Screen Time Tip of the Week #7 – Internet Safety

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD 5.17.23

The internet is an incredibly useful but also potentially dangerous place to spend time. To help protect yourself, only go to reputable sites and sources, and never give away your personal information without making sure the site is legitimate. For kids and teens, monitor the places where they spend time online, using parental controls and spyware. Here is a good list of sources to help keep track and ensure safe internet use with your family.

Screen Time: Tip of the Week # 5- Gaming

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD 5.5.23

Both adults and children are known to spend too much time gaming. Adults, if you are not into console-based games, consider other device games that can be addicting. If you start playing any game on your phone, look at the time you start and the time you put it down – you may be surprised how much time you end up spending on your word games, your Soduku, or your Candy Crush. For all gaming, it is important to set and keep limits on how much to allow yourself to do this each day. For children and teens, limit their access as well to a certain time frame and continue to model moderation with your own gaming behavior.

This sounds simple in theory but it may be difficult to actually do in real life. Don’t give up though, it will be worth it. You may notice that you have more time to be productive or to do other things you enjoy every day.

Screen Time: Too Much? Probably!

Kaarin Anderson Ryan

It seems like many people have been lamenting the rise in dependence and time spent on screens, both for adults and for kids. However, we all have a hard time keeping it limited. In this post and in the upcoming series of articles, I will highlight some of the problems with screens as well as possible solutions for kids, teens and adults.

General Issues

Generally speaking, spending a lot of time on screens is not ideal, regardless of what you are doing on the device. Understandably, many of us are required to spend a significant amount of time on devices for work. These effects are exacerbated my additional time on devices before and after work. There are ways to minimize negative effects and these will be discussed in upcoming posts.

Physical problems

The way we hold our posture can be damaging, whether we are hunched over a keyboard or leaning our necks down to look at a phone or a tablet. Numerous studies over the past decade have shown differences in neck and spine alignment that is related to looking down at devices. In addition, physicians are reporting an increase in the number of teens and young adults who come in for office visits to address issues with neck pain.

Social problems

Spending a lot of time on screens may inhibit personal social interaction. Using devices for texting and/or social media can be a very easy and effective way to communicate and stay in touch with others. It can be great for planning events and get-togethers. But, using devices in place of real human contact can be detrimental. I have heard numerous people say that after being isolated during the pandemic, they felt that they had lost social skills and confidence about being with others.

Cognitive Problems

Does anyone feel like they have had a more difficult time with sustained attention in recent years? Not remembering things as well? Recent studies are showing that over-use of devices can have a negative impact on your brain. Using your phone for everything reduces your need to remember things yourself: Our phones can have our schedules and give us reminders, our phones have all our contacts at the tip of our fingers; we don’t need to memorize phone numbers to call people anymore; our phones have the internet so we can look up anything, anywhere, anytime; our phones have maps so we don’t need to pay as much attention to our location or how we got there; our phones literally have an app for everything. One study in The Journal of the Association for Consumer Research entitled “Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity” found that even when people were able to refrain from looking at their phones, they had reduced cognitive capacity when the phone was present.

Social Media

There is so much to say about social media, including the benefits and harms of using these platforms. While there are certainly benefits to social media, there are also a tremendous number of problems associated with using social media. A report by Common Sense Media in 2019 shows that teens between 13-18 spend an average of 9 hours per day on social media. This in and of itself should be alarming to all of us. In addition to taking time away from family, engaging in real interpersonal conversation, and doing physical and outdoor activities, spending this much time using platforms like Instagram allow for one of the primary influences on teens to be an online world where truth and fiction are blurred. Some of the additional problems with social media include:

  1. Social media can be addicting. Getting likes and positive responses provides a bit of a dopamine rush, and social media sites are designed to target consumers to keep them connected.
  2. Fear of Missing Out. Social media sites emphasize all the fun and exciting things everyone is doing, encouraging people to keep checking to make sure they don’t miss out on anything.
  3. Bullying. Social media sites have been known to be a magnet for cyberbullying, which can lead to depression, anxiety, and in some cases to self harm or even suicide.
  4. Problems with self-image. Social media users tend to post the most flattering view of their physical appearance. Many platforms have filters that help people look unrealistically beautiful or fit. Seeing this all day can lead to low self-esteem when what someone sees in an actual mirror can’t compare to what is showing up on their feed from others.


