November 1, 2022

Screen Time: The Stealthy Destroyer

Depression, obesity, an unhealthy diet, and decreased physical abilities are just some of the awful things that await our kids when we fail to restrict their screen time.

Perhaps it’s a sign this writer belongs to the “Get off my lawn!” generation, but the results of a recent survey of children in grades 5-12 about “Teens and Tech” was almost as sad as it was shocking.

“The tweens and teens in our sample reported using digital media (social media, gaming, online shopping, video chat, and texting) a total of approximately 10 hours and 4 minutes a day, on average,” according to the Institute for Family Studies. “Although some of this time may include multitasking (doing two or more of these activities at the same time), this is still a staggering amount of time considering the time children spend sleeping, eating, going to school, watching TV (which was not included as digital media), and participating in extracurricular activities.”

We don’t recall them adding any extra hours to the day, so the question has to be: What are these teenagers not doing now that they did prior to the availability of smartphones? And if only an hour of screen time contributes to depression, obesity, an unhealthy diet, and decreased physical abilities, as well as eyestrain, then Lord knows how eight to 10 hours a day affects these children.

Naturally, it doesn’t take too long to find any number of “experts” who say that the amount of screen time taken by kids from toddler to teenager is excessive. “Screen time usually takes [children] away from crucial activities for brain development,” says family therapist Dr. Kalanit Ben-Ari. “For example, being bored is very beneficial. Boredom means time to reflect, integrate, and come up with creativity and novelty. If a child can be consumed by social media every time they have a spare moment, they miss these experiences and developments.”

These experts also give parents a number of tips on how to cut screen time, but there’s a disparity pointed out in the IFS study: Children in non-stable family situations, such as single-parent or blended families, tend to have more screen time than children who belong to stable two-parent relationships, also known as the traditional family. Children with that sort of advantage have parents who take time to play with them, help with the homework, give them chores to do and rewards to earn, and perhaps even eat dinner as a family each night — all things that take away from the time otherwise glued to a screen.

Unfortunately, we as a society had to endure an extended period of enforced isolation, particularly the public school children who spent months out of class. Instead, their lives became that of sitting around a screen, watching their teacher try to explain basic subjects. And rather than participating in extracurricular activities or being out with friends, children were forced into being apart from each other for months at a time.

While we’ve already determined the detrimental academic effects of the pandemic (yes, it’s made an already long-term decline even worse), it’ll take a generation to know exactly what we’ve lost in terms of how the younger side of Generation Z socializes.

But it took a layperson and homeschool mom, columnist Joy Pullmann, to put this issue into perspective and deliver some tough love:

If your child did anything for 10 hours a day, you’d be worried about him and work strenuously to bring some balance to his life, for his own good. Parents need to man up and do the hard work of tightly restricting the addictive side of the internet from their kids, for not only their own good but for the sake of our country. …

If your children enter adulthood having done nothing with 25,000 hours of their lives they can never get back, and with their brains destroyed by internet slot machines, that’s on you. You’re the one paying for their phone and letting them self-destruct. Tell them to get a job or read some books or do anything but sabotage themselves and our society. If you don’t, you deserve to be judged the same way as moms who put Mountain Dew in their babies’ bottles.

A good school is one that restricts a child’s access to his or her smartphone in spite of some blowback, and the same thing can be done at home. It just takes parents who are committed to spending time with their children rather than leaving them under the spell of a screen.

Speaking as one who grew up with the “boob tube,” Pong as a video game, and a phone in the dining room with a 20-foot cord as the only means of privacy, it seems like we turned out all right. Sadly, though, we’ve underestimated the march of technology and collectively dropped the ball as parents.

It’s not too late to redeem ourselves.

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