Make screen time for teens not too hot, not too cold

By Hugh Gray - Contributing Columnist

As we quickly reach the end of May, students across the county are giddy with the thoughts of all the free time summer will bring. Many probably look forward to trips to the beach or lake, maybe a long vacation adventure, or daily sports competitions, but many students will also be spending the summer hours on a screen.

But too much tech can be a problem and that isn’t great for kids.

“There are a lot of potential harmful effects of screen time on kids, from newborns up to late adolescents and even young adults,” Craig Anderson, PhD, distinguished professor of psychology at Iowa State University told WebMD.

When kids watch a lot of fast-paced shows that switch quickly from scene to scene, they may later have trouble when they need to focus in the classroom, Anderson says.

Kids who spend too much time in front of a screen can have other problems, too, like too little sleep or too much weight gain, says David Hill, MD, chairman of the American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media. Plus, he says, kids who watch TV and play video games for hours each day may miss out on face-to-face opportunities to learn, time to play outside, and connections with friends. “Our greatest question should be, ‘What is this screen time displacing?’” he says.

With screens everywhere, it may seem even harder to cut down on a child’s time with them. But limits are worth it. Try these tips to pry them off those devices — at least, for a little while.

1. Make computers and TVs stay in the shared spaces of your home. When your kids use screens in the kitchen or living room, it’s easier to keep an eye on the shows they watch, the games they play, and the websites they’re on.

2. Add tech-free time to your family’s schedule. “At any age, kids should know there are specific times when screens stay off, like at meals and before bed,” Hill says. Even better, set aside time every week when the family does something fun together — no devices allowed.

3. Watch how often you use your own devices. If you keep your face buried in your phone, your kids won’t see a good reason why they should get off their screens. Plus, those devices affect the time you spend with your children. Researchers who studied families at fast-food restaurants noticed parents were often more focused on their smartphones than on the children at the table.

4. Make limits a regular part of screen use. When the rules are clear and consistent, you can avoid daily battles when you tell the kids it’s time to turn off the TV, computer, or phone.

5. Be ready to explain different screen-time limits. After your kids have watched hours of TV at a friend’s house, they may wonder why your rules are different. “These are opportunities to have conversations with your kids about what your family’s values are,” Anderson says.

6. Help your kids find other ways to have fun. “If a child has nothing to do, but stare at a screen, then we should not be surprised when that is what he or she does,” Hill says. Keep other options — art supplies, books, Frisbees, and bikes — around and ready when your kids claim there’s nothing else to do.

7. Make tech work for you. Use programs and apps that you can set to turn off computers, tablets, and smartphones after a given amount of time.

Researchers tested the theory that there was an amount of screen time that was just right. In their study titled A Large-Scale Test of the Goldilocks Hypothesis, Andrew Przbyiski and Netta Weinstein compared the relationship between screen use and mental well-being. They found that the “Goldilocks” number was four hours and 17 minutes of screen time per day.

The research also set limits for time spent in specific activities. For video game play, the limit is an hour and 40 minutes. For smartphone use, the limit is an hour and 57 minutes. For recreational video watching, the limit is three hours and 41 minutes. Remember, though, no combination of these specific screen activities should exceed four hours and 17 minutes.

And that’s great because, even when you add 10 hours for sleep, that leaves 10 hours for interactive family time!

By Hugh Gray

Contributing Columnist

Hugh Gray is the executive director at Westview Behavioral Health Services and can be reached at 803-276-5690.

Hugh Gray is the executive director at Westview Behavioral Health Services and can be reached at 803-276-5690.