Problematic Interactive Media Use (PIMU)

Media is everywhere and most of us use some form of it every day without even thinking about it.

No one knows for sure how much time is okay to spend using media. It really depends on many things such as your ability to access media, the rules your parents have for media use, and how much of it you can personally handle without it interfering in your life.

What is PIMU?

The definition of PIMU is based on the symptoms that appear when media is overused. When  media, such as the Internet, social media, mobile apps, video games, music, TV, and movies, are overused or used obsessively, it can cause complications in your daily life. Problems can include poor school performance, conflicts with friends and family, 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).

What can lead to PIMU?

Most of us use media in our daily lives for school, work, and keeping in touch with friends and family. PIMU can happen when a person begins spending more and more time using media and less time on other activities and interacting with people in-person. 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.

PIMU can appear in one of four ways:

How do I know if I have a problem with media?

It can be tough to know whether you are overusing media and technology because it is everywhere in our lives; we use media and technology in school, to connect with friends, and for our entertainment.

Ask yourself the following questions to help you understand if you are overusing 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, 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?

What are some possible results of overusing media?

Problematic interactive media use can negatively affect many areas of your life. Using media too much or in ways that are unhealthy can affect how you do in 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
  • 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 media devices beginning an hour before bedtime and keep them off during the night. Challenge yourself to turn off your media 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 time for 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.
  • 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 and 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 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 trying to rush to work. 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:

  • “Mom, Dad I read this interesting article about PIMU. Have you heard about it? Do you know what it stands for?”
  • “Lately I’ve realized that I’m spending more time texting my friends rather than spending time with them in person.” “Do you ever feel like that?”
  • “Do you think as a family we could take a challenge and go without any kind of media for an hour a day? Maybe we could start during dinner time.
  • “I’ve noticed that I am spending too much time using media and I think it’s affecting my (ex. schoolwork, friendships). I’m planning to cut back on my media use and it would be helpful if I had your support. I need to use media for my school work, etc. 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.”
  • “My little sister (or someone else) calls me a (ex.) couch potato. She says I spend too much time using media. 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 crashing on the couch with my phone, like I usually do. Would you like to join me?”

For more information:

Visit the Center on Media and Child Health:

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