Technology has exploded over the last twenty years. From smartphones to tablets to watches that record and analyze our every move, digital devices are the norm. But what cost do children pay to accommodate those devices? Recently, researchers have shown that the benefits of screens as a learning tool are exaggerated, while the risks are high for addiction and delayed development from use of the devices.
Kristen Stecher, a former computer analyst, decided that her daughters would have limited access to technology. “No screen time is almost easier than a little,” she admits.
Technology’s addictive power
In 2013, former Google employees Tristan Harris and James Williams founded Time Well Spent, a project dedicated to raising awareness of deliberate corporate objectives to make technology more addictive. Because companies that develop technology are constantly pushed to outpace the competition, they use increasingly persuasive techniques to keep us glued to our screens. The Time Well Spent project encourages technology companies to mindfully examine policies and business models, urging healthier standards.
It’s estimated that two billion people own digital devices— and that the average digital device owner checks the device an average of 150 times a day. Technology companies are well aware of this and manipulate users with ever-invasive and personalized methods. Children’s developing brains can quickly become addicted to scrolling, swiping, or the stimulating effects of rapidly changing images. In addition, according to the American Heart Association, overuse of technology is linked to sedentary behavior in children, which ultimately leads to other healh issues.
Last June, Apple built new tools for iOS devices to help customers evaluative and take control of their screen time. The new features include Activity Reports, App Limits, and upgraded Do Not Disturb controls which reduce interruptions and manage screen time.
“In iOS 12, we’re offering our users detailed information and tools to help them better understand and control the time they spend with apps and websites, how often they pick up their iPhone or iPad during the day and how they receive notifications,” explained Craig Federighi, Apple’s Senior Vice President of Software Engineering.
Parents can access their child’s activity report directly from their own iOS devices to manage and set app limits, scheduling Downtimes, when iOS devices cannot be used. Parents can also allow specific apps to be always available, such as Phone or Books.
Benefits of healthy boundaries
Maryam Sediqe has four children ages 13, 11, and 5-year-old twins and varies restrictions with screen time. Establishing a routine is key to setting healthy boundaries with technology. “There are exceptions at times,” Sediqe says. “But for the most part, we stay consistent. When tech time is limited, the kids seem happier and more joyful playing with toys or hanging out with family and friends.”
Becky Rydman, mother of two children ages 6 and 8 agrees. “The kids don’t seem to be as obsessed with technology when they are limited. It helps to provide non-tech options so they have alternative activities to choose from.”
Screen time in the classroom
One local mother of three teenagers uses Qustodio to manage her sons’ screen time on all of their devices. “My husband and I set parameters and time limits from the get-go,” she says. “Just like everything else, (reasonable limits) have to be learned.”
Still, she believes that the school system her children attend allows too much screen time. “In fourth grade they were allowed to do everything in Chromebook. I think it made the classroom chaotic and more challenging because the students would listen to inappropriate music and watch videos. The distraction was too much in my opinion.”
Christy Weiss, a teacher with Washington Local Schools, has worked with kindergarten and first grade students for thirty years. As an educator during the rising use of technology, Mrs. Weiss knows firsthand the importance of setting limits. “My students have individual computer time for 30 minutes a day,” she says. “But we are using the SmartBoard as a projection tool on my desktop computer all day.”
Along with other first grade teachers, Mrs. Weiss manages screen time. “I don’t feel we are tech heavy at our level,” she says. “And the district provides information in monthly newsletters to guide parents when making decisions about technology.”
The American Academy of Pediatrics suggests no screen time for infants 18-months and younger, while children ages 2-5 should have only one hour per day and children ages 6 and up have limits depending on the individual child. Above all, the AAP emphasizes that parents and caretakers are a child’s main role models, so it’s crucial they are conscious of their own screen use.
Mrs. Weiss emphasizes that parents are their child’s best teacher when it comes to screen time. “Avoid using it as a babysitter or time filler,” she suggests. “Always monitor what your child does and don’t let screen time replace good old-fashioned play.”
Tips for Setting Screen Time Limits
- Model healthy electronic use. Keeping the TV on for background noise all the time or scrolling through your phone any time you have a spare minute teaches your child bad habits.
- Create “Technology Free” zones where cell phones, computers, and tablets are not allowed. The kitchen, dining room, or your child’s bedroom are great places to go tech-free.
- Talk to your kids about the dangers of too much screen time. Explain how violent video games, movies, and online predators can be harmful to kids. Discuss how you can work together as a family to reduce potential risks.
- Make screen time a privilege. Once you’ve set a limit on how much screen time is allowed, don’t allow kids to earn extra time as a reward.
- Encourage other activities. Kids easily grow dependent on technology for entertainment. Encourage your children to become involved in activities that don’t involve screens. Get your child to play outside, read a book, or play a game.