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Are your teens addicted to screens? They could be mimicking you, new study finds

By Naomi White|

A new study looking into screen usage in teens has found parents could be partly to blame for them developing addictive behaviours.

The study, by researchers at the Hamad Bin Khalifa University, Qatar, found kids are often modelling their parents' own ?screen habits when it comes to spending time online.

As part of the study, 168 parents of adolescent Qataris were asked to fill out a questionnaire about their own and their children's behaviours.

What they found was a link between how addicted parents reported they were to screens, and how compulsive their childrens' behaviour was.

Frequent arguments about a teenager's internet usage was a 'strong predictor' of their developing an internet addiction (IA).

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The study found teenagers with addictive screen habits often had parents who struggled to regulate their own usage. (Getty Images/iStockphoto)

The prevalence of IA, which they defined as excessive use with accompanying psychological difficulties (such as preoccupation, withdrawal, tolerance, lack of control, among others) had increased since the lockdowns and social isolation sparked by Covid-19, they found.

Given the negative impacts of IA, such as loneliness, a decline in academic performance, depression, anxiety and sleep disorders, they argued more needed to be done to address the condition. Which started with parents addressing their own habits.

"Adolescents were more likely to be dependent Internet users when their parents were also dependent Internet users. Seven of the eight IA symptoms in parents were associated with the related symptoms in adolescents," the study found.

"In light of our results, it may be beneficial for parents to play a role model in technology use and have more productive discussions with their adolescents about it."

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The study's authors said parents needed to address their own technology use to model better behaviour. (Getty)

They also identified key strategies to reign in screen time and break bad habits.

The first was to focus on bonding, ?finding the teens most at risk of these behaviours had a 'low level' of emotional engagement with their parents. Interestingly, this was seen both across parents who took a hardline approach to try to curb their usage (i.e. turning off the Wi-Fi) and more lenient/permissive styles.

Secondly they advised setting goals with your child around screen usage and consistently working towards, talking about and reviewing these as needed.

Allowing teenagers to have some control over these limits was also found to be beneficial, ?as was involving them in conversations around cutting down your own usage.

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Researchers suggested having open conversations with kids about healthy screen usage. (Getty)

Researchers also found parental controls to monitor usage were ineffective, saying these were too limited in their capacity.

Instead, they suggested taking a holistic approach to curbing or treating IA, in which parents play a key role. ?

"Based on our findings, intervention programs for Internet addiction may need to consider the family as a whole instead of adolescents alone. Family counseling programs addressing Internet addiction may need to be revised to integrate techniques based on holistically understanding excessive Internet use within the family," they said,

"Digital programs designed to monitor and control children's Internet activities, e.g. (Google Family Link, n.d.), may need to be revised to incorporate features to assess, monitor, and help parental Internet addiction and guide parents towards playing positive role models."

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