A recent study published in Psychiatry Quarterly suggests that up to 6 hours of screen time is perfectly reasonable for teenagers and not associated with behavioural problems.
The study was made in Florida and bases its findings on data from more than six thousand teenagers. The teens were asked questions about their screen time, sleep, school grades, family patterns and issues like depression and risky behaviour.
Screen time: is there really a problem?
Is this the good news that we parents have been waiting for? Can we now relax and forget about parental control and screen time issues? Maybe worrying about excessive screen time is just the latest fad parental panic, like rock and roll music or comic books in the 50’s. It’s time to get over it and calm down. Or is it?
It is difficult to overstate the growing role of the computer and internet over the last couple of decades. Today, these incredible inventions have penetrated almost every sphere of human activity. It’s essential for our kids to have a good understanding of how to use them effectively in order to participate in society and take advantage of the opportunities available to them.
That said, concern over how much time your child spends on their computer or smartphone is not the same as panicking. Rather, it shows that you are a responsible parent who is aware of the immediately observable effects that screen time has on your child.
The study mentioned above shows that up to 6 hours of screen time is not connected to a range of serious risky behaviours or to depression in young people. That’s great. But much smaller (probably harder to measure) problem behaviours are immediately observable when we give our kids mobile devices.
I don’t want my children to be rude, to ignore the people in the room in favour of people online, to get their sense of self worth from social media likes. I’m concerned by their lack of interest in reading and preference for cartoons. I don’t want them to develop addictions of any sort, whether it’s to video games, to pornography or to checking their Facebook stream. And of course I want to protect them from inappropriate materials and the risks connected with social media use from cyber bullying and identity theft through to oversharing, sexting and predatory behaviour.
Of course simply putting a limit on screen time doesn’t resolve these problems. They’re all variations on classic parenting problems and they need to be resolved through conversation and example as well as well defined boundaries.
Is there hope for parents?
Not only do this study’s findings give us cause to relax a little, there’s more concrete hope too.
- First of all, you’re not alone! The problems created by children’s access to smart devices are being encountered by parents everywhere at the moment. If you want to talk with someone about the issue, whether for advice or simply to share your frustration, it’s easy to find other parents who are ready to be part of that conversation.
- Second, there are a lot of resources available to help find good quality games and shows and to kick start meaningful conversations with your kids about their technology use.
- Third, setting well defined boundaries is currently easier than ever. Whether it’s based only on a spoken agreement or involves the use of technologically enforced boundaries too, there are a some well tried tools that can help you make the rules stick.
Parental control apps like Kidslox can give you the help you need to make your household rules about ipad or smartphone use into a reality. But there’s another option we’ve not discussed too.
Let’s try to provide our kids with top quality down time that doesn’t include screens at all! If it sounds both simple and difficult at the same time, then you’re hearing me right. We can encourage options that our kids choose over and above screens. But it requires creativity, preparation and active modelling of the sort of habits we want them to acquire. Do they really have nothing else they’d rather do for a quarter of their day, every day? Let’s find and nurture those impulses towards non-screen-based pastimes, to bring up a generation who are tech savvy, but able to put their devices down too.