CHICAGO – It is Saturday morning, and 10-year-old Henry Hailey is up at the crack of dawn. Still in PJs, his microphone-equipped headphones glowing blue, he fixates on the popular online game "Fortnite."
"What?! Right as I was about to finish it, I died," he called out to his friend Gus, a fellow fifth-grader playing from his home a few blocks away. "Dude, I should NOT have died."
The digital battles resume. Would he play all day if his parents let him? "Probably," he concedes.
But they do not. Like many other parents, the Haileys are on a mission to limit screen time for Henry and his 15-year-old brother, Everett. For some parents, it feels like an exercise in futility. They are busy, overwhelmed and tired of the fight against increasingly omnipresent screens. His mom, Barb Hailey, said, "He's upset. Mom is a crank. What is it all for?"
The goal, experts say, should be to help children learn to manage their time as they get older and to stay physically active and socially connected as much offline as on.
Some tech companies now acknowledge concerns about overuse and abuse of digital media. Apple instituted a "Screen Time" function in its latest iPhone software. Google For Families and Google Play, found on Android phones, and various independent apps also allow parents to monitor and set some restrictions.
Researchers who study these trends generally refrain from using the word "addiction" when it comes to screens, as it's not an official diagnosis. But this summer, the World Health Organization added "gaming disorder" to its list of afflictions.
Sometimes, experts say, digital immersion exacerbates an existing condition, such as depression, anxiety or problems with body image.
Experts say time limits can help but are sometimes a moot point given how deeply technology is "embedded in our daily life," said Sarah Domoff, a psychologist at Central Michigan University. Instead she asks parents: How are your children doing in school? Are they active and physically healthy? Are they connecting with others in positive ways?
Managing all this is no easy task. Some parents simply put off getting their kid a phone. Another key: Parents setting limits with their own devices.