Entertainment streaming addiction is so prevalent among teens (and people across the United States for that matter) that it’s almost hard to recognize. Most people are watching hours of Youtube videos, Netflix, or Hulu each day. Because a great number of people are doing it, it starts to seem acceptable. However, I challenge you to think about how any “addiction” is defined. This will help you decide if your adolescent might have streaming addiction.
Addiction means needing more and more of something to feel satisfied, while feeling some form of withdrawal when it is taken away. Has your teenager spent increasing amounts of time watching videos of some sort? If you took all devices from them so they could not stream anything, would they be irritable? Would it go beyond irritability? Would they become despondent?
Many people thinl addiction is only possible if drugs or alcohol are involved. They assume you need to go through physical withdrawals for something to qualify as “addiction.” While the withdrawals from substances add danger to the withdrawal process, my experience tells me people get addicted to all kinds of things ranging from gambling to pornography to entertainment streaming.
The other element of addiction is whether it is leading to atrophy in other areas of life. Is your teenager spending an inordinate amount of time sitting or lying down in order to watch a screen? Is your teen struggling to get enough sleep because of hours lost to binge watching? Has your teenager socialized less and less frequently with friends, preferring the company of a series they are watching? Is your teenager’s favorite activity with you to watch a certain TV series together? If you answered yes to these questions, then their life is out of balance because of entertainment streaming overload.
I encourage you to begin limiting your adolescent’s time in front of a screen. According to Common Sense Media, teenagers are in front of a screen an average of nine hours per day. Think about that! Nine hours per day! I PROMISE you they don’t have nine hours of homework per day, which means a lot of that screen time is unproductive. Try putting a monitor on their devices just to make them aware of it at first. Most people don’t want to be someone who does nothing but watch shows, they just don’t realize how much they’re doing it. If they are made aware of how much screen time they accumulate each day, that might be enough for them to pare back.
If this doesn’t impact their screen use, then you will have to consider cutting the cord. A lot of parents are hesitant to end a Netflix subscription because they also enjoy streaming. But, being a parent has always meant doing things you don’t feel like doing. When your kids were little you probably didn’t want to watch The Little Mermaid for the 100th time, yet you did it because it made them smile. You may not want to give up Netflix in the house, but you can do it because it’s best for your kids’ growth and development.
Once your teenager is through the initial withdrawal period they will suddenly reappear around the house. You will see your teen in the family room more often. They will reengage with other activities. It’s hard to imagine anything past their initial anger at first. After a week or two though they usually start to enjoy things again.
Helping teens grow and families improve connection,
Cameron Munholland, MMFT, Associate MFT