Locked In during Lock Down – The Curse of Screen Time Addiction(Dr.Mona Youssri)

Join Dr. Mona Youssri for a special Zoom webinar on August 19th at 5pm Dubai time, where she’ll be covering the subject of screen addiction and child behavior during Covid-19 coming later this month.


Corona Virus. Sudden school closures. Online learning. Children are stuck indoors so even after a full day of online schooling their leisure options were restricted to indoors games—or screens: TV, game consoles, tablets and phones, or social media. Even parents critical of screen time for their children were challenged by a situation where longer screen exposure became a justified exception. But with other families, necessary hours of screen time turned into full days. Of course this dramatic environmental shift would have equally dramatic consequences. Child specialist already dealing with the standard list of child behavioral problems started receiving children with increased behavior problems from aggressive behavior and decrease in social skills to attention problems, and a rise in sleep problems. It was the start of a new pandemic – but with children at the epicenter.

8 signs your child could have screen addiction:

  1. Increased screen time and inability of the child to control it (unable to put it down).
  2. Bored and losing interest in any other activity, even if previously enjoyed.
  3. Is preoccupied with games or videos and talks about them constantly, even when not engaged.
  4. Refuses to meet with friends. Prefers staying home alone to any social activity.
  5. Withdrawal symptoms; expresses anger through tantrums if a gadget is taken away.
  6. Becomes deceptive, lies about usage time, or sneaks a gadget into bed behind your back.
  7. Increased tolerance for play, so if one hour was satisfying before, two hours now are not.
  8. Is only happy when screen-facing.

Dr. Mona Ibrahim Youssri, Clinical Director and Family Counselor at Hayati Health Center for children in Dubai agreed, “In the last 5-6 years I have noticed a dramatic rise in the number of children with speech delay and symptoms more common with autism such as decreased eye contact. Almost every preschooler between two and four who visits our center showing signs of developmental delay is skillfully using their parents smart phone. In many of those cases, stopping screen exposure cold-turkey yields almost immediate improvements. My advice to parents of toddlers is avoid all devices before the age of 3 years according to APA recommendations.

But what can a parent do to encourage this sort of control? “Help your children by providing them with a structure and routine, and being a positive force in their education,” says Dr. Pamela Hurst-Dell Pietra of the Institute of Digital Media Child Development.

One such facility, the Hayati Health Center, a dedicated intervention facility based in Dubai for children with developmental and behavioral disorders, and autism, began offering online tele-therapy for their patients during the COVID-19 lockdowns. It allowed qualified therapists to offer ABA, psychology, or speech & language therapy services to their patients in the safety of their home environment. While online sessions involve screen time, the difference is the child’s interface is an actual person rather than computer driven, or pre-recorded content.

Worried that your child might be a screen addiction concern? Asha Kanoujiya, the Lead BCBA and Child Behavior Analyst at the center offers a list of tips parents can try at home to gradually reduce a child’s screen dependency. “For any behavioral intervention to work effectively, being consistent is key. If your child has been used to the lifestyle of independently choosing what they’d want to do during their day, and if you have no control over what activities they engage, then this is going to be a challenge.

Note: You have to gradually aim at reducing time spent in front of the screen, to avoid problematic behaviors. Furthermore, your goal should be to replace screen time with other leisure activities.

  • Set a Time Limit to screen time
  • Give screen time as a reward in exchange of task that you want your child to achieve (Make sure screen time value equals the task difficulty)
  • Green Time vs Screen Time – Interaction with nature is a natural high.
  • Maintain control over which app activities your child is engaging in
  • Restrict games that do not benefit your child’s development
  • Install academic related games, word scramble, matching, tracing, story typing, etc.
  • Restrict Play or App store downloads
  • Replace current long screen time with physical activity (or a new hobby, sports, creative work)
  • Set up physical activities for Smaller Children to instil the joy of play at an early stage (Messy Play, Pretend Play, Sports, playing catch, Hide and seek, hop-scotch, water play, sand play, painting, relaxed bath with toys, and other art & craft and science experiments.)
  • This might come as a surprise, but let them help house chores.

And finally, Professional Help. If your child’s symptoms are becoming exaggerated and things becoming beyond your control, professional support is recommended as early as possible.

  • Anger and behavior problems: A professional behavior assessment and intervention can be combined by anger management training through cognitive behavior therapy and play therapy.
  • Attention problems: A trained therapist can offer attention training and help boost your child’s concentration skills.
  • Social skills deficit: A psychologist or behavioral therapist can build your child’s social and friendship skills.
  • Depression or self-esteem deficit: Ask for cognitive behavior therapy (CBT)

Join Dr. Mona Youssri for a special Zoom webinar on August 19th at 5pm Dubai time, where she’ll be covering the subject of screen addiction and child behavior during Covid-19 coming later this month. Register at: info@hayatihealth.com for date and time updates. For more help and any child-related advice, or more information about the Hayati Health Center’s Summer Program, parents are encouraged to contact the center on (+971) 54 993 6568.


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