Screen time

Screen time

A parent reached out to me a few weeks ago with a common concern: too much screen time. A lot of children got into the habit of being in front of screens more during the pandemic, and some of those habits have continued. My first questions were about grades and social life. This student was getting straight As, and while socially he was not what most extroverts would consider a social butterfly, he does have friends and sees them regularly.

Too much screen time is a common concern among parents who were diligent about limiting screen time when their kiddos were little. Although, I dare someone to judge my use of Baby Einstein videos to take showers when mine were toddlers 20mos apart. I cherished those 30 precious minutes of time to myself.

Those toddlers are now teenagers whose parents no longer have the same amount of control over screen time. And, those same teenagers’ main social connections are with those screens. I remember a friend saying her child was isolated from social events in middle school because she didn’t have a way to know about what was happening. Friendships of all types are formed online a lot of time with this generation of children. This is especially true with introverts who feel more comfortable meeting and engaging with others online.

So, when is screen time a problem that should be addressed? Here are some things to consider/ask:

  1. Your child may or may not socialize the way you do. Just because we did not meet friends online, doesn’t mean this is a bad way to engage with others.
  2. Does your child have other interests that do not involve screens?
  3. Are they doing well in school?
  4. Do they seem happy (okay, that can be a loaded question for teenagers)?

I am not a proponent of taking away all forms of screens. Why? Because, let’s be honest, our kiddos know more about technology than most of us. They will find a way to access it, and I also remember being a teenager and being told I was in no way doing something… that made me want that thing even more!

I am a proponent of talking about screens. My oldest needed breaks every once and a while. I usually framed the conversation with observations of his red eyes and grumpy behavior in the morning. Eventually he learned to identify in himself when he spent too much time in his room on screens and asked for a parent to make him go outside and regroup.

The bottom line: We are parenting a generation of children who have access to things that did not even exist when we were children. Give yourself some grace, admit you don’t always have all of the answers, but will always be available to listen and talk.

2 thoughts on “Screen time

  1. My 15 year old frequently sends me Shorts from YouTube and Reels from Instagram. 10-20 seconds worth of nonsense that I originally would dismiss as just too silly to give my attention. But then I took a different approach.

    I realized that she was sending these at very specific times during the day. Times when she was likely decompressing. So I created a couple of group threads including other trusted adults in her life and a few of her friends… a thread where we could all share these silly things. She loves this!

    I also like reminding her how temporary these virtual clips and moments are in her life. How forgettable they are. Sometimes during a talk, I’ll ask her something like: “what was that one Reel you sent about the dog?” She usually doesn’t recall. And then I’ll insert: “tell me more about your favorite moments with friends this week” or “remember so-and-such time we did that cool thing?” She talks in great detail about the in real life moments! I love that!

  2. My 15 year old daughter started sharing a lot of Shorts from YouTube and Reels from Instagram with me in the past year. The contents are 10-30 second clips that are usually quite silly and irreverent. When she started sending these to me, I would dismiss them as just too silly for me to give any attention and cautioned her about engaging in things that don’t matter all that much in real life. But then I started to notice a pattern of when my daughter was sending the clips… usually during moments in her real life day when she was likely decompressing.

    A few months ago, I created a few text/message threads including my daughter, myself, a couple of trusted adults in her life, and a few of her friends where we could all share these Shorts and Reels. We stay connected this way and find some commonalities in giggling at the same silly content. But occasionally, when my daughter and I in conversation, I will casually inquire: what was that dog doing in that one Reel the other day or remember that one Short with that guy? She rarely remembers these very temporary clips. And I always ask questions like: what was the best part about your day out with friends this weekend or remember that awesome thing we did on our vacation? And she always had lots to say about these memories.

    Supporting the ways she chooses to decompress and connect in a more thoughtful way has been key to keeping communication open and picking up any signals when things are “off” with her.

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