How much screen time is too much? Here’s what parents need to know.
In today’s world of electronic conveniences, it’s hard for parents to know how much is too much time spent on the phone or computer.
We asked Derek, a 14-year-old JCPS high school student, to log his time spent on the phone in an average day so we could get an idea of what it’s like to be a teen in the digital age.
Here’s what we learned:
6 a.m. Woke up for school and checked my phone to see what happened the night before. David was blading and broke his leg. He sent me photos of before and after they cast it. It is gross but cool too.
I am late and have to get ready. I turn on my music.
6:40 a.m. On the bus with my sister. We both have one ear bud in listening to tunes. Mom says never have both ears covered; need to know what is going on around me.
7:05 a.m. Headed to the cafeteria. Chillin’ with friends. Music on with my ear buds hanging over my ears. Check for texts before class — the usual convos — no need to reply.
7:35 a.m. First class is AP Geography. I use my phone to take a picture of a map I need to study. The teacher doesn’t allow ear buds in class and neither do my parents, or else I’d still be listening to music.
9:10 a.m. Food and Nutrition — looking up calories for McDonald’s menu. Hoping we get to start cooking soon.
10:45 a.m. Spanish – I hate Spanish. No phone use at all.
11:20 a.m. Lunch. I’m hungry. No time for phones. I would rather talk to my friends.
11:40 a.m. Back to Spanish. That stinks.
12:45 p.m. Science. Finished the test early so I’m allowed to listen to music. Teacher calls it “your business.” He’s cool. Listened to Spotify Premium.
2:20 p.m. Headed to the bus and checking texts. John is texting about dumb school stuff. David sent me videos of NBA 2K16 highlights.
3 p.m. Back home. Eat and check Instagram. “Like” all the posts. It is important to “like” them even when I don’t really look at them. It’s just what you do. Watch TV while checking Instagram.
4 p.m. Headed to my bedroom to start homework. House rule is the phone has to stay in the kitchen. This is a new rule because the text buzzing distracts me too much.
6 p.m. Took a break to heat leftovers for dinner. Nobody’s home, so I eat in front of the TV and scroll through Instagram. Checked out videos of basketball and football highlights.
7:30 p.m. Homework done. Mom’s home and reminds me about my current events project. I jump on computer to do some Googling and work on the project.
9 p.m. Facetiming my girlfriend.
9:40 p.m. Mom checks in to tell me it’s almost time to get off the phone.
I text a couple of friends until lights out at 10 p.m. My parents allow me to have my phone by my bed, but I don’t check it late, otherwise I lose that privilege.
According to Jenita Lyons, child advocate with the Children’s Hospital Foundation Office of Child Advocacy, Derek probably is spending too much time on his phone — but not as much as the average American teen.
“The average teen spends nine hours using media, including listening to music, and 6.5 hours looking at screens per day,” Lyons said. “During that time they potentially are exposed to influential and sometimes negative advertising and social media messaging, they are not being physically active and are not being ‘present.’”
Derek’s parents have done a good job setting ground rules, and that really is key to a teen forming a healthy screen time habit.
“Parents need to set boundaries and stick to them,” Lyons said. “They must also remember they are role models — therefore, parents may have to set boundaries for themselves if they expect their kids to follow them.”
Signs technology might be taking over
- Your child loses track of time spent on a phone or computer.
- He or she turns down or misses parties or social events.
- Your child eats meals in front of computer or device.
- Your child texts after going to bed and stays awake waiting for responses.
- He or she wakes up tired.
- He or she gets irritable if they are not able to check their phone.
- Your child is emotionally invested in how many likes, shares and comments he or she gets on social media.
“A reasonable time limit for screen use is two hours per day,” Lyons said. “Keep logs, reward success at following the limits and be sure to schedule in lots of family activities: Reconnect with nature, walk together, do a puzzle or play a board game, dance!”
What parents can do
- Set limits. It’s OK for your teen to be online. Social media can support identity formation, but know what your teen is doing online and talk about appropriate behavior.
- Create “tech-free” zones. These should always include family mealtimes and your child’s bedroom overnight.
- Become tech savvy. Check where your child is spending time on the computer and what mobile apps he or she is using.
- Be prepared for emotions. Your teen likely will respond emotionally to new rules. Avoid responding emotionally yourself. Acknowledge your child’s feelings but stick to the reasons for the rules: to ensure success at school, quality sleep, involvement in activities, etc.
Your child’s social media interactions can be important teachable moments. Young people often become emotionally distraught over the number of likes or comments they receive online. When this happens, don’t undermine their emotions, rather help them express why they are feeling this way. Learning to recognize our feelings helps us develop effective responses and become more in control of our emotions.
Children’s health specialists reportedly will be tweaking that two-hour daily screen time recommendation sometime soon. The bottom line is to use common sense: If your teen is keeping good grades, making time for family and friends and staying active, then more screen time isn’t going to hurt — as long as it’s in moderation.
Recommended reading for parents
“Wired Child: Reclaiming Childhood in a Digital Age” by Richard Freed
“Growing Up Social: Raising Relational Kids in a Screen-Driven World” by Gary D. Chapman
“Screens and Teens: Connecting With Our Kids in a Wireless World” by Kathy Koch