Are Your Tweens and Teens Spending too Much Time Staring at Their Phones? 

Try turning your kids on to new stuff to balance out their screen time.

Do you nag your kids to stop staring at their devices? If your answer is "yes," then congratulations! You're just like all the other parents of tweens and teens.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends no more than two hours a day of screen time for children and adolescents. But that recommendation came in 2010.

Now it's 2015, and our kids are doing their homework online, watching YouTube and Netflix, and creating images and videos for Instagram and Vine. So parents are left to wonder: Is two hours a day a reasonable expectation?

It's hard to dispute the authority of the AAP. But many large institutions aren't exactly nimble when it comes to technology. The tech landscape has changed rapidly in five years; but the AAP has been busy with numerous challenges — including those involving vaccinations — and tech has presumably taken a backseat.

So for answers I turned to Common Sense Media, a San Francisco-based nonprofit that studies kids' use of technology. The organization states that the average child in the United States spends more than fifty hours a week looking at a screen. The organization also contends that content and quality of screen time matters more than quantity.

So, no more nagging? Umm. Not exactly.

The most effective way to manage your kids' tech use is not to set a time limit, but to engage and assess the quality of the sites they're visiting, the accounts they're creating, the shows they're watching, and the music to which they're listening.

I know. It's a lot of work. But why not think of it as an exploration of pop culture? For instance, I recently heard some great music coming from my daughter's earbuds, so I asked what it was. She showed me 8Tracks.com, a website in which people — and kids — create their own playlists with their own themes, including some that are companions to books. Who knew?

In addition to spending time figuring out what our tweens and teens are doing on their screens, it's our job to help balance their other activities. Try turning your kids on to new stuff — including activities that you enjoy — to balance out what they do with their peers. It can be fun to listen together to your music and share favorite books. They may groan, but it's a better solution than simply setting a hard limit on screen time.

Here's my last bit of advice about tweens, teens, and tech: If you want your kids to listen when you talk to them, be sure to stop what you're doing and listen when they talk to you. A recent study published in the journal Pediatrics found that parents and caregivers who were "highly absorbed" in their own devices responded harshly to their children's requests for attention.

It's sad, but true. Remember: Adolescents, just like the little ones, deserve your full attention when you're together.

Deb Levine is an Oakland resident and an expert on parenting tweens and teens. She's also a health commissioner at the California State PTA and was on the Curriculum Review Task Force for Oakland public schools. If you have a question for her or one of our other parenting columnists, email Express editor Robert Gammon at Robert.Gammon@EastBayExpress.com. Levine's columns will appear in Kid You Not once a month.

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