Turn Off The Screen


A few ideas to help your child get off the tech, get outside and join the human race if your kids are with you while you’re reading this, take a look at them. I bet you a dollar they are looking at a screen. Go ahead, see what they’re up to … I’ll wait. Did I just become a dollar richer?

The bet is a little rigged, I’ll admit – I’m just playing the numbers. A 2010 study done by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that children aged zero to eight spend an average of four hours a day engaged with electronic media. That same study found that 8-to-18-year-olds log an average of 7.5 hours a day with media – a typical workday for adults. If you consider media multi-tasking (consuming two types of electronic media at one time), the daily exposure to the screen rises to an astronomical ten hours per day! (Common Sense Census, 2015) Another study found that most kids spend an average of 40 hours per week engaged in television, movies and video game-play (Roberts, Foehr, Rideout, & Brodie, 1999). To put it into perspective, if you take all of the time that you spend at your full-time job and imagine spending that time staring at a screen, you’ve just realized a week in the life of an average child. Does this alarm you? Should it? Yes and no.

It’s important to state that the world is full of digital screens – they are everywhere. The numbers mentioned above include all forms of media regardless of use – streaming radio, TV, internet, video games and of course, cell phones. A child may be watching educational programming on television or learning from an app on a tablet. A teen may be streaming music through earbuds while they’re mowing the lawn or washing the dishes. Children could be taking in a movie on family movie night. It’s not all negative; however, too much screen-time has its downside.

A study conducted by researchers at Iowa State University found that higher levels of screen-time are associated with less sleep, more attention problems, lower academic performance and increased risk of obesity (Gentile, Reimer, Nathanson, Walsh, & Eisenmann, 2014). In 2010, Pagani, Fitzpatrick, Barnett and Dubow from the University of Montreal, found that higher screen exposure corresponded with an increase in the choice of soft drinks and unhealthy snacks, also leading to a higher risk of obesity. Psychologist Dr. Marie Hartwell-Walker, in an article written for PsychCentral, posits a few potential mental pratfalls of excessive screen-time. She states that children in the future may have trouble interacting with people face-to-face, may have problems managing their emotions in social environments, and with reduced attention spans, kids may lack the patience to continue to try when they are initially unsuccessful (Hartwell-Walker, 2016).

Help guide your child to quality media, and an appropriate amount
of it, to help them become a physically and mentally healthy adult.

All of the downsides mentioned can be avoided with active parental monitoring of media interaction. The Iowa State study mentioned earlier found that negative effects of excessive childhood screen-time can be reversed by limiting exposure. In other words, they found that lowering screen-time was associated with improved sleep, a lower risk of obesity, better behavior and better school achievement. This makes a lot of sense of you give it a thought. Less screen-time equals a more active and socially-engaged lifestyle. Being more active lends to a healthier future. So, how do we start monitoring and reducing screen-time for the kids?

parental monitoring can come in two forms: active mediation (talking to your child both about the media they are consuming and the reasons for restriction) and restrictive monitoring (restricting the amount of screen-time your child consumes). Both forms are beneficial to the growth of your child and should be combined for the best effect. It is most important to monitor screen-time during middle-childhood when your kids are beginning to make their own decisions (Gentile et al, 2014).

Even the titans of technology (the ones who bring us the media devices) limit the amount of time their child spends on the screen. Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs both monitored their kids’ media consumption by banning devices at family dinner time, setting a curfew for them to be off devices well before bedtime, strictly limiting screen-time during the school week, and banning devices in the child’s room (Stillman, 2017).

The best way to start, as with most things, is to talk about it (active mediation). Speak to your child about the amount of time they spend missing the world around them. Give them the reasons why you will begin monitoring their usage. It’s important here to note that you do not want to take screen-time away completely. Stress quality over quantity. Their world will have screens; focus on teaching your child control of their world.

Here is a list of ways to help you monitor your child’s electronic media consumption:

  • Be a role model, not a hypocrite. If you are limiting your child’s media time, make sure to limit your own. You will be surprised how much you’ll get done.
  • Teach priorities. Stress how important school work or chores are over media use. Allow them to view media only when the more “important” duties are complete.
  • Ban devices at family time (yours included). Speak to your kids – talk about the day and plans for the future. If family time includes a weekly movie, ban use of additional devices such as phones during that time.
  • Set limits on screen-time during the school week. If they are using a computer for homework, set up a place in a shared living area for them to work.
  • Get outside with your kids. Make a snowman, run through a sprinkler, play a game. Get them and yourself moving. Be active!
  • Set a curfew (or have them turn in devices) well before bedtime and make sure to ban devices from their bedrooms. Give them a chance to be alone with their thoughts and a place to be free of intrusions.
  • Be strict, but open to compromise. Reward good behavior with more screen-time and negotiate with your child if they are excited about a program they want to watch or a game they want to play with their friends.

Work through the list and give it some time. The first couple of weeks might be rough, but it will be worth it for your child (and for you) in the long run. Screens and media are unavoidable. Your child will continue to view media in a myriad of different ways. Don’t panic – it’s not necessarily a bad thing. Media provides an amazing amount of information, learning and connectivity. Help guide your child to quality media, and an appropriate amount of it, to help them become a physically and mentally healthy adult.

Common Sense Census. (2015). Media use by tweens and teens. Common Sense Media Inc.
Gentile, D. A., Reimer, R. A., Nathanson, A. I., Walsh, D. A., & Eisenmann, J. C. (2014). Protective effects of parental monitoring of children’s media use: A prospective study. JAMA Pediatrics, 168(5), 479-484.
Hartwell-Walker, M. (2016). Get the kids off those screens. Psychcentral.com. Retrieved from https://psychcentral.com/lib/get-the-kids-off-those-screens/.
Kaiser Family Foundation. (2010). Generation M2: Media in the lives of 8-to 18-year-olds. Menlo Park, CA: Kaiser Family Foundation.
Pagani, L. S., Fitzpatrick, C., Barnett, T. A., & Dubow, E. (2010). Prospective associations between early childhood television exposure and academic, psychosocial, and physical well-being by middle childhood. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med, 164(5), 425-431.
Roberts, D. F., Foehr, U. G., Rideout, V. J., & Brodie, M. B. (1999). Kids & the media at the new millennium. Menlo Park, CA: Kaiser Family Foundation.
Stillman, J. (2017). Why Steve Jobs and Bill Gates both severely limited their kids’ tech use. Inc.com. Retrieved from https://www.inc.com/jessica-stillman/why-steve-jobs-bill-gates-both-severely-limited-their-kids-tech-use.html.


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