Let’s Talk Problematic Interactive Media Use (PIMU) with Dr. Krista Kunz of Magnolia Pediatric Dentistry in Mount Pleasant, SC

Have you heard of PIMU? If not, you’re not alone. It’s a relatively new diagnosis in the DSM-5 (The Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders – 5), and it stands for Problematic Interactive Media Use. It encompasses Internet Addiction, Internet Gaming Disorder, Gaming Disorder, and Media Addiction. It is considered an environmental condition of the digital age.

If you’re like me, you wonder how screen time affects your child and want to know how much is okay, or how much is too much? How can I monitor their screen time and the types of apps and sites they are visiting? How will I know when it becomes a problem? Can it be a problem for me too? And if it is, what are the resources? It seems like youth are constantly on their mobile devices to learn, communicate, relax, and entertain themselves.

Electronics and the Internet are ubiquitous in our lives. People are spending more and more time on mobile devices, especially children and teens. Studies have shown that media overuse can disrupt a child’s life and create issues in the family and at school, as well as emotional, mental and physical health. It is important to be aware of signs of addictive, impulsive, or excessive behaviors towards screen media use.

Children and adolescents are especially vulnerable to PIMU because their prefrontal cortex does not fully mature until their mid-twenties. The prefrontal cortex is the area in our brains where decision-making, judgments, and problem-solving occur. Have you ever thought about poor decisions you made in your teens and twenties and wondered why in the world you would have done those things?

PIMU is a spectrum and clinical presentation varies, but can appear in one of the four following ways:

  1. Excessive video gaming where the child plays for hours on end and will only take breaks when forced.
  2. Using social media as a primary way to connect with others instead of in person communication.
  3. Obsessive pornographic use that results in sexual dysfunction.
  4. Seeking information by spending hours of time surfing online or watching videos instead of other activities.

If you notice that your child is fixated on screens, it is important to talk to your child and to your child’s doctor. Other signs include social withdrawals, poorer performance in schools, and less interest in personal hygiene. Children and teens may also have other conditions like ADHD, social anxiety, depression, autism, and substance-use that can predispose or even cause PIMU. PIMU can also contribute to eating disorders, weight gain, and problems sleeping.

If you’re concerned, it’s a good idea to take stock of how long, how often, and how many screens are used by every member of your family. It’s a good idea to make sure that every person in the family, including you, is getting “a balanced diet of experiences.”  The best way to do this is to use media mindfully, notice problematic behaviors, be a media role model, and remove screens from the bedrooms. We want our children to have rich interactions with the world and to be able to be present with others (we want it for ourselves too). Let’s all try to be more present with one another!

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