Media and digital technology are everywhere, and most of us use some form of it every day without even thinking about it. We use it to do homework, to keep in touch with our friends and families, and to keep ourselves entertained. When typical media use starts to grow into excessive media use that causes problems with your school, sleep, social life, or physical and mental health, it may be a sign of an underlying problem. Teens often use media to escape their problems or improve their mood, so it if you notice that you are spending more time online, ask yourself why.
What is PIMU?
The definition of PIMU is based on the symptoms that appear when media is overused in an unhealthy way. Media includes the internet, social media, mobile apps, video games, music, TV, and movies. Problems can include poor school performance, conflicts with friends and family, less sleep, and a variety of physical and mental health concerns. While overuse of media has been called many different names such as “Internet Addiction,” “Internet Gaming Disorder,” and “Media Addiction,” all of these terms refer to Problematic Interactive Media Use (PIMU).
Examples of PIMU include:
- Video gaming: including excessive gaming on a computer, console, or mobile device, where you play for hours on end, often only taking breaks when forced.
- Social media use: including using social media as a primary way to connect with others instead of through face-to-face contact, or feeling sad, angry, or depressed after using social media.
- Watching pornography: including obsessive pornography use that results in sexual performance problems such as not being able to become interested in sex without watching porn.
- Information-seeking: including spending hours of time online or binge-watching videos in place of other activities.
What can lead to PIMU?
Most of us use media in our daily lives for school or work, but once you notice that you’re spending more time than usual using media, and less time on other activities that you want to do (like spending time with friends) or need to do (like homework and chores), you may have PIMU. Researchers have found that if you suffer from depression, anxiety, or Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD), you may be more at risk for developing problems with media use.
How do I know if I have a problem with media?
It can be tough to know whether you have a problem with media and digital technology because it is such a big part of our lives. Start by asking yourself the following three questions:
- Has media use affected your sleep? For example, do you have trouble falling asleep, difficulty waking up in the morning, or being sleepy during the day?
- Has media use affected your school performance? For example, are your grades dropping, are you missing homework, or do you have trouble paying attention in class?
- Has media use affected your social life? For example, are you spending less time with friends, giving up your favorite activities or hobbies, or spending more time alone?
If your video gaming, social media use, pornography watching, or just general media use has caused problems with your sleep, school performance, and social life, you may have a problem.
Other questions you can ask yourself to help understand if you have an unhealthy relationship with media:
- Do you constantly think about a certain type of media?
- Do you have to spend more and more time with media in order to feel satisfied?
- Have you tried to cut back on your media use, and found that you were unable to?
- Do you ever feel moody, irritable, or depressed when you have to stop using media?
- Do you use media for longer than you thought you would?
- Have you ever had media use get in the way of school, sleep friends, family, or your job?
- Do you ever lie to your friends or family about how much time you spend using media?
- Do you use media to escape your problems?
Talk to a parent, guardian, trusted adult, or your health care provider about your concerns and ask for help about ways to cut back on your media use.
What are some consequences of unhealthy media use?
Problematic interactive media use can negatively affect many areas of your life. Using media too much or in ways that are unhealthy can affect your grades at school, your relationships with your friends and family, your physical health, and even how you feel about yourself.
Specific consequences can also include:
- Weight gain
- Problems sleeping
- Eating disorders
- Attention problems
- Lower grades
- Mood problems
- Self-esteem issues
- Eyestrain and headaches
- Less real-time with friends and family in person
How can I better balance my media use so I don’t become addicted?
There are many things that you can do to make sure that you are using media in healthy and balanced ways. Here are some helpful ideas:
- Set up screen-free zones. Challenge your friends to turn off their mobile devices or keep them in your bag or pocket when spending time together. Try this challenge with family members at mealtime too.
- Designate screen-free times. Turn off all mobile devices beginning an hour before bedtime and keep them off during the night. Challenge yourself to turn off your device for a little bit each day and work up to longer stretches of media-free time such as during family vacations.
- Balance online and offline activities. Make sure that you are making time for all of your offline activities and responsibilities, such as homework, and hanging out with friends and family in person. Time for online activity can be worked in around these activities (such as when you need it for homework and school) and during free times for hobbies and entertainment. You can even create a media plan with your family, to help guide when and where you’d like to use media.
- Get enough sleep and fit in exercise. A balanced, healthy lifestyle includes planning enough time for sleep (8-9 hours each night) and for physical activity (at least 60 minutes every day) such as playing your favorite sport, working out at the gym, or walking your family pet.
How should I tell my parent/guardian or trusted adult that I think I have signs of PIMU?
It will be a lot easier to tell your parents about your media use if you usually talk to them about everyday things, but it’s never too late to start daily conversations with them. You might begin by talking about something you have in common such as a favorite sports team or something funny that one of your siblings said. You can gradually work up to talking to them about more important things such as your feelings and PIMU.
Think about whether you want their advice or support or both. Pick a good time to talk when your parent(s) or guardian is not distracted. You might want to suggest going for a walk together, or you could decide to bring up your concerns during a road trip together. Be calm, clear, direct, and honest.
Here are some examples of how to start a conversation about PIMU:
- “My little sister (or someone else) tells me that I am addicted to video games, and says I spend too much time gaming. I’m beginning to think she’s right. I’m going to challenge myself and take the dog for a walk after dinner instead of playing a video game like I usually do. Would you like to join me?”
- “I find myself feeling sad a lot these days, and I try to distract myself by spending time online. Do you think we could find a therapist for me to talk to about how I’m feeling?”
- “Do you think as a family we could take a challenge and go without using our phones for an hour a day? Maybe we could start during dinner time.”
- “I’ve noticed that I am spending too much time on social media, and I think it’s affecting my (examples: schoolwork, friendships, etc.). I’m planning to cut back on my social media use, and it would be helpful if I had your support. I need to use the internet for my school work, but I am really going to try to cut back a little bit each day. Maybe we could all try to limit our media use together and support each other through the process.”
For more information:
Visit the Digital Wellness Lab: https://digitalwellnesslab.org/parents/pimu