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4 Reasons Why Certain Types of Screen Time Are More Addictive Than Others

All your child’s friends play Call of Duty, so your child begs to play as well. You finally agree - and then you can’t get your kid off the game without a massive argument. Sound familiar?

Many, if not most, screen time problems stem from giving your child access to platforms or devices that they are not yet ready for.  

Think Driver’s Ed. Your child is learning to drive but begs to go on the freeway. They promise to be safe and swear they can handle it. You let them drive on the freeway - and they crash. Same idea.

On the other hand, if you start your child driving in a big, wide open parking lot, then move to side streets, busier streets… and then the freeway, your driving lesson is less likely to end in an accident. Why? Because they were gaining experience in smaller, easier to manage increments. 

We can do the same for screen time. All screen time is not created equal. Some screen time  is a lot harder to manage. Kids rarely get hooked watching videos on PBS kids, but very often struggle to log off of Call of Duty. In other words, managing Call of Duty takes more skill for kids than managing time watching PBS Kids. You want to start easier and work up to the more difficult types of screen time.

What makes certain types of screen time harder to manage than others? 

Level of Stimulation - Human brains are attracted to action, so highly stimulating screen time is more hooking. Games are especially stimulating. 

Content - Screen time that stimulates fight / flight responses, connects us to our friends or ‘leaves us hanging’ is very compelling for the human brain. Games, most shows that are part of a limited series and videos can all fit into this category.

Alone Versus With Friends - Screen time that is shared with friends is harder to manage than screen time that a child enjoys alone.  It is hard to log off if your child thinks they will be left out - FOMO! Games, social media, texting and shows are all areas where kids tend to engage together.

Rewards,  Challenges & Options - A user is easily hooked when trying to move up levels, keep streaks going, secure one more reward or check out something new. Think SnapChat Streaks, TikTok likes/views and YouTube sidebars with cool related videos,  

Let’s get back to Call of Duty, it has: high stimulation, stimulates fight/flight responses, is played with friends and has many built-in rewards, challenges and options.  That is why your child can’t log off! 

So, start your child on ‘easy’ screen time like Netflix shows or simple game apps - low stimulation, played alone, mellow content.  Show them how to avoid getting hooked and let them practice in the ‘parking lot.’  As they grow and get the hang of it, let them try something harder - YouTube, medium stimulation video games, messaging with friends.  Show them how screen time gets harder and let them practice with these new challenges.  When your child can consistently handle this level (most likely not until pre-teen years) - now they are ready for “freeway driving” and can try out some high intensity group game or apps like TikTok and SnapChat.  

When you build screen time up in this way, your child has a chance to learn the skills necessary to log off and stay healthy while online. 

Navigating screen time with children is tough for most parents. If you need some extra help setting up an effective plan and/or teaching your child the skills needed for healthy and responsible screen time, we invite you to learn more about our program. We got you covered! 

Sign up for our newsletter to get healthy screen time insights and tips from clinical psychologist, Dr. Demi Rhine.  

About Beyond Limits Academy

Beyond Limits is a simple step-by-step online program that teaches parents and preteens how to prepare for a lifetime of safe and healthy technology use. Going beyond just screen time limits, our skills-based approach provides a clear roadmap that reduces conflict and sets children up to manage their own tech use independently and responsibly. In an increasingly digital world, preparing our children to use technology wisely is no longer an option . . . it's a necessity.


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