Since the launch of the iPhone in the late 2000’s, there has been a surge of personal electronic devices and screen time in our daily lives. One of the groups most affected by this shift are our children, where high technology usage has become universal among this group. Research illustrates this behavioral shift clearly; studies have found that 80% of parents say their children watch videos on YouTube and that 56% of parents say that their children use smartphones too much.
With technology playing an increasingly large role in our kids’ lives, we as parents can no longer follow the conventional parenting playbook used by past generations; instead, we should help our children develop healthy habits when using technology. This will first discuss the benefits and drawbacks of screen time before presenting some solutions to the issue of kids & their screen time.
Although increased time is often portrayed as quite negative it is important to understand that they can help children develop skills/attributes which will be useful in the long-term. Some of the most important benefits of screen time include:
- Greater independence: screen time gives kids the chance to answer their own questions, to further research a line of thinking, and to develop new hobbies or interests.
- Increased education: many of the game’s children play help them develop their problem solving/logical thinking skills and the instructions/in-game dialogue involved in those games help kids improve their reading comprehension.
- Fostering creativity: technology gives children new ways to express themselves whether it be through videos, photographs, video game creation, coding, animation, etc.
- Improved technological literacy: giving kids access to personal electronic devices and allowing them to become familiar with new programs may help set them up for success down the road as all industries increase their demand for technically literate workers.
The adverse impacts of screen time on our kids’ lives can be broadly categorized into a couple of key categories:
- Diminished Social Skills: when kids have too much screen time, they can end up becoming attached to the screens to the point that they choose to avoid in-person social situations (which are widely regarded as the best way to learn social skills) and may struggle to act appropriately when they do engage in an in-person social situation.
- Physical Health Issues: if a child becomes addicted to their device, it is possible that they will forgo physical activities for screen time. Additionally, research shows that screen time alter sleep pattern so that children get less sleep, harm their vision, and cause migraines.
- Behavioral Shifts: screen time can cause children to shift into fight or flight mode and so a prolonged use of electronics can cause children to behave more aggressively both at school and at home; it will seem as though they are getting into arguments constantly.
- Mental Health Issues: especially since the advent of popular social media networks such as Instagram, Snapchat, and Facebook, excessive screen time has been linked to increased levels of depression and anxiety in children.
Now even though the rise of personal electronics is a relatively new phenomenon, parents have already found some effective methods to nurture a health relationship between your child and their screens. These practices include:
- Set limits: try to reach an agreement with your child about how much screen time they can use per day and at what time they must shut off screens; however, at the end of the day if your child isn’t being reasonable with their expectations make sure to reach a solution closer to your preferences
- Set physical boundaries: make sure everybody in the family knows to keep the screens out of certain areas of the house, most importantly in their bedrooms and at the dining table.
- Delay giving them smartphones: try not to give them a personal smartphone until high school.
- Encourage other activities: guide your child in an exploration of activities/hobbies which don’t involve a screen and try to help them develop a deep interest or proficiency in one of those activities so that it can act as a reliable diversion from screens in the future
- Use parental controls: this is especially important for younger children who may not know any better and may be prone to stumbling upon inappropriate content.
- Make screen time a privilege: make the use of personal electronic devices an incentive for completing other important tasks such as schoolwork or chores. This will not only serve as a way to motivate your child to do well various aspects of their lives but it also establishes screen time as secondary to other things in life.