What the Tech: Children and screen time

What the Tech

We all can agree that kids spend way too much time looking at smartphones, tablet’s and TV screens, but a new study shows it’s worse than most people can imagine.

Researchers at the University of California/San Francisco found that 12-13-year-olds doubled their screen time to nearly 8 hours a day as of May 2020.

That makes sense at first when you consider all children and teenagers were doing school online last year, but surprisingly the study doesn’t even count time on the computer doing school work.

The 7.7 hours a day was just for recreational purposes such as streaming shows and movies, scrolling through social media feeds and playing video games.

“This actually equates to 72 40-hour workweeks,” says Catherine Price, author of the book How To Break Up With Your Phone. “If you’re spending 8 hours a day on your phones and devices, that’s crazy. Where are we finding this time?”

Price said she wasn’t entirely surprised at the results of the study after doing her own research a few years ago for her book. Most parents and others will probably agree that 7.7 hours of screen time a day is bad for kids, but why? Price’s own research reveals it isn’t good on many levels.

“The way we interact with our screens and devices is affecting our ability to concentrate, on our productivity, our creativity, on our ability to remember things, on our self-esteem and mental health. And on our sleep which in turn can impact our physical health both in the short and the long term,” she said.

Rounding up the 7.7 hours per day to 8, that means kids spend nearly half their waking hours staring at a screen and consuming content of some sort. Price says that takes a toll on our ability to think for ourselves.

“If you’re constantly subjecting your brain to an onslaught of new information, you’re always in reactive, reactivity processing. You’re not giving yourself a space to come up with new independent thoughts. And you’re probably not internalizing and absorbing a lot of the new information you’re getting,” she said.

It also limits any time for daydreaming. If you grew up without distractions from constant screen time, you should remember a few days when you were simply bored. With nothing to do, nowhere to go, and no one to talk to, your mind could wander freely.

That doesn’t happen much for kids today.

“Many of our most creative thoughts come when we’re in the shower, or formerly when we’re on walks, but now we’re listening to podcasts, and that is in part because it is one of the few times in our days where we allow our brains to wander,” Price said. “To go where they want to go. And that’s when insights and creativity happen. So I think we really are losing a lot, it’s not easy to quantify by never giving our brains a break.”

While the study looked at screen times of adolescents, parents are just as guilty at spending too much time on devices and in front of screens.

Price says rather than just taking the devices out of their hands (which is nearly impossible), parents should set an example and encourage balance.

“We are huge hypocrites and we need to act in a way we want our kids to emulate. So if you’re trying to tell your kid not to be on their phone so much, and if you’re checking Twitter under the table at dinner, well guess what. That’s not going to work,” she said.

“I don’t think adults should be ‘just spend less time on their phone in a restrictive sense. It should be to spend more time on our lives and define what that means. What is actually important to us and then align our behavior to those supposed priorities. So instead of finger-wagging at your kids, I suggest having a full family discussion and by the way, this is applicable if your kids are 5 or 6. “

Visit www.screenlifebalance.com.

For more What the Tech, read here.

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