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PREVENT

Post-screen-time anger & frustration in kids

  • 40% of three-month-old infants are regularly watching TV.
  • Young people ages 15-18 average 7.5 hours per day in front of a screen.

The amount of screen time for U.S. children has been rising steadily for years, and the COVID-19 pandemic has only accelerated that trend. Kids can spend almost all of their waking hours in front of a screen. Most parents want to set reasonable limits, but many kids respond with anger, tantrums and frustration when it’s time to turn the screen off. In this article, we’ll explore tips and strategies for preventing and managing post-screen-time anger.

 

Average screen time for kids today

Screen time for kids happens early and often.  A University of Washington study found that 40% of three-month-old infants are regularly watching TV. And the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that:

  • children ages eight to 10 get an average of six hours per day of screen time
  • kids ages 11 to 14 average nine hours per day
  • young people ages 15 to 18 average seven-and-a-half hours per day in front of a screen.

The post-screen-time meltdown

As many parents know, the more screen time kids have, the harder it is to tear them away from their devices. The pandemic has added new layers of frustration. For many kids, the lack of social interaction has caused emotional issues. They miss their friends, and some even say they even miss their teachers. And this makes them sad and angry, resulting in emotional outbursts and meltdowns.

 

Post-screen-time anger, its causes

In multiple studies, excessive screen time has been linked to school problems, anger, aggression, frustration, depression and other emotional problems. Over-stimulation causes kids to have poor focus and depletes their mental energy, which often leads to explosive behavior. Behavioral issues can also arise from:

  • less time for human interaction with family and friends and nature
  • less time engaging in other activities which are more relaxing, like art and crafts, reading and might help cope with frustrations from other issues
  • less time for fun, such as at the playground with friends
  • sleep disruption, which can cause mood disturbance and cognitive issues
  • lack of physical activity, which can also impact mood

Managing post-screen-time anger

When dealing with screen time rage, the keys are to be consistent, set clear expectations and follow through.

  • Establish regular screen-time hours and expectations and stick to them.
  • Give your kids a countdown. Kids aren’t great at keeping track of the time, especially when they’re gaming or watching a video. Fifteen minutes before screen time ends, give them a warning, and then follow up in five-minute increments.
  • A reward/penalty system works for many kids. When outbursts happen, you can take away screen time. When you see positive behavior, you can allow slightly more screen time or reward with another activity of their choice.
  • When it’s time to turn off the screen, do not let yourself be pulled into an argument about the rules.
  • Consider using an app or service that automatically limits screen time or shuts down wi-fi access to your kids’ devices at certain times—that way, you’re not the one enforcing the rules.

Warning signs of screen addiction and what you can do

How can you tell if your child is hooked on their screens, and likely to get upset when you tell them it’s time to stop? Here are some signs to watch out for:

  • their mobile device or screen the first thing they see when they get up in the morning, and last thing before they go to bed
  • they have very few other activities they enjoy or participate in
  • you observe withdrawal symptoms such as anger and temper tantrums when you ask them to turn off the device
  • you see impacts on their health such as back pain and strained eyes.

Recommended screen time for kids

Most of us agree that we shouldn’t allow too much screen time for kids. But how much screen time should kids have? The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends avoiding screens completely for children younger than 18 to 24 months, except when video chatting with family. The AAP also recommends limiting screen time for kids ages 2 - 5, to just one hour a day of high-quality programming. For kids 6 and older, families should have consistent limits, and set firm boundaries such as screen-free meal times and bedrooms. Learn more about how to decrease screen time for kids.

 

Monitoring and mentoring what they’re watching is important

It’s not just the amount of recommended screen time for kids; the content matters, too. Here’s what you can do to make sure screen time isn’t a source of disruption or behavior problems.

  • Educate your child on online safety, from the dangers of scammers, hackers and cyberbullies to the emotional and psychological impact of inappropriate or violent content.
  • Monitor what your kids are watching. Make sure you know the access codes for your kids’ devices.
  • Explore apps and services to monitor and control screen time. Many internet providers offer this as part of your service, or you can check out web-based options available for purchase or subscription.
  • Especially for younger kids, show them that screen time can be entertaining and enriching. Whether it’s National Geographic, PBS Kids or the Smithsonian channel, give your kids a positive place to start.
  • Watch content together—it may even help you engage with your kids and build stronger connections
  • Set an example by limiting your own screen time—and make sure you’re not tuning out your kids.
  • Make bedrooms a no-screen zone. Remove the temptation to stay up late with screens by insisting that kids charge their devices in another room.
  • Spend time with your kids—there’s no substitute for that.

For most kids, these guidelines can reduce post-screen-time rage. But if your child’s behavior or mental health is causing you concern, call all 1-866-603-0016 or check out Allina Health care options for Child and Teen Psychology or Child and Teen Psychiatry.

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