Screen addiction and technology addiction
Catie Madison

5 Red Flags for Screen and Technology Addiction

One of my areas of expertise and interest is promoting healthy balance and boundaries when it comes to screen time and technology addiction in our children and teens (and us as adults as well!).  It’s a very complex topic that can be difficult to address, but it is something that we are all affected by in some way or another.  And creating a healthy relationship with screen use in our families and children is CRUCIAL to their brain development, learning, regulation skills, problem-solving skills, motor skills, and overall well-being.  Let’s explore the ‘red flags’ for screen addiction/overuse as a starting point for anyone who may have concerns or wants to know what to watch for.


Red Flag #1: Screen Addiction causes Sleep Deprivation

Our first red flag is when screen addiction or overuse leads to negative changes to the person’s sleep schedule. Screen overuse can cause dramatic changes to the chemicals in the brain that affect our sleep cycles (as well as many other body processes). The individual may also be using screens late into the night, causing changes to the amount of sleep they are getting.


Red Flag #2: Technology Addiction Adversely Impacts Life Occupation

Our next red flag that indicates technology addiction or overuse is when the screen/tech usage is causing interruptions in the person’s daily occupations or their roles and routines. This could be a dramatic change in their grades or participation at school, their ability to wake up for work and complete their job duties, or a sudden change in their interest in social activities. Excessive amounts of the reward chemical dopamine are released in the brain when we play video games, use social media, and engage in interactive screen time. This can result in a decreased interest in other activities that were once fun or enjoyable to the child or teenager, as screen time is the only activity that releases enough dopamine to meet that chemical need in the brain (the exact addiction mechanism as alcohol and drug use).


Red Flag #3: Technology Addiction is Impacting Personal Hygiene

Another indication of screen addiction or overuse is that the individual’s personal hygiene is affected by the amount of time they spend playing games, using social media, etc. This warning sign will be more applicable for older individuals who are already expected to have those daily routines and hygiene skills mastered. Chronically forgetting to take a shower, “I just don’t have enough time to brush my teeth,” going for 8-9 hours without eating due to not wanting to stop the screen activity are just a few potential scenarios that might occur.


Red Flag #4: Significant Dysregulation or Aggression when Devices are Removed

Our next symptom for screen addiction or overuse is the child or individual getting extremely upset when a parent or caregiver puts limits on the screen time or takes the device away. A small tantrum in a child when the iPad is put away is not a big deal, but an hour-long meltdown, violence, or destroying property when screen time is stopped or monitored is a sign that things are getting out of control.


Red Flag #5: Engaging in Screen Use Longer than Wanted/Anticipated

Our final red flag for screen addiction or overuse is to engage in screen time for much longer than the person wanted or had planned to. In younger children, it’s the caregiver’s job to set the start and end times for screen use. In older children, teens, and adults, this may look like planning on playing a video game for 2 hours and 6 hours go by without the person noticing the time. They may have wanted to stop and hang out with a friend, but they lost track of time and could not stop themselves.


About the author

Catie Madison is an Occupational Therapist and a certified clinician in tech addiction and digital health in children, adolescents, and young adults.  If you have a child with screen or technology addiction, set up a session with Catie through her personal page on Vitalxchange.

Sign Up for More Articles Like This!

Like what you are reading? Keep up to the latest from our VitalGuides by signing up to our weekly newsletter.


Sign Up for More Articles Like This!

Like what you are reading? Keep up to the latest from our VitalGuides by signing up to our weekly newsletter.

More Recent Articles