Screen time drug addiction – children, teens, and everyone else at risk

Screen time has become one of the most controversial discussions. How much is too much for kids, teens, or adults? Can too much screen time cause harm? Should children be supervised when online? What about its power to influence or even radicalise?

Well, it appears that the world is yet again several steps ahead of our painfully slow federal government in trying to curb screen time addiction. Especially in K12 (Kindergarten to Grade 12), before it becomes the next humongous mental health issue affecting our very social fabric.

French President Emmanuel Macron commissioned a report, Children and Screens: In Search of Lost Time. Sorry, it is in French, but a 142-page machine-translated version is at the end of this article. It clearly states that children should be banned from owning/using a smart phone until they are 13 and banned from social media until they are 18. We have summarised all the main outcomes here Screen Time for Kids – hyper-connection is harming our children.

The Commission insisted on 29 proposals taken as a whole to solve the issues confronting Gen Alpha (2010+), Gen Z (1997-2012), and Millennials (1981-1996).

First, let’s set a few rules for this debate.

  • Screen time means computers, tablets, or phones. It does not necessarily include casual TV viewing. According to Statistica, 23.6 million, Aussies have a mobile phone, and less than 3% of 16-64 eschew their use.
  • There is a vast difference between the impacts of entertainment, education, news/current affairs, shopping, gaming, porn, gambling, radicalisation, violence, and social media screen time.
  • Users range from little kids to adults, each with acceptable screen times.
  • Each person has an individual limit to how much screen time they spend and what type of content harms them.

There is no one answer, but a few guidelines may make sense in your situation.

Too much screen time can lead to harm for anyone

The US National Institute on Drug Abuse (NIDA) says screen time is a drug in the sense that you can become addicted. USA teens spend an average of seven hours and 22 minutes on screens daily! That doesn’t include computer time for schoolwork or TV!

Studies show that too much screen time can affect your body. Adolescence is critical for brain development, so teens are especially at risk.

NIDA says:

  • Use a screen time app if only to tell you how much time you have used—or, as it is known, a way to ‘restrain and retrain’ you to use screen time sensibly.
  • Once you know how much you are addicted, set a limit for, say, half that time and progressively wean yourself off it.
  • If you are becoming sleepless, anxious, depressed, overweight, have neck or back pain, or find life too hard, you likely suffer from too much screen time with the wrong content.
  • Keep bedrooms screen-free – never use a screen 30-60 minutes before bed.
  • Schedule time to do things without your phone.
  • Exercise, physical interaction and socialising are the best ways to retrain your brain.

Screen time for kids – acceptable limits

The Australian Institute of Family Studies (AIFS) publishes recommended screen times:

  • no screen time for children younger than two years.
  • no more than one hour per day for children aged 2–5 years.
  • Maximum of two hours of sedentary recreational screen time per day for children and young people aged 5–17 years (not including schoolwork).

AIFS’s strongest message is to get kids moving and supervise screen content—do it together and bond.

There is a simple screen time addition test for kids here.

Screen time for active adults

Most of the research is aimed at children, but there are increasing issues for adults.

In the USA, the average screen time for a white-collar worker was over 11 hours per day (a combination of work computer, social media, and TV). Disturbingly, that went to 19 hours (wake to sleep) during COVID-19 and remains stubbornly high.

A respected study says screen time of more than six hours a day (exclusive of work use) leads to higher depression and anxiety. Another study found that limiting social media to 30 minutes a day significantly improved mental attitude and well-being.

Recent studies have uncovered that people can develop addictive behaviours with smart phones and social media. These include thinking about the device or platform constantly and craving to use it, using their smart phone or social media apps to cope or modify their mood, and experiencing symptoms of withdrawal when they are unable to access their phone or apps. If these behaviours interfere with everyday life, it is cause for concern.

Recommended screen time for adults is two hours a day, excluding work computer, and recreational TV.

Screen time (TV) for the sedentary (involving little exercise or physical activity)

Just as screen time is being used as a substitute babysitter for kids, it is being used to numb the elderly in-home care or nursing homes where it’s not the content that matters but the sedentary nature of TV watching. To quote: “If they were not watching TV all day, we would have to find something to keep them occupied”.

