Blog Author: Sara Meghan Walter, PhD, NCC, LPCA
According to a 2015 Common Sense Media report, American kids now spend an average of 6.5 hours per day looking at a screen – and this doesn’t include classroom or homework screen time. With the increased use of technology in schools, smart phone applications, sophisticated video games, and social media platforms, it is no surprise that technology plays a much more prominent role in the lives of today’s children and adolescents than it did a generation ago. Children now have access to an ever-expanding selection of screens on computers, tablets, smartphones, and more. Technology certainly does have the capacity to make learning and the acquisition of knowledge easier and more accessible, and technology skills will continue to become increasingly important in the future. However, parents need support in setting limits and helping their children to achieve a healthy balance when it comes to screen time – and this balance is important for a variety of reasons:
1. Multitasking: Even though we may feel like we are effective, research shows that multi-tasking does not enhance performance. However – if you ask teenagers, a majority would say that watching television, texting, or attending to social media while doing homework does not affect them! What we know, though, is the brain is simply not capable of focusing on two mental activities at the same time.
2. Exposure to violence: So many of the video games and TV programs our children are exposed to contain violence. Research suggests a strong link between exposure to violence on screens and an increase in aggressive thoughts and behaviors, as well as a decrease in empathy and pro-social behaviors.
3. High use of social media: We know kids often use screens to avoid face-to-face interactions, and they may say things online they would never say in person. High rates of social media are associated with elevated risks of anxiety, depression, and loneliness – especially when kids use social media at night.
What can parents do to set healthy limits and help their kids achieve balance in their use of technology? Here are some tips:
1. Create a contract for technology use. As a family, decide on guidelines related to technology, such as the acceptable amount of time and acceptable situations for using screens.
2. As a family, leave your devices out of the bedroom at night. Research suggests that night-time exposure to screens suppresses melatonin, which can interfere with the body’s sleep cycle.
3. Parents must be good technology role models. Are you also spending too much time engaged with screens? Make sure you are not distracted by technology during family time and that you model good behavior.
4. Engage in ongoing conversations with your children on how to be a good citizen online. Kids are still developing impulse control and an understanding of the consequences of today’s powerful technology. Talk with them about respectful online behavior, internet safety, privacy, and boundaries.
5. Finally, remember to engage in family activities that do not involve screen time. Play games, enjoy family meals, and get outside and move!
Sara Meghan Walter, PhD, NCC, LPCA is an outpatient therapist with Wake Counseling & Mediation, PLLC, working with children & parents. Wake Counseling therapists work with children, adults, couples & families, to schedule appointment go to http://www.wakecounseling.com/