Those are my two goals with this post. I hope between my challenge and your reflection, these thoughts and insights can lead to productive change for you and your kids!
Let’s start with some facts about screen time for kids, to understand why it’s become a topic of conversation:
In 2019, NPR reported that the average age a kid gets a smartphone is 11.¹
In 2015, a Washington Post report showed that teens spend almost nine hours a day in front of a screen. “Tweens”, kids age 8-12, spend about six hours a day in front of a screen.²
Newsweek reports that those numbers are about the same in a 2019 study.³
All three of these reported studies were conducted by Common Sense Media. They have been studying kids and media usage since 2003.
Obesity among kids ages 2-19 has gone from 5.2% (1971-1974) to 19.3% (2017-2018)⁴
You might be thinking, “Okay. Thanks for sharing, but I’m not surprised by those numbers. Times have changed, and we live in a technology-rich world. Like it or not, it is a huge part of our culture.” And I cannot argue with that, but we have a chance to reverse the damage this is doing to our kids’ mental and physical health.
If you were born in the ’80s or earlier, you lived a totally different life than your children are living now (a thought we’re reminded of daily). When we were kids, we were outside constantly… playing in the rain, building snow forts and having snowball fights, making up games, riding our bikes, and so many other things that were all OUTSIDE! We were healthy people because our bodies and our minds were active. We were created to move, work and play, and that’s what we did!
I know this is a very real and sensitive issue for many people. Our children’s mental health is on a huge downward spiral, and that’s not just my opinion - it’s reflected in the data. Social media is playing a big part in this decline. Dr. John Medina sights a 2017 study when he stated, “... the overexposure to two platforms, Instagram and Snapchat, powerfully (and negatively) influence a teen’s mental health.”⁵
If your child spends the majority of their time in front of a screen, I’d like to challenge you to change it up a bit. Set very strict boundaries for one week, limiting their time at home in front of their screen to 30 minutes (not counting schoolwork). In place of their phone, have some fun things planned for them...play a board game, go for a bike ride, cook dinner (and clean up) together, go to a live show or sporting event. It may be hard the first part of the week. But, as the week goes on, you will notice a positive change in your child, and you’ll be glad you did it!
There is mounting research to support these changes in our family dynamics, and your kids will benefit in the long run, both cognitively and physically.
Most kids today know how to communicate using technology. Their ability to communicate with others in person is becoming increasingly difficult and awkward. The next time you are out to eat, look around. It never fails where there will be a family sitting around waiting on their food, and everyone at that table is looking down at their phones. If it’s your family - take a moment to pause and consider a device-less meal. Spend time talking with your kids, and listen to what they are saying. Talk about your day and how you handled situations that came up… they will learn from that, and so will you!
Challenge yourself. Reflect. Enjoy the journey.