There is a direct link between screen time and the advancement of Alzheimer’s. The elderly must be active (where possible) and have maximum human-to-human interaction.

Impact of content

Entertainment content rated to the user’s age is generally benign. Little children with a tablet and Bluey or Dora can be entertained (a.k.a. kept busy) while parents do something else. The key here is to interact with the child and stop sedentary behaviour. The other key is not to let the child dictate when it wants to use the device—you need to set strict limits and prevent it from becoming a pacifier.

Where adults are concerned, TV should not run all day but only when you want to watch something.

Education content for school-age children helps develop an inquiring mind. Instead of TV, use gamification-assisted learning tools like Reader Rabbit, Math Rabbit, or Writer Rabbit (or similar). K-12 (Grades 1 to 12) school-age children should not have access to social media.

Gaming is a massive issue as it now incorporates gambling (gamification, in-app purchases) and can harden children to violence. Children under 17 should not be playing violent games.

Porn accounts for more than 30% of all internet traffic and is about 10% of the total internet content. It gets more visits than Netflix, Amazon and X combined. The average time on a site is 12 minutes and 7.5 visits per month. Statistica shows that 87% of US 18-35 males and 28.5% of US females view it weekly, predominantly on phones. Forgetting any puritanical issues, this highly addictive behaviour can devalue and disrespect men and women and lead to poor relationships with partners.


Online gambling is a massive growth market changing the ways people gamble. Online gamblers are more likely to be younger, male and from a culturally diverse background. They are likely to engage in more gambling activities, including sports betting. It has a causal link to anti-social behaviour, depression over losses and criminal behaviour to feed the addiction and pay off losses.

The problem with social media is that it learns your preferences and begins to feed you information it thinks you want to see. The more you swipe up, left, or right, the more it hones in, and the more you receive the same biased messages. Children over 17 can choose, but younger ones should not have a social media account (let alone several). Social media often body shames, has fad diets and cures, portrays violent acts, radicalises, and is a haven for cybercriminals, grooming and scams.

CyberShack’s view – screen time is up to you but less is best

We could proselytise (preach), but in the end, screen time is like any other drug. People still smoke/Vape, take drugs, gamble, indulge in risky behaviour, and do things harmful to themselves. It is all their choice.

However, long-term studies started to find that there is a direct link between screen time and

  • Obesity.
  • Sleep disorders.
  • Mental health conditions, including depression and anxiety.
  • Self-image.
  • Language development.
  • Poor academic performance.
  • Social skills development.
  • Ability to develop and interpret emotions.
  • Understanding of ‘right and wrong’ and social and cultural mores.
  • Cognitive development – executive functioning, poor multi-tasking, sensorimotor development.
  • Fuel aggressive conduct.
  • Criminal behaviour (to feed the addiction)
  • Poor psychological health in general.

These studies are reputable and replicable, so we say, ‘Where there is smoke, there is fire.’ Responsible screen time limits benefit not only yourself but also society. But equally, there is good and bad content, which may be more of the root of this evil.

Screen time and digital health apps

The best method to control kids’ screen time is to use Antivirus/malware programs like Trend Micro Home Network Security and Norton 360 with parental controls that allow you to schedule or block specific websites or disable internet access. These programs must run on each device and cannot be disabled, so they are safe to use on Wi-Fi and outside the home network.

Most routers have schedule control, which allows admin-class users to block sites, set basic parental controls, turn off the internet during meals, and more. This blocks any Ethernet or Wi-Fi-connected device—kids can get around it using mobile data.

Windows does not have a screen time manager, but you can use the Microsoft Family App to track everything for family members.

Apple has a “Screen Time” function that tracks and compartmentalises screen time use and allows you to set limits.

Android has built-in Digital Wellbeing and parental controls.

Most browsers have parental controls or extensions; many focus on stopping porn or gambling. Blocksite for Firefox, Edge, Chrome and more is the most used extension. But it is all too easy to download another browser and get around this.