child with head in hands next to gaming computerWith the popularity of mobile devices, and the ability to be connected nearly anytime anywhere, children and teens are spending more and more time online and playing video games, whether at home or on the go. It is important to be aware of the signs of addictive, excessive, or compulsive behaviors towards screen media use, as this can be detrimental to a child’s physical, emotional and mental health.

How can Problematic Interactive Media Use (PIMU) affect children?

Ongoing research shows that when media are overused or used compulsively, they can interfere with a child’s daily life and lead to poor school performance, family conflicts, emotional and psychological concerns and relationship problems. While these problems have been called a variety of different names such as, “Internet Addiction”, “Internet Gaming Disorder,” “Gaming Disorder,” and “Media Addiction”, these terms all refer to Problematic Interactive Media Use (PIMU).

  • Problematic Interactive Media Use often appears in one of the following four ways:
    • Video gaming–including excessive gaming on a computer, console, or mobile device, where the child or teen plays for hours on end, often only taking breaks when forced.
    • Social media–including using social media as a primary way to connect with others instead of through face-to-face communication.
    • Pornography–including obsessive pornography use that results in sexual dysfunction.
    • Information-seeking–including spending hours of time online surfing websites and binge-watching videos in place of other activities.
  • While one of the most common symptoms of PIMU is a fixation with screen media, other symptoms exist. If your child changes in any of the following areas, be sure to talk to your child, and your child’s doctor:
  • Screen media cannot be avoided easily, as children and teens will need access to the Internet for school, socializing, and entertainment. Review how long, how often, and how many screens are used in order to better understand how media are used by all members of the family—including yourself.

What YOU Can Do

Although many children and teens use the internet, mobile devices and video games, making sure that they do so as part of a balanced diet of experiences can help ensure that they don’t overuse or develop compulsive behaviors around media use. Here are several suggestions to help you guide your child’s media use:

Use Media Mindfully

Talk to your kids about using media purposefully and only when appropriate (for example, using a tablet to research a school project is a great use of media, but inappropriate during family meal time). Set time limits and parameters around media use with your children, and make sure that these expectations are enforced. Research shows that children are more likely to abide by media use rules when they are held accountable. Designate time for media use such as playing video games, socializing and completing homework, then turn the devices off and engage in a non-media related activity.

Notice Problematic Behaviors

Know how your children are using media, and look out for possible signs of problematic behaviors such as; spending time online or watching TV instead of participating in other activities, playing video games or using a tablet for a longer period of time than agreed, lying about the amount of time spent with media in order to cover-up excessive usage, using video games and the internet to escape from other issues such as anxiety and depression. If these behaviors continue after you address them, be sure to consult your child’s doctor.

Be a Media Role Model

Be aware of how you are using media, especially when your child is present. Know that even if they are young, they are aware of your behaviors. If you are spending excessive amounts of time using media such as the internet or video games, your child may believe that this behavior is acceptable and even begin to overuse media themselves. Additionally, modeling healthy media use practices by using media with your children can help them learn how to balance their media use with other important activities.

Remove Screens from Children’s Bedrooms

Keep TVs, computers and video game systems out of children’s bedrooms, and make sure that all other internet connected devices such as tablets and smartphones are left in a common room or your bedroom to charge overnight. By keeping these electronics in a common area, parents can monitor their use more easily and be aware of how much media their children are using and if the content is developmentally appropriate.


If you are concerned that your child may have a health related issue connected to her/his media use, please schedule an appointment at our Clinic for Interactive Media and Internet Disorders (CIMAID) at Boston Children’s Hospital.

logo-web-e1421432310765-9064737Do you know a teen who wants to learn more about time management?

Visit the Center for Young Women’s Health at Boston Children’s Hospital.

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