The Latest Screen Time Studies Might Change Your Parenting Choices

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Kid on a tablet

Video Transcript

Marianne: Good morning. In this age of technology kids and teens, 8 to 18 spend an average of more than seven hours a day looking at screens.

Ken: And believe it or not some studies say you should join in. Cody’s learning more with our resident Nerd on Call.

Ryan: Seven hours?

Cody: Seven hours.

Ryan: Wait. Is a good day on for like seven hours?

Cody: No, it’s not easy.

Ryan: Isn’t that what the kids are watching these days, right?

Cody: Exactly.

Ryan: “Mom, I can’t go to school. Cody is on right now.” Okay, so let’s talk about screen time.

Cody: There’s no one. Yes.

Ryan: I’m gonna drop some knowledge on here so you want to get out your pen and paper and get this written down. So check this out. So everybody has heard of the American Academy of Pediatrics, right? I mean you’ve heard of them, right?

Cody: Yeah.

Ryan: Well, in 2016 they came out with a study that said that kids that are under or basically between two and five years old…they should only get about an hour of screen time a day. No more than that. I know, an hour, that’s six hours less than they’re getting. And if kids are between six and older they should get really hard set limits, right, that are consistent.

But then Oxford University, you know those limey guys over there on the other side of the pond…they came out and they said, “Actually, screen time isn’t that big of a deal.” In fact, they said that if you’re using screen how parents set rules about digital screen time is more important than how much time they’re getting.

Cody: Oh, I see what they’re saying.

Ryan: Does that make sense?

Cody: Okay. Okay.

Ryan: So it turns out that using your TV as a babysitter…we’re not the best idea. And you wouldn’t. Instead what you want to do is play games with your kids, you know, maybe check out their YouTube channel with them which, gosh, I just love watching, unboxing videos with my son, it’s so…

Cody: So much fun.

Ryan: The drama, it’s so good.

Cody: Yeah. So watching somebody else play video games…it’s exciting, yeah.

Ryan: But Penn State University came out with a study back in December 2017 where they interviewed 234 parents. And it turns out that there’s a link between how well kids sleep and the quality of the sleep they get if they play video games or use devices just before bedtime.

Go figure. There’s also a link to obesity, you know. If your kids are playing games or some [inaudible 00:02:11] before they go to bed sometimes, you know, their body mass index gets a little bit high.

So they’re suggesting you make it a tech-free zone like their rooms a tech-free zone rather than putting all their stuff. Create a charging station somewhere central in the house where everybody puts their devices so that way they can’t have their devices before bed.

Then the University of Michigan…they came out with a study that looked at 4 to 11-year-olds. And it turns out that how children use their devices not how much time they spend on their devices is more indicative of their emotional…like health using the devices and their behavior. So the warning signs for addiction to screens is if you take it away and they start freaking out they might have a problem. Or if they are only motivated by a screen time or if the screen time is something they’re always thinking about, “Oh, how can I get more, how can I get more?” maybe that’s an indication of them being addicted.

So instead, you know, or if it’s taking the place of family activities like instead of participating in a family activity they’ll sit on the couch playing their games or if they’re sneaking it they may be addicted to their screen time. So if they are showing these signs you would just want to restrict their access more.

And then, of course, the Institute of Family Studies, we’ve all heard of them, they came out and said, “It turns out it’s more about the parents’ usage of devices rather than the kids’.” So for example, if you’re, you know, scrolling through Facebook at dinner time the kids are picking up on that behavior and it can create…or if you’re, for example, I think it was in the segment pioneer, we’re talking about brushing teeth and if the kids are playing around brushing teeth, anyway, so if it comes down, if they’re showing signs of hyperactivity or behavioral problems it could be because of the parents’ usage of the devices. Also there’s a link to depression and anxiety.

So you want to set certain rules for your kids about uses of devices and apply them also to the parents as well. Does that make sense?

Cody: All right, yeah, that makes sense. Yeah, they see you doing it then they think, “Oh, if it’s fine for him, it’s also good for me.”

Ryan: Yeah. And if they see you doing it they’re gonna be like, “Oh, that must be cool. Dad is doing it.”

Cody: [inaudible 00:04:23], dinner time? All right, back to you.

Ken: Not a word. I appreciate that.

How much screen time we give our kids has become a hotly contested topic in recent years. In this article, we’ll walk you through some new studies which give some interesting insights into the impact of screen time on kids’ development. We’ll also look at what the research has to say about how parental behavior with devices is affecting the family.

