6 Reasons to Know About Your Kids’ 9 Hours of Screen Time
Would you want to know why your teen spent 9 hours a day meditating or reading?
Posted Apr 28, 2020
Imagine a world where your kids are spending nine hours a day meditating; that it’s the newest thing among teens and preteens. Given that kids spend seven hours per day at school and need a minimum of eight hours of sleep, it only leaves nine hours in a day—all of which is spent meditating.
In this imaginary world, some adults are also mediating as regularly, but they are not affected the same way as kids. Because their teenage bodies and minds are still maturing, mediation is actively changing the structure of their brains. Many teens have thought that they can communicate telepathically. While meditating, they appear distracted, yet sometimes overfocused, and seem less interested in face-to-face real-life interactions. While they may appear to have some creative, interesting insights into their world, there are also reports of mind games among the teens, and they may have lost interest in other activities.
If your teen were involved in the mediation craze, how interested would you be? What would you want to know? How might you become involved in better protecting and understanding your child’s experiences?
I would argue that parents should take a similar approach to a real-world behavior that is consuming nine hours a day of their teens’ and preteens’ lives, changing their brains, and capturing their attention — screen-based technologies. Rather than ignoring this concern, parents could actively find things to do about their kids’ screen time.
Parents do show some interest in and have many legitimate concerns about the impact of screen time on their children, including issues such as addiction, access to pornography, inappropriate sharing of personal information, sleep disturbance, and too much time spent online. They often don’t recognize the potential benefits. However, most parents don’t truly understand what their kids are doing with screens.
While 85 percent of parents report that monitoring their children’s screen time, is important, far fewer actually do so. From the perspective of many adults, their kids’ screen-time activities are the equivalent of a foreign language they don’t speak. I suggest that the prevalence of media and screens in the lives of our kids, and the subsequent opportunities and risks presented by them, should be a call to action that gets adults involved.
Here are six reasons and strategies to know about your kids’ screen time while becoming more informed about the impact on their lives:
- Observe. It sounds simple, and it is, but you need to set aside the time and energy to do it. Inform your kids that you want to know more about what they are doing with their screen but initially try not to intervene, just observe. This will help later when you want to talk about it. Watch what your kids do in their interactions with digital media, whether it be watching television, exploring YouTube, or playing a video game with their friends. As they get older, observe them in their use of social media, such as how frequently they text and their reactions to the intrusions of social media. Observe how homework is used for and impacted by screens.
- Ask questions. One of the main reasons that adults play such a limited role in children's use of digital media is that kids are the experts rather than adults. This turns parenting on its head. In contrast to how parents typically teach their child to read, learn manners, be considerate of others, or nurture relationships, when it comes to technologies, children have more expertise, and parents often don't want to ask for their help. It's important to ask questions. Try open-ended questions without being critical or ask tech-support questions where children can display their expertise.
- Participate. Once you have watched and questioned, it’s time to get involved. Play a game with your child, explore and share YouTube videos that interest you, and have at least one social media platform where you are connected to your child. Not only would you be more knowledgeable, but your children would also be more likely to start sharing with you.
- Look in the mirror. One of the reasons that many parents do not engage in discussions about screen time is that they recognize similar problems in themselves. The latest data from Common Sense Media suggest that adults spend as much recreational time in front of screens as teens. Recognize the pros and cons of digital media use for yourself. All too often, we focus on children's use or misuse of games and other screen-based technologies. Ask yourself if your own screen time is taking away from interacting with your kids. Work on becoming the best model you can.
- Expect and support a healthy and balanced play diet. Work towards a balance of screen time with other activities in your life and the lives of your children. I strongly advocate the construct of a healthy play diet that is built on the importance of play in children’s lives and acknowledges digital or screen-based play as a legitimate form of play. Create an expectation that kids will engage in social, physical, creative, unstructured, and digital play. Be ready to put time, energy, and money into non-screen play. Encourage what our team at LearningWorks for Kids refers to as “whole play,” in which screen-based play is combined with other forms of play. Pokemon Go is an example of this, where social, physical, and digital play are combined. Because digital media is so pervasive and engaging, you’ll need to work hard to make activities such as being outdoor; regular physical exercise; creative outlets; and simple, unstructured, unplanned play alluring to teens and preteens.
- Be a willing manager. Some kids truly overdo their tech time. Step in if necessary with screen control devices and limit setting. Apple’s Screentime and Google’s Family Link are good starting tools. But if you choose to use these or other tools, be certain to make it work. Teens have learned many workarounds to parental control devices.