Screen Shot?

CONSULT September 2018

Main Content

UMMC expert suggests ‘going gray’ to inhibit device withdrawal

Published on Monday, September 10, 2018

By: Amanda Markow

Note: This story appears in the September 2018 edition of CONSULT, the monthly e-newsletter published by the UMMC Division of Public Affairs that focuses on cutting-edge clinical advances, innovative educational programs and groundbreaking research occurring at UMMC. To receive CONSULT in your email, visit to sign up.

From telephones to tablets, laptops, e-readers and more, people seem to be constantly engaged with their devices.

That could be a cause for concern with almost weekly headlines warning against the dangers of increased screen time for children and adults.

Technology can be extremely beneficial, but is it too much of a good thing sometimes? There are some red flag behaviors to watch for and some things to do to curtail the use of and reliance upon our many devices.


Dr. Daniel C. Williams, associate professor of psychiatry and director of the Division of Psychology at the University of Mississippi Medical Center, said while it’s not classified as a true addiction, electronic device and Internet usage could fall under the category of behavioral addictions.

“Any time an activity starts to interfere with other parts of our life, it can be harmful,” Williams said. “If your electronic device gets in the way of your sleep, socializing, doing hobbies or being productive at work, then it can definitely be harmful.

“For example, looking at electronic devices immediately before bedtime, or while in bed, is likely to impact your ability to fall sleep effectively. Being so connected to your device that it results in reduced socializing with friends, leads to cutting back on hobbies or activities, or keeps you from effectively doing your homework or job, then you are likely experiencing some impairment from the device.”

Portrait of Dr. David Elkin

Dr. David Elkin, executive director of the Center for Advancement of Youth, a part of Children’s of Mississippi, said adults are not the only ones impacted by a constant draw to technology.

“In order to have an addiction, there must be tolerance and withdrawal,” Elkin said. “It’s not hard to extrapolate that to screen time. Kids need more and more screen time to keep meeting their needs, and there’s often a tantrum (symptom of withdrawal) when taken away.”

While some of the content children engage in might be educational or developmentally beneficial, Elkin said screen time also wears them out.

“It’s a weird combination of stimulation and exhaustion,” he said. “Looking at a computer (screen) loads you up on attention circuits, and then the real world doesn’t have all of those stimuli, so it’s boring.”

How to limit screen time for children

“The APA recommends two hours of screen time max a day, which sounds ridiculously hard to do, especially as they get older,” Elkin said. He offered a few suggestions:

 •  Limit children’s time on a device to when they are being productive.

“If they have scheduled group study sessions with their computers, then when they’re done studying, they need to also be done with the computer for the day,” Elkin said. “They’ve accomplished the purpose and they don’t need it anymore.”

 •  Institute a “family charging station.”

Impose a cut-off time for devices and have children bring their laptops, tablets or phones to a central spot in the home by a certain time every day.

 •  Do not place televisions in children’s rooms.

“It messes with sleep,” he said. “Blue light is excitatory and it pierces the eyelids, because evolutionarily speaking, morning light is blue and it’s supposed to pierce the eyelids to wake us up.”

Elkin said parents should pay attention to the inevitable tantrums thrown by children when some of these tips are enforced.

“The child is signaling very loudly that this is something valuable to them,” he said. “Parents can then link this to meaningful actions and use this as a reward for doing their chores or treating family members nicely.

“If they do these things, then they get 30 extra minutes, for example.”

How adults can recognize they have a problem

It might be more difficult for adults to recognize when device usage has become a problem. Williams offers these questions as warning signs:

 •  Do you have a hard time putting the device down when it’s time for you to do something else, like go to bed?

 •  Do you find yourself on the device when you are supposed to be doing some other important activity, like homework or your job?

 •  Is more and more of your time spent on a screen?

 •  Do your friends or family members complain that you spend too much time on the device?

 •  When you are at a social activity, do you find yourself paying more attention to the device than to other people?

 •  Do you feel really anxious or upset when you aren’t able to use your device, or when you have to limit your use of it?

How adults can reduce their screen time

UMMC experts offer the following tips for adults to reduce screen time:

 •  Go gray by turning phones to gray scale.

 •  Electronic devices, apps and websites are designed to be as engaging as possible – to suck you in and not let you click away,” Williams said. “Anything we can do to reduce how appealing they are is a step in the right direction to breaking the cycle of getting pulled into an electronic activity.”

 •  Use apps that limit screen time. Williams said apps like Freedom, In Moment and Off the Grid help block access to certain apps and/or devices for periods of time.

 •  Turn off in-app notifications to reduce the constant buzzing updates that draw attention.

 •  Engage in non-device-centered activities, like clubs or sports.

In the end, Williams said, electronic devices improve lives in a lot of ways.

“However, sometimes we can become too connected to our devices to the point that it starts to get in the way of living our life,” he said. “When that happens, we lose balance in our lives and other important things suffer, such as relationships, hobbies and productivity.

“We are healthiest when we can use electronic devices to make our lives easier and more enjoyable, but not allow them to detract from other important parts of life. People who limit screen time tend to do better at school and work, sleep better and have better health outcomes, such as healthy weight.”

How to ‘go gray’

The process varies depending on the device. For the iOS 10, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Display Accommodations > Color Filters. Switch Color Filters on and select Grayscale.

To easily toggle between color and grayscale, go to Settings > General > Accessibility > Accessibility Shortcut > Color Filters. Press the home button three times to enable grayscale. Triple-click again to go back to color.