INTERVIEW: How to manage kids' screen time in an age of technology

Published: Jun. 11, 2020 at 9:40 AM MDT
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A study published in the Journal Pediatrics found that parents are unaware of how much screen time kids are getting, which could mean parents are also unaware of what type of content they're viewing.

The researchers followed 350 3 and 4-year-olds for nine months. They found that 2/3 of parents in the study didn’t realize how much their kids were on the phone. They also discovered the young kids were using apps intended for teens and adults.

Monitoring screen time is especially difficult right now because so many people are working from home, and social distancing after work, too… so 11 News Anchor Rebekah Hoeger ttalked to Clinical Psychologist Jessica Hawks with Children’s Hospital Colorado about how screen time affects kids and ways to get a handle on it.

This is shortened text from the interview.

Rebekah: How does screen time affect children?

Dr. Hawks: "There’s research that has shown excess screen time can negatively impact a lot of different developmental skills for kids, so for example, we know that if kids are exposed to extensive amounts of screen time that it can reduce the speed at which they develop language. It can also negatively impact their literacy skills, as well as reduce their attention span their ability to think critically or creatively.

And for more of like a physical development perspective, kids that are engaging in excess of screen time can also be at increased risk of obesity. They can have difficulties with sleep... And then when we think more about psycho-social concerns... they are at risk of engaging in problematic Internet use so for example they might become addicted to gaming or become less interested in spending time in relationships.

Rebekah: Can screen time also be a good thing?

Dr. Hawks: Totally, especially right now when we think of the context of COVID it has been a really critical tool that we’ve all needed and able to stay socially connected.

...And the use of screen time isn’t inherently bad. I mean, we think about the way our society works, we all are on screens all the time so it’s actually important for kids to have some exposure to screens because it’s a skill set they’re going to need to have their whole life to be successful. So it’s much better for us to be able to expose our kids to those things when we are present and help them learn how to navigate them in a healthy way.

...Or technology can just be used as a reinforcer in general, so if I have a child who doesn’t like to do homework, for example, I can use an "if-then strategy." If you do your homework, then you can have access to screens.

Rebekah: How do parents manage screen time in their home, especially now that kids are home from school, parents might be working, kids might not be going to day care - there are a lot of different factors that are kind of unique this summer.

Dr. Hawks: One of the most important things families can do proactively is to sit down as a family and make what’s called a family media use plan, which is essentially just a contract that defines what is appropriate use of technology in our home. Because every family is going to have different values and different beliefs about how much technology and what type of technology is appropriate. But you want the whole family to be engaged in that process so that everybody knows. We also want to do things like keep technology in public parts of the home... Parents are going to be much more able to supervise and make sure that the kids are not engaging in activities on the Internet that would be inappropriate or getting on apps or websites that are not age-appropriate

Within the context of COVID, I think one of the things I’ve heard a lot of parents say and worry about is that they’re giving their kids too much exposure to screens and I think that’s a really difficult balancing act right now... One of the things that can be really helpful is to just think more creatively and proactively ahead of time and identify other kinds of activities that your kids can engage in that are also enjoyable. It gives kids kind of like a menu of things they can do.

And then as a parent we also have to think about how our own behavior is modeling good or bad use of technology, because I know certainly for me there are times when I’m around my kids and I might be likely to jump on my cell phone and kind of be scrolling through the news or different things like that. And really what that communicates to my children is that I am not interested in engaging in high quality time with them, so I need to be mindful and parents need to be mindful of how much screen time they’re using in front of their

Rebekah: Anything else parents should know?

Dr. Hawks: The general recommendation that comes from the American Academy of Pediatrics is that kids under 24 months shouldn’t really have access to screens at all unless they’re engaging in video chatting with family members, and that’s kind of more of a brief thing. Screen time is really not helpful for the developing brain

From age 2 to 5 the recommendation is to have no more than one hour of high-quality programming, and then for kids 5 and up we don’t want kids to have more than about two hours of high-quality technology programming.

The average kid engages in about 7+ hours of screen time so to think about that discrepancy between what the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends.