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Is He Addicted to Screens?

“He cried uncontrollably when I took it away…”

“I think he’s addicted…”




“We’re as bad as they are…”

“It takes my attention away for them…”

“I’m the only one that can change this…”


A mom and dad recently expressed concern for their 12 yo son in a Family Coaching session with me.

Don’t take my screens away!

After a summer of not much to do, he seemed increasingly attached to his screen time. When dad threatened to take his ipad and ipod away, he had a monumental melt-down.

As we sifted through the behavior challenges, the developmental milestones, and the family and friends interactions of “Sam” – it became increasingly clear that yet another boy has been captivated by the allure of screens.

Girls love screens, too.

Sure, girls certainly spend a lot of time on screens, but true to their nature, they are more relational with their screen use – posting on instagram, snapchatting with friends, connecting and relating to others. Video games are not as much of a draw for girls because they don’t offer the relational benefits for girls.  Most girls do not seek the constant action and competition that video games offer to boys.

Is he addicted?

2Boys, on the other hand, are quite entranced with screens – and most often with gaming. They relate to their friends via games. They google and figure out all sorts of things – including how to uninstall your monitoring software (they love the challenge!). You do have monitoring software, right?


We interviewed Dr. Victoria Dunckley, an expert on interactive screen usage and the effects they are having on our kids on BOY TALK #12, part of a bundle of interviews all focusing on this theme.

Electronic Screen Syndrome

She has identified and categorized the many effects of screen time in the patients coming to her as Electronic Screen Syndrome or ESS. It is, “a disorder of dysregulation. Because it is so stimulating, interactive screen-time shifts the nervous system into fight-or-flight mode.”

Signs and symptoms of ESS:

Typical signs and symptoms mimic chronic stress and sleep deprivation and can include:

  • Irritability
  • Depression
  • Rapidly changing moods
  • Excessive or age-inappropriate tantrums
  • Low frustration tolerance
  • Poor sportsmanship
  • Social immaturity
  • Opposition-defiant behavior
  • Disorganized behavior
  • Poor self-regulation (impulse control)
  • Sleep difficulties
  • Learning difficulties
  • Poor short-term memory
  • Poor executive functioning (includes reasoning, planning, judgment, task completion, problem solving and critical thinking)

That is a LONG – and very concerning – LIST… but there is more:

CERTAIN FACTORS increase the risk for ESS:

  • Preexisting learning or behavioral disorders
  • Family history of addiction
  • Younger age when first exposed to screen-time
  • Boys with ADHD and/or autism spectrum are at particularly high risk.

You may be thinking — well, he has a little of this and a little of that.

And aren’t all kids defiant at times?

Don’t all kids have melt-downs?

Sure, they do. But if you have a gut feeling that his behavior has changed or is extreme – its time to look at the amount of screen time he is consuming. Even small amounts of screen time can be too much.

In an interview with Boys Alive!, Dr. Dunckley explains how to implement a 4-week “screen-fast” with your family. The most heartening thing she said was that, for boys, a change in behavior and engagement shows up in the first week!

You may already be thinking that THIS IS IMPOSSIBLE!

You’ve already thought of all the reasons why a screen-fast can’t happen in your family:

  • He needs it for homework
  • That’s what he does with his friends
  • Does it mean I’ll have to give up my screens, too?!

All of those excuses (and more) are familiar to Carolyn, mom of 2 boys. She thought it would be impossible for them to give up screen time…until her son’s teacher reported that he was unable to focus and his behavior in kindergarten was becoming a problem.

Enter Dr. Dunckley and Carolyn was ready to try anything – including a 4-week screen-fast. She thought her boys would protest…and was surprised that they didn’t.

Bottom line:

I urge you to consider YOUR screen usage first.

The mom and dad in my Family Coaching session quickly realized that THEY have to change their behavior first…

That THEY have to take a stand for family time from work-overlap and friends and family in the habit of texting at all hours.

That THEY have to model different behavior for their kids.

You can get your family back – Mom Carolyn is proof of that!

BOY TALK Podcasts have been called, “fantastic – experienced, thoughtful, relevant, progressive.” You’ve got support! Download these experts to your personal library:

Make it a Boy-friendly year

You’re invited to join us in the Boys Alive! Private Facebook Group – ask a question, offer support, enjoy an article, laugh and cry with us. We are stronger together!

If you’d like to chat with Janet Allison one-on-one, use this link to schedule a 20-minute complementary phone call or email me at I’m here for you!

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