Gaming can be fun and can be a good tool for socialization, if done in moderation. Nevertheless, excessive gaming can lead to serious problems. There are physical problems, including “gamer’s thumb”, carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, eye strain and visual problems, and seizures. Excessive gaming may also be a factor in obesity. Gaming for some people may become an addiction that requires rehabilitation at a facility that removes access to games. Finally, gaming may include participation in excessively violent games. In some cases, it is possible that this may influence people to engage in violent behavior as the lines between gaming and reality can become blurred.

Internet Safety

The internet is kind of a wild west when it comes to oversight and safety. It is pretty easy to find off-limit sites or to connect with people who may not be safe. Some of the risks of using the internet, especially for children and teens, include access to violent images or videos, access to sexually explicit content, or interaction with online “friends” who may actually be predators or people with bad intentions. Not only does the internet pose these risks to children and teens, there are also constant safety concerns about hacking, phishing, and identity theft.

Family Time

Constant use of screens has had a negative impact on family time. As parents, we typically want to be the ones to help teach and guide our children, to share our values and interests, and to establish strong and healthy relationships with them. With screens and devices, we are effectively relinquishing much of this over to other influences. In the developmental psychology literature, it is commonly found that parental influence is primary in the earlier years of childhood, but that when children approach middle school the peer influence starts to become more powerful than the parental influence. This is why it is critical for parents to help their children learn values, respect and responsibility at an early age, with the expectation that these underlying characteristics will help them navigate the teen years in the most healthy way. By giving over so much of the childhood time to a screen, parents are reducing their opportunity to develop strong and healthy relationships with their child or instilling positive character and values.

Role Modeling

Parenting can be exhausting and stressful. Parents often find that they are as dependent on their screens as their children. We often hear children complaining about their parents being on their phones all the time. In order to teach healthy screen habits, as parents and adults we must model healthy screen habits. This will not only benefit families, but it will also benefit parents by reducing many of the risks noted above that are correlated with using screens a little too much.

Stay tuned for some strategies to help overcome the challenges with screens!

Burnout: Tip of the Week #2

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD 10.26.22

This week’s tip is on coping with signs of burnout in the early stages. The signs are listed in my burnout article, and they include things like pushing yourself to work harder, neglecting your own needs, blaming your stress on others, and placing more value on work than on other relationships. If you have been noticing yourself fitting into these stages, it is important to put the brakes on and consider working on improving your work/life balance. To do this, try making a list of activities and relationships outside of work that are meaningful, important and fulfilling to you. Now challenge yourself to take a bit of time every day to nurture these relationships or engage in fulfilling activities that you enjoy. As you become more intentional about creating time and space for people and things outside of work, you will be able to shift the balance and (hopefully) guide yourself back on course and away from possible burnout.

Burnout: Tip of the Week #1

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD 10.12.22

This week’s tip is to help focus on preventing burnout. If you are aware of warning signs, some of which I posted in the burnout article, take some time to re-evaluate how you are spending your time and how you are managing stress. If you have started to feel more stressed about work, look for ways to improve the balance between work and life outside work. Make sure you are taking some time every day to completely remove yourself from work-related tasks AND work-related thoughts. Be intentional about using your time away from work to actually be away from work.


Kaarin Anderson Ryan

Have you ever described yourself as feeling burned out? Have you heard others describe themselves that way? Chances are, you or someone you know has experienced a sense of being burned out at some point. This feeling can arise from stress related to parenting, work, studying, or any number of things that place demands on you over a long period of time.

