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Child Psychology: Behavioural Problems with Children/Adolescents and Excess use of Electronics

Over the past years working with children and adolescents as a psychologist both in the school setting and in private practice in many different regions of Sydney, I have seen an alarming increase in the number of children and adolescents with behavioural problems as a result of a lack of boundaries in the home with the use of electronics. It starts at an early age with the use of devices as babysitters and before we know it, we have an angry teenager who complains there is no ‘pause’ button on the game and gets angry when asked to get off the electronics to come to a family meal or do their chores. This can even worsen to children/adolescents becoming violent towards their caregivers and siblings over using electronics. Yes, we are parenting in a very different age to our parents and I believe as a parent that we have a really important need to set limits on the use of electronics. It all starts in the home. Children/adolescents need boundaries. The use of electronics is part of this parenting responsibility. At the same time, we also need to know what it is that our children are engaging with when online.

I know a lot of parents feel conflicted about setting boundaries on electronics use, on the one hand, parents will tell me that their child/adolescent becomes angry when asked to get off electronics to attend dinner or to go to sleep while on the other hand some parents state that this is a different age and the electronics are my child’s life support, it makes them happy, ‘I wouldn’t want to take it away from them’. Sometimes though I think that old adage comes to mind here; sometimes we need to be cruel to be kind i.e. set limits in the use of electronics.

Parents will often ask me how much time is ok for their kids to spend on electronics? The Australian Government’s guideline, ‘Australians Physical Activity and Sedentary Behaviour’ states that kids 5-12 years and 13-17 years should not be using electronics more than 2 hours a day and should be getting at least 60 minutes of exercise for the day. For children under 2 years, the recommendation is no use of electronics at all. While 2-5 years, the guideline for the use of electronics is 1 hr a day. It is important to note that electronics use also includes T.V watching. I think most kids are spending much more time on electronics than the guidelines though and less time than 60 minutes per day in exercise. One of the most important things we can do to guide our children is to promote balance i.e. balance of their interaction with electronics with connecting with people both family and friends in real-time not just on electronics i.e. try to organise a play date or assist in adolescents meeting up as opposed to connection just through Road Blocks or their favourite video game, encourage them to help around the house with chores to foster a teamwork ethic early, support their involvement in sports and keeping active in addition to promoting engagement of our children with hobbies that do not include being plugged in.

Also, the earlier we can establish guidelines and boundaries with electronic use, the more open our children will be to following these guidelines when they are adolescents. As a result, there is a better chance our children will incorporate better self-discipline and balance their own time with electronics as they become adults.

So, if you have young kids, rethink just using electronics as your babysitter, I know as a parent it’s not easy and there is an ease in doing this, getting the kids out of our hair for a time but know that this may catch up with you later when you have an adolescent that is used to spending long amounts of time on electronics and has developed more problematic behaviors and emotional regulation issues when asked to limit their electronics usage. In the long run, setting boundaries with our kid’s electronic use will translate into bringing up happier, more emotionally adjusted and healthier kids which translates into having healthier happier, emotionally adjusted families. If you need support in navigating boundary setting, parenting education and problem solving regarding your kids and electronics use, please contact Flourishing Life Psychology, a psychologist practise based in Hurstville Sydney to seek support. Email contact@flourishinglifepsychology.com.au and ph: 0433 905 239