set time limits for how long children can use media each day. For instance, no more than two hours on weekdays and no more than one hour on weekends,” Mulla said. “This will help to ensure that children are getting outside and interacting with others, rather than being glued to a screen.”

For preschoolers, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends a limit of one hour a day of screen time and little to none before age 2.

But experts say not all screen time is bad for kids.

A child uses the Amazon Echo Glow in a living room.

“Connecting with friends, counting the “likes,” and engaging in games, sometimes competitively, has a new lure,” Angela Roeber, senior director of communications at Project Harmony, a child services organization, said in an interview. “But there are risks.”

The obvious danger is safety in the online world, Roeber said. Kids can be vulnerable to persuasive marketing or a sales lure if they inadvertently reveal personal preferences or information.

“And in some cases, they can become vulnerable to predators,” Roeber said. “Time limits and parental oversight are critical. Help them look for deceptive messages. Take a firm stance on bullying or other cruelties among kids online or elsewhere.”

Politicians take note

Legislators in California and Minnesota are working on legislation that would make companies responsible for the effects of their platforms on young people’s mental health.

In Minnesota, a state committee recently voted to advance a proposed law prohibiting social media platforms from using algorithms to recommend content to anyone younger than 18. Companies would be liable for damages and a civil penalty of $1,000 for each violation of the law.

The California bill would let parents sue companies that don’t take steps to avoid addicting children. It would hold social platforms legally accountable for features designed to be addictive to children, such as “like” buttons and endless scroll. Violators could face civil penalties of up to $25,000 per child or damages that could include $1,000 or more per child in a class-action suit.

“We shouldn’t have to put in law that some of the most profitable corporations in the world have a duty to be kind to children and have a duty not to make addicts of children. But here we are. We have to,” said Ed Howard, senior counsel at the University of San Diego School of Law’s Children’s Advocacy Institute, a co-sponsor of the bill.

Future Action

Lawmakers are also taking notice at the federal level. The newly introduced Kids Online Safety Act is a bill that would require social media platforms to provide minors with options to protect their information, disable addictive product features, and opt out of algorithmic recommendations. Platforms would be required to enable the strongest settings by default. It would also make social media platforms perform an annual independent audit that assesses the risks to minors.

“This measure makes kids’ safety an internet priority,” said Senator Richard Blumenthal (D-CT) in a news release. “Big Tech has brazenly failed children and betrayed its trust, putting profits above safety.”

Editors' Recommendations

This non-contact baby monitor gives new parents some peace of mind
raybaby non contact baby monitor 95907c1a900fbe6d5df52e7b9c845bd3 original

Wearables may be great for human adults when it comes to health tracking, but when we're in our nascent form, less is really more in terms of contact. Luckily, there's a new baby monitor on the market that wants to help you keep in touch with your newborn without actually touching him or her. Meet the Raybaby, branded as the world's only non-contact health and sleep monitor. The device promises to constantly monitor your child's breathing and sleeping, and keep you informed via a companion app.

A Kickstarter crowdfunding campaign for the device has already raised nearly $50,000 from parents anxious to know everything they can about their bundle of joy without adding any potentially hazardous hardware to the crib. By using Ultra-wideband (UWB) radar technology, the Raybaby measures even the slightest most seemingly imperceptible movements in your baby's chest. That way, you can always tell what your child's respiratory rate is.

Read more
Let your inner child (and artist) run free with Color by Disney, a new adult coloring app
color by disney screen shot 2017 01 21 at 12 38 04 pm

Its movies are enjoyed by the young and the young at heart, so it's only natural that Disney's latest creation transcends age as well. Adult coloring books have become quite the trend over the course of the last several months, and as the ruling monarch of the intersection between adult sensibilities and childhood nostalgia, Disney has now gotten into the game. This week, the company released Color by Disney -- a new app that combines adult coloring books with technology. Truly the trifecta -- your youth, your creativity, and your smartphone.

Whether you're nine or 99, if you're an (aspiring) artist, you'll be able to make use of Color by Disney. Templates include popular characters from both Disney and Pixar films, as well as some of the most iconic scenes from your favorite movies. Whether you're part of the newer generation who grew up with Frozen, or prefer to kick it old school with The Lion King or The Little Mermaid, there's something for everyone. Pixar is represented with films like Brave and Monsters, Inc. 

Read more
From smart cradles to contraction trackers, CES 2017 had tons of tech for parents
baby tech ces 2017 hatch

Having a baby and being a new mom require a whole lot of energy and effort. New parents often feel overwhelmed and could use a helping hand. Luckily, there's a boom in baby tech that's designed to help parents take care of their babies more easily. Technology that hasn't changed in decades -- like scales, blenders, and breast pumps -- is now undergoing a revolution to be smarter, more portable, and very high tech. Here is a collection of all the coolest baby tech we've seen at CES this year.

Willow breast pump

Read more