4 tips to stop kids from doomscrolling, recommended by a psychologist and mental health expert

Ever heard of doomscrolling? We explain what it is and the tips to help kids avoid it

A teenage girl in a dark room lit up by her phone screen
(Image credit: Alamy)

A mental health expert has explained how 'doomscrolling' can impact childrens' mental health, and how you can encourage them to spend less time on their phone.

It's hard to imagine a time before smartphones, and for today's kids it's pretty much impossible, given they are growing up surrounded by them. And while there are many benefits to being able to get in contact with people with the click of a button (especially if you want to keep tabs on your children), parents are also raising concerns about how to reduce their child's screen time and how too much screen time affects child development

One major concern that has reared its head in recent years is addiction, which was highlighted in a recent study that found half of teens admit they're addicted to social media. Nomophobia (the fear of being away from your mobile phone) can have a knock-on effect on the whole family, but luckily one psychologist has shared some tips that can help parents whose children are prone to 'doomscrolling'.

Doomscrolling is a term used to describe spending an excessive amount of time online consuming negative or distressing material. "Coined during the pandemic, doomscrolling is the urge to absorb bad news," explains Dr Colin Preece, head of mental health at Teladoc and AXA Global Healthcare's mental health expert. He adds, "For some people, it can be a way to make sense of what’s going on around them. But social media algorithms can also feed doomscrollers with more of what they read and watch until all they have is a constant stream of negative news. This can keep them at a high level of anxiety for a long time, which could harm their mental health."

According to a new report by leading international health insurer AXA – Global Healthcare, the average person spends 145 minutes on social media every day and while social media can be a force for good, it can also impact young people’s health in negative ways. Doomscrolling is a classic example of this.

If you're worried your child's mental wellbeing is suffering as a result of social media, Dr Preece has the following advice for parents trying to cut down their child’s social media consumption:

4 tips to help your child stop doomscrolling

  1. Focus their attention on something else. It’s easier said than done, but directing your child’s attention to something else, preferably away from their phone or computer, will limit their exposure to negative stories. Encourage them to do something that makes them feel good instead.
  2. Give them a time limit. It’s good to stay informed – that’s what news is for – but encourage your child to protect themselves from doomscrolling territory by limiting them to 10 minutes of scrolling per day. They can use wellness apps and use restriction settings on apps like Instagram to help them keep to time.
  3. Seek out the good. Rather than reading about the bad stuff, why not encourage your child to watch something funny, read positive news, or listen to a happy podcast instead?
  4. Practice gratitude. Provide your child with a journal where they can write down what they’re grateful for (check out our round-up of the best gratitude journals for kids). They could start by making a list of three things, or cycling through their senses and listing something they saw, smelled, tasted, heard or felt that made them happy each day. If writing isn’t their thing, perhaps work a gratitude session into your daily dinnertimes and share those good feelings as a family.

"The most important thing is to make sure you have a culture of open communication with your child," Dr Preece shares. "Creating a safe and communicative environment in your home can encourage your child to feel empowered to share any insecurities they feel with you, and help you address how social media could be impacting their mental health.

"Try to stay up to date with social media functions yourself, even if it’s just for awareness. Understanding how your child can engage with the social media world will help you to better educate them on considerations like online privacy, and seeing past the veneer of the world presented to them.

"It’s also important to monitor how much time your child is spending on social media. You may never be able to control exactly what your child is engaging with online, but implementing house rules like phone-free mealtimes, and keeping phones out of the bedroom at night can build some balance into your child’s digital routine."

In other news, as Ofcom pushes for new online safety measures, we've shared 10 rules that most parents have in place for their children's smartphone use. Elsewhere, two-thirds of parents have noticed the negative effects of screen time on their kids.

Ellie Hutchings
Family News Editor

Ellie is GoodtoKnow’s Family News Editor and covers all the latest trends in the parenting world - from relationship advice and baby names to wellbeing and self-care ideas for busy mums. Ellie is also an NCTJ-qualified journalist and has a distinction in MA Magazine Journalism from Nottingham Trent University and a first-class degree in Journalism from Cardiff University. Previously, Ellie has worked with BBC Good Food, The Big Issue, and the Nottingham Post, as well as freelancing as an arts and entertainment writer alongside her studies. When she’s not got her nose in a book, you’ll probably find Ellie jogging around her local park, indulging in an insta-worthy restaurant, or watching Netflix’s newest true crime documentary.