You may have heard the recent findings about screen time

A good place to begin is to look at the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP). They recently gave a series of recommendations regarding how much screen time children should be given.

Kid on a tablet

The AAP recommended that parents should set up a family media plan which takes into account the “health, education and entertainment needs” of each child and of the whole family.

Generally, the advice was that children aged 2 to 5 should be limited to 1 hour per day and that consistent time limits should be set for children aged 6 and over.

The AAP’s article goes into much more detail and it’s well worth a read.

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Shared-screen time is actually beneficial

While the AAP’s findings are instructive, there are a number of studies we’d recommend you look at and think about when making decisions about what’s best for your family.

child and parent on a computer

For example, a recent University of Oxford study found that children’s screen-time guidelines are too restrictive and need to be approached in a more nuanced fashion.

In the study, 20,000 parents of 2 to 5-year-olds were interviewed in relation to their kid’s screen usage and its impact on their happiness and behavior. Here’s one of the study’s key findings:

“…our findings suggest the broader family context, how parents set rules about digital screen time, and if they’re actively engaged in exploring the digital world together, are more important than the raw screen time.”

In other words, focusing on a quality, shared experience is far more important than hard and fast rules setting time limits and that shared screen time was shown to contribute positively to kids’ happiness and well-being.

So what does this mean for us as parents?

It just reinforces that screen time shouldn’t be used as a babysitter.

Video games aren’t the problem, so long as we play them with our kids. YouTube isn’t a problem either, so long as we’re sitting down with our kids and sharing the experience.

Ditch Devices at Bedtime

Recent research at the Penn State College of Medicine focused on the impact of kids using devices close to bedtime.

Devices at bedtime

Interviews were carried out with 234 parents of 8 to 17-year-olds. It was found that the use of devices near bedtime greatly reduced both the quality and quantity of sleep that kids were getting.

Notably, there was also a statistically significant correlation between bedtime technology use and elevated body mass index.

The research is saying loud and clear that devices shouldn’t be in our kids’ bedrooms at night.

A great way to deal with this as a family is to set up a power station in a common area, making sure all devices remain parked there for the night.

Screen Addiction is more about behavior than screen time

Another useful study to be aware of was carried out by researchers at the University of Michigan Center for Human Growth and Development and relates to screen addiction.

Screen addiction

The research looked at screen media addiction among children 4 to 11 years of age.

Here’s a key finding from the study:

“…how children use the devices, not how much time they spend on them, is the strongest predictor of emotional or social problems connected with screen addiction.”

Again, we’re seeing the finding that hard and fast rules about screen time aren’t the critical factor to be thinking about here. In fact, this way of looking at the problem only serves to cloud the issue.

The big problem isn’t to do with how much time our kids are spending in front of a screen, but what they’re doing.

The simple fact of the matter is, just like adults, some kids are more addictive than others—and some kids will be able to moderate their screen time better than others.

These are the signs of addiction you should watch for:

  • If it’s hard for a child to stop using screen media
  • If screen media is the only thing to motivate your child or all they seem to think about
  • If your child’s screen time interferes with family activities
  • If your child sneaks using screen media

If you see these warning signs, it’s important to take them seriously.

The Center for Internet Addiction Recovery website is a useful starting point if you need more information about device addiction.

Your device time is as detrimental as theirs

Then there’s what may be the hardest pill to swallow! Your device time may be as detrimental to the family as the time your kids spend with devices.

The Institute for Family Studies interviewed 170 US couples with young children, with a focus on one simple but confronting question: how often does technology interfere with our parenting interactions?

Here are some examples of “technoference” (or technological interference):

  • When a parent is scanning Facebook while the kids are getting ready for bed
  • When a parent is looking at their phone and responds harshly when interrupted by their kids

The study suggested that this happens frequently—and that when it occurs kids are more likely to act out, exhibit hyperactive or disruptive behavior and generally show signs of anxiety and depression.

The challenge for parents is to develop strategies to remain present with our kids and to be mindful about putting our phones down when our kids need us.

A good way to do this is to establish technology-free times of day, working together with your spouse to prioritize active engagement with your kids over engagement with a device.

family time

Keeping your family life strong while managing all of life’s technological distractions can be daunting.

The studies we’ve looked at in this article suggest that a far better strategy for keeping family life on an even keel is to steer clear of hard and fast rules about screen time limits, focusing instead on being mindful about how every person in the family is using technology.

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