In times forgotten (to many mothers anyway), a child’s playtime consisted of throwing around balls, pushing trucks, having tea parties with dolls, and building forts with friends. With the surplus of media activities for children, however, those days are long gone. The cartoonish sound effects of a TV and the vibrant colors of a video game may have replaced physical or social activities for your child. An overindulgence in such things may lead to an addiction to media. Pay careful attention to your child’s behavior during her free time, and make sure to note the signs of addiction.
Poor School Performance
If your child became enthralled by TV, video games, or even computers during preschool, you or your child’s teachers may have noticed a change in your child’s school performance. While moms and dads can separate work from play, children have a hard time doing so. Learning the alphabet isn’t easy when thoughts of your favorite cartoon characters are running through your head. Keep constant communication lines open with your child’s teachers to learn of any inconsistencies in your child’s school life.
A Falling Out With Friends
When your child meets a new friend, he doesn’t write an invitation card for playtime; instead, he begs his mom to have little Billy over to play. Media addiction can come in the form of friend replacement, in which little Billy becomes little Wii. Children giving up social interactions in favor of media reactions is not a good sign for interpersonal growth, but it is a sign of media addiction.
Significant Weight Gain (or Loss)
Americans, perhaps more than any group of people, care about body type. The exception is when people evaluate children: “fat” becomes “pudgy and cute,” while “skinny” becomes “lean like a model.” While it is true that the body type of a child will not determine his body type as an adult, sudden changes in body type may be indicative of a media addiction. For example, a thin child foregoing physical activity in favor of watching TV may gain a belly from the calories he’s not burning away. And a large child spending all his time playing video games may be spending less time eating junk food with friends. Be aware of sudden changes in your child’s weight and ask yourself where these changes come from.
Media addiction truly is an addiction. A pleasurable media experience will cause your brain to release dopamine, which feels great, to put it in simple terms. Because everyone wants to feel great, people tend to repeat those dopamine-releasing events. The difference between adults and children is that adults have self control … well, most of them anyway. A child who loves her cartoons will have the temptation to watch more and more, and by doing so, gain a tolerance to the dopamine being released. This, in turn, can cause extreme mood changes — mood changes that you cannot attribute to simply growing up. For example, if you punish your child by revoking her media rights and see an unexpectedly serious temper tantrum, or if you find your child getting abnormally upset after losing in a video game, you may have your suspicion that your child is getting addicted to media confirmed.