Thanks to the portability of cell phones and the ubiquity of televisions, it has become impossible to avoid digital screens. As frequently as adults find themselves glued to a flickering internet-connected screen, teenagers and children who have grown up in a world populated by these devices may find it even more difficult to pull themselves away. But does their affection for internet-enabled devices qualify as a full-fledged addiction?

The question may seem silly, but the evidence may accumulate: on average, children between the ages of 8 and 11 spend almost eight hours a day with media (which includes tablets, social media, and cell phones). In older children and teenagers, that rises to more than 11 hours a day spent engaging with media. That figure climbs higher still when the child reports having a television or internet-connected device in their bedroom, and over 70 percent of children report having such accommodations.

Academic woes

Some schools have taken significant steps to keep students focused on their education rather than their cell phones. Chelsea Kellerstrass, a middle school teacher for the Chicago public school system, says that her school “collects their cell phones before class starts.” While Kellerstrass reports that students don’t put up much resistance over surrendering their phones, it may be because they have succeeded in breaking through restraints on internet usage placed on the laptops used in the classroom for school work.

“They hack past every blocked site on our chromebooks to play games and music,” Kellerstrass said, meaning that even when separated from their personal cellular devices, students find a way to engage with online media. Furthermore, Kellerstrass says that when students fail to complete their homework assignments, the most popular excuse is that they “forgot because they were on their cell phone all night.”

Could there be a parallel between these behaviors and the behavior of an addicted person desperate to get their ‘fix?’

Is it addiction?

In 2013, the American Psychiatric Association included video game addiction in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5), categorizing it as “a condition for further study,” rather than a full-fledged disorder. Included are several diagnostic criteria for the potential disorder, including lying about the amount of time spent playing video games, an obsession or preoccupation with a game, and the exhibition of withdrawal symptoms when not allowed to play video games.

However, there is no clear consensus as to whether or not video gaming or internet addiction should be qualified as a disorder at all. Those against its inclusion in the DSM-5 claim that the defining criteria isn’t sufficiently precise. Some critics suggest that the behavior frequently identified as “video game addiction” is actually a manifestation of the Tetris Effect, a psychological behavior that isn’t based in addiction, but rather… (continue reading)