Although thousands of studies focus on screen time, they are naturally limited in their ability to measure its long-term effects. After all, the Internet has been widespread since only 1995, and the now ubiquitous iPhone is a mere decade old.

But, as with every other topic, information abounds, ranging from verified scientific research to parental opinions. Excessive screen time is linked to sleeplessness, moodiness, eyestrain, headaches, anxiety, depression, poor focus, feelings of isolation, obesity, chronic stress, learning delays, behavioral problems and even violence.

Like Roberts, Sydnie Bryant has a young child who is sensitive to overstimulation. “Just a few minutes on the iPad can lead to 30 minutes of a tantrum,” she says. Making matters worse, the family just relocated from Pennsylvania to a Florida school district that administers computer-based testing in the classroom every day. “My daughter is smart, but she’s not computer-savvy, because they didn’t use computers in her previous school,” Bryant says. “So, she’s getting overstimulated and frustrated at the same time.”

 “Every time a child picks up a screen device, not one but many changes occur in the brain,” says Victoria Dunckley, MD, a Los Angeles–based psychiatrist, noted screen-time expert and author of Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns (New World Library, 2015). “In terms of sensory, psychological and cognitive input, electronic screen media is unnaturally intense. It causes enormous amounts of information to be taken in and processed.”

This intensity, she says, drains mental reserves and fractures attention. Radiation from the device and from the wireless connection also disrupts brain waves. The changes can be significant enough to impact frontal lobe functioning during the crucial years when the brain is still developing. “When screen time affects how the child feels, thinks, behaves or socializes on a day-to-day basis, I call it Electronic Screen Syndrome, or ESS,” Dunckley says.

Because ESS influences the brain and the body, it can mimic, or even exacerbate, other psychiatric disorders, such as ADHD, bipolar disorder, depression and learning disorders. Dunckley advises her clients to first try an “electronic fast” before accepting such diagnoses, which often require medications.

Adult brains, though more fully developed, aren’t immune to screen-time effects. Roberts has learned to limit her own TV time, but she struggles with computer time needed to do her job and with the fact that she likes to look at her phone during her only “me time”—right before bed. “If I’m on the phone too close to bedtime, my sleep is disrupted,” she says. “I’ll wake up around 1 a.m., no matter what, and my sleep is not as deep.”

Compounding the problem for both adults and children, Dunckley says, is that most people erroneously believe that interactive screen time (using educational games or apps, for instance) is better than passive screen time (watching TV), when in fact the opposite has proven true. “The very interactiveness of interactive screen time can overly stimulate the nervous system, especially a developing one,” she says.