While the term burnout is casually used, the concept of actual burnout is well studied. In 1974, Herbert Freudenberger coined the term after conducting research on a set of symptoms shown by people in high-stress work environments. Since that time a great deal has been done to better understand the concept. By definition, burnout is basically a reaction to chronic job-related stress.

What causes burnout? Actual burnout is generally thought to be caused by 5 factors. These are (1) Unreasonable time pressure; (2) Lack of communication and support from a manager; (3) Lack of clarity for your role; (4) An unmanageable work load; and (5) Unfair treatment.

What are the other risk factors? There are a lot of things that can set someone up to become burned out. Some of the biggest risk factors seem to be:

Lack of work-life balance
High workload/overtime
Working in helping professions
Trying to be everything to everyone
Having little control over your work
Monotonous work
Having Type A personalities
Parents can experience burnout

So, while anyone can experience burnout, there are certain conditions or characteristics that can increase the chances of becoming burned out. Often, people who are described as workaholics tend to fit a lot of the characteristics that put them at higher risk for burnout.

What are the signs of burnout? The signs and symptoms of burnout are similar to other signs of stress, but more closely related to work. Some of these signs include:

Feeling alienated from work-related activities – finding job increasingly stressful, feeling cynical about work and co-workers, emotionally distancing from work.
Physical symptoms– having chronic headaches, stomach problems.
Emotional exhaustion – feeling drained, having poor coping ability, feeling reduced energy.
Reduced performance – having negativity about work tasks, having difficulty concentrating, showing diminished creativity.
Escape fantasies – having thoughts about leaving for a different, more perfect job.

How does burnout start? According to Freudenberger, there are 12 stages of burnout, starting with mild burnout. Many people experience some of the milder stages of burnout throughout their careers. But, fortunately, it is more rare to experience debilitating burnout. The 12 stages typically are:

  1. The Compulsion to Prove Oneself– early in career or new job.
  2. Pushing yourself to work harder – ambition.
  3. Neglecting your own needs – sacrificing self-care.
  4. Displacement of conflict – blaming your stress on others or on the job.
  5. Revision of Values – friends and family are no longer as important as work.
  6. Denial – impatience with others, seeing them as incompetent.
  7. Withdrawal – avoiding or dreading social interaction, using alcohol or drugs.
  8. Behavioral changes – changes in behavior such as impatience, aggression, snapping at friends and family.
  9. Depersonalization – feeling detached – seeing neither yourself nor others as valuable.
  10. Inner emptiness – feeling empty inside and to overcome this, looking for activity such as overeating, sex, alcohol, or drugs.
  11. Depression – feeling lost and unsure, exhausted, future feels bleak.
  12. Burnout Syndrome – can include total mental and physical collapse; time for full medical attention.

You can see that progressing through the stages of burnout is different from normal daily stress. The primary focus here is the emphasis on work, with a drive that becomes less about job satisfaction and success, and more about moving away from any work-life balance in favor of continuous focus on work and associated stresses.

Because burnout has risk factors, warning signs, and somewhat distinct phases, the good news is that it is preventable. Some of the more obvious preventions include self-care, self-awareness, and seeking balance between work and life outside of work. Stay tuned in the next month for some tips on how to prevent burnout, and how to cope with burnout when it does occur.


Freudenberger, H.J. (1974), Staff Burn-Out. Journal of Social Issues, 30: 159-165.

Freudenberger, H.J. & North, G. Women’s Burnout: How to Spot it, How to Reverse It, and How to Prevent It. (1985). New York: Doubleday.

