Screen-Time - A Golden Opportunity?

Smart phones, video games, Snapchat, TikTok, YouTube - the devices and apps are endless. As NPR reporter, Anya Kamenetz noted in a June 2019 article, “Technology overuse ranked as the No. 1 fear of parents of teenagers in a national survey last year.”**

Today parents have the unfortunate task of pioneering the supervision of screen-time for their children, ‘paving the way’ for future generations of parents. They are on a crash course that requires them to learn about all the different devices, shows, games, YouTubers, social media, and more, at warp speed pace as technology advances. It quickly gets overwhelming. Even though parents today grew up with TV and video games, these were largely tethered to their home; TV programming was scheduled for Saturday mornings and only lasted a couple of hours. But now, with the convenience of these electronics and infinite amount of content, children could spend all day and all night on screens and never have to see the same show twice. How can parents possibly keep track of everything that is out there? Policing every app, every show, every ‘influencer’ to ensure that they agree with their values - it would take an army!

When smart phones and tablets exploded onto the market over 10 years ago, a new market was also created – screen-time for children. Since then experts and parents alike have been striving to figure out how to manage screens, what the dangers are, what is healthy, what is safe, and how this will affect our children in the short-term and long-term. Thankfully, there is a resource that is extremely effective and abundantly reliable to manage children’s screen time usage; it’s the relationship you have with your child.

In the NPR article, Devorah Heitner, Ph.D. and author of Screenwise, explains that initially the primary focus on managing our children’s screen usage was on time management – parents would ask her “Can you just tell me how many minutes [is okay]?”** While time spent on screens remains a factor (as demonstrated in the American Academy of Pediatrics’ screen time usage recommendations and other research showing that more than two hours a day of screen time for young children can interfere with sleep, etc.), our understanding of how children use screens is evolving.

Dr. Heitner points out that the focus of parenting for screen-time is shifting from the time spent on screens to understanding why kids are drawn to certain games, apps, shows, and all the rest. She suggests that parents move away from only monitoring their child’s screen time, and start mentoring their child about screen time.

“Policing their kids’ device use isn’t working. They need to understand why their kids are using devices and what their kids get out of those devices so they can help the kids shift their habits”** if necessary.

While there are certain areas that surround health and safety that parents might impose stricter rules (like bedtime and mealtime), there will be many times when children will make decisions without mom or dad, so what will guide them to make safe and healthy choices?

When children are on their screens at home, it is a golden opportunity for parents to connect and learn about their child’s interests. At the simplest level, parents can learn their child’s interests in animals, sport