When I was a kid in the 1980s, “screen time” wasn’t really a thing. Personal computers were rare, expensive things that few people had and were mainly for business. Telephones were “dumb” and tethered to the wall, and television offered 13 channels, many of which were snow.
What a difference 40 years makes!
Today, my kids have a staggering amount of media and entertainment available to them at all times. As a parent, I struggle with raising the first generation of kids to never know a day without the internet, pocket-sized computers, and on-demand entertainment. It’s not easy to manage but oh, so important to do so.
Research has demonstrated the dangers of unbridled screen time. A study recently conducted by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that “…children [between the ages of] 8 to 18 spend, on average, close to 45 hours per week watching TV, playing video games, instant messaging, and listening to music online.” That’s more time — far more — than they spend in a classroom.
What’s the result of all this time spent staring at a glowing rectangle? As of this writing, it’s hard to say. Since this issue is so new, there haven’t been a lot of longitudinal studies conducted. But research is being done. A study published in the journal Computers in Human Behavior suggests that sixth graders who abstained from screen time for a period of time were better able to read human emotions than those who did not.
So how can we stay on top of it? Organize a healthy “media diet” with the kids. Here are a few ideas.
First, be aware of what’s age-appropriate. Know what they’re watching, playing, and listening to. I know it sounds obvious, but new entertainment comes out so often, we as parents must actively stay up to date.
This doesn’t just go for content. While digital entertainment is being made for two-year-olds, the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no TV or computer screens (including phones and tablets) for that age group at all.
Next, set family rules and stick to them. Our rule is this: two hours of screen time after dinner and that’s it. Of course, this is considering that all homework is done, lunches and snacks are prepared, and bags are packed up for the next morning. Both parents must be consistent with rule enforcement here. This leads me to the next tip.
No media in bedrooms. You can’t monitor your children when they’re in bed. If a phone or tablet is at hand, the temptation may be too great to pass up.
So far I’ve put all of the focus on the kids. That’s important, but phone-addicted parents need a reminder to put their devices down, too. A recent study noted that kids can feel unimportant when their parents spend so-called “quality time” looking at a phone . Face-to-face interaction is the way children learn.
I guess we could all do with a little less screen time. Manage the amount of time your kids — and you yourself — spend looking at a phone, tablet or computer screen.