Wellness Tip 4: Environmental Wellness

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD 2.22.22

Environmental wellness involves finding yourself in environments that enhance your sense of well-being. While we can’t always choose or control our environments, we can consider our own opportunities for creating environments that help us thrive. At home or at work, you might consider adding something to your primary living space that gives you a better sense of balance – maybe a new plant, a small artisan item, aromatherapy diffuser or scented candle, or soft lighting. These types of things might help you feel more peaceful in your own space. To help with a broader sense of environmental wellness, consider what you can to to maintain or improve the health of the natural environment by making ecologically responsible choices or helping out with clean-up efforts in your local community.


Photo by Ketut Subiyanto on

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD, BCBA, LBA 4.12.21

Has anyone else been feeling more and more distracted by the world? Having a hard time focusing on things? It seems that the distractions in the world are ever-growing, between nonstop news, social media, and the entire world at your fingertips everywhere you go when you carry your smartphone with you. This phenomenon has been growing for years, and does not seem to be getting any better.

Recent studies have looked at increasing trends for ADHD in children and adolescents. In 1997-98, 6.1% of children between the ages of 4-17 were diagnosed with ADHD. That number rose to 10.4% in 2015-2016. There may be many reasons for this disturbing trend, but most experts agree that access to devices most likely plays a role. Parents and teachers can and should work on structures, guidelines and limits for using electronics to help with this situation.

What about adults? Several studies have shown a marked increase in adult ADHD diagnosis, with reports of between 2 and 3 times as many cases of adult ADHD in recent years. Some of this seems to be due to greater understanding of symptoms and recognizing the need for assessment. However, is not out of the question that an increase in symptoms of ADHD for adults is also due to constant access to distraction from our devices.

Over the past year, many people have had to adjust to working from home and finding a balance that is healthy between productivity and leisure in the home environment. Some have surely been successful with this. Others may have great struggles staying focused when working at home. There are all kinds of distractions, including household tasks (“I’ll just go put in one load of laundry now”), food (“I’m a little hungry and bored and the kitchen is right here”), neighborhood activity (“it’s too loud to work when someone is mowing the lawn so I will just have to take a break”), and kids (“I can’t get anything done when the kids need my help”). How is one supposed to manage?

On top of that, whether you’re working from home or not, for people who have access to devices during the day it can be difficult to stay focused on work when your phone alerts you to something. You may also be distracted by the impulse to look up answers to every question that pops into your head throughout the day, pulling you away from your work. Or you may be feeling a little lazy and unmotivated so a quick game of Candy Crush seems like it might be ok. All these little distractions add up.

So, what can we do?

That is mainly up to us, as individuals. Whether a lack of focus is affecting your studies, your professional work, or your responsibilities at home, you can do things to improve your focus and motivation.

  1. For starters, set daily goals for yourself. Make a list of reasonable priorities for the day, and when you have gotten those things done, reward yourself with one of your distractions.
  2. Work on changing how you are thinking about your time and your tasks. For example, if you have the thought to check your phone for something unrelated to your current task or goal, talk yourself out of it. Remind yourself of your current goal and remember that whatever you wanted to do on your phone will still be there in a little while. Try to avoid impulsive distractions.
  3. If you are distracted by thinking about other things you have to do or want to look up, jot them down for later.
  4. If you are able, put your phone away or put it on airplane mode, or do not disturb mode, when you are trying to finish other things.
  5. Practice mindfulness. Focus on the moment, and if you find yourself having a hard time with focus, pause for a couple slow breaths to help you bring yourself back to your focus.
  6. Take intentional breaks when possible. Use your breaks to re-set. If this is a scheduled lunch break or a coffee break, enjoy the time and allow your mind a break from your work.
  7. Avoid multi-tasking. This applies to work, but it also applies to leisure time. Are you on your phone or your laptop while you watch your favorite series on Netflix? Try to allow yourself to enjoy one thing at a time. This will help improve your focus habits, both for leisure and for work.
  8. Self-care. Even though this comes up all the time, sometimes we forget. Having a healthy diet, good sleep habits, and taking some time for exercise every day are all positive tools for maintaining focus and a good balance in your day-to-day life.