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Edit: This question is specifically about screentime limits and cravings, there is no duplicate.

We have been limiting screentime for our son for several years now. I am questioning if this is the right way to

  1. keep screentime low and
  2. prevent screen addiction.

Specifically the second goal I'm not sure about: by limiting screen time, we are making it scarce which means there is a prolonged period where our child craves screentime but does not get it. There is always drama, a little when time is up and a lot if he thought for whatever reason it would last longer. I mean crying, throwing device around, slamming doors. In a context where no screen is expected, there is no problem at all.

When I was quitting smoking a long time ago I read that cutting down to just a few cigarettes a day was risky because it meant I would be thinking about smoking all the time, and would be so very happy with each individual cigarette that quitting would become harder. I'm worried that the screentime limit is doing this to our child.

There is a limit for phone. which was first used just for pokemon, now he also watches youtube gamers and youtube shorts. I know that youtube shorts are specifically designed to be a addicitive as possible, just like other doomscrolling-enticing social media.

There is an additional limit for the game-computer. He usually starts with his games first thing in the morning. In the evening he often watches cartoons, but this is not a problem, as we usually sit together and whatch 1 episode of something, maybe two on exceptions.

Unfortunately in school they spend most of the time on the computer, and since they have shoddy IT policy kids can access gaming sites while they should be doing math or spelling. So temptation is there too.

Is there any scientific evidence on the correlation between addiction and limitation of screentime?

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    Does that craving happen for anything limited? Chocolate? Ice cream? Beer? Wine?
    – Solar Mike
    Sep 3, 2023 at 16:32
  • 1
    How is the screen time handled? For example: Does he get a 1h limit per device or a total of a certain amount of hours which he can use as he deems best on a specific day? Is he responsible for keeping track of the limit himself, do you track it and just cut him off when the time is up or give him a “10-minute warning”, …?
    – AsheraH
    Sep 5, 2023 at 19:34
  • Ah this has a duplicate. I will remove my previous comment then. Sep 8, 2023 at 11:12
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    The difference with smoking is that the long term goal is not and cannot be "no screen time at all". As the child gets older and eventually becomes an adult, they have to learn to regulate their own time and use phones and computers productively and (optionally, but likely) for entertainment, but not excessively. Sep 11, 2023 at 13:49
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    My experience (2 children) is that limiting screen time improves mood, behaviour and interest in other activities. If it is left unrestricted, the child becomes more "immersed" in the screen and less aware of surroundings. We've tried having it unrestricted except at bed times, school or special events (such as going out for a birthday), and the behaviour at these times looks a lot like addiction: becoming moody and withdrawn, trying to disrupt events to get taken home, looking for ways or excuses to sneak back to the device. Oct 25, 2023 at 11:45

1 Answer 1

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TL;DR: If you want your child to not become addicted to the screen, limit their screentime to 1-1.5hr/day and model healthy screen habits yourself.

I couldn't find any studies/evidence about limited screentime correlated with screentime addiction. I did, however, find something similar with alcohol.

Children shouldn't drink alcohol before their country's age limit. These limits are due to the significant impacts that alcohol consumption has on a child's development. In fact, children who start drinking early, are more likely to have alcohol use disorder

Research shows that people who start drinking before the age of 15 are at a higher risk for developing alcohol use disorder (AUD) later in life.

So here, more access to alcohol, earlier, had worse outcomes. Alcohol is limited because the impacts on a child's development outweigh any benefit from 'learning to manage' it in moderation.

So it'd be useful to see the impacts of screentime on childrens development.

Excessive screen usage can also lead to problems in social-emotional development, including obesity, sleep disturbances, depression, and anxiety. It can impair emotional comprehension, promote aggressive behavior, and hinder social and emotional competence.

This study also has screentime recommendations.

Ideal discretionary screen time limits are 0.5-1 hour/day for three to seven-year-olds, one hour for 7-12-year-olds, 1.5 hours for 12-15-year-olds, and two hours for 16+-year-olds.

So in this case, it looks like the developmental impact again outweighs any benefit from 'learning to moderate' the screentime.

So how does a child learn to moderate their screentime/alcohol usage if it's so limited while they're underage?

Well interestingly enough, both the alcohol source and the screentime source have the same recommendation. Modelling by the parents.

Parents and teachers can play a meaningful role in shaping youth’s attitudes toward drinking. Parents, in particular, can have either a positive or negative influence. Parents can help their children avoid alcohol problems by: Talking about the dangers of drinking Drinking responsibly, if they choose to drink Serving as positive role models in general

and

Role modeling is also another crucial element. The amount of screen time parents and kids watch is closely associated; kids who live in homes where watching TV is encouraged (e.g., meals eaten in front of the TV and the TV is on when the child gets home from school) are more likely to engage in binge-watching themselves. If parents watch television for more than four hours every day, their sons and daughters will, respectively, have a 10.5-fold and a three-fold increased likelihood of doing the same.

So if you want your child to not become addicted to the screen as an adult, limit their screentime and model healthy screen habits yourself.

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