Screen Time vs. Family Time. It’s a problem.

By Dena Pepple, R.N. for Lee’s Summit Physicians Group.

I bought my first smart phone 5 years ago. My first grand-baby was coming, and I wanted to be ready for pictures and FaceTime video that my flip phone did not offer. Shortly after, a niece introduced me to Candy Crush. My husband uses Facebook and has had so many “interesting” posts that I now check his Facebook regularly. (Just to keep up with the world of course!) Since then, I’ve added solitaire and a word search game.

Yes, my name is Dena, and I have a screen time problem.

The average screen time in the USA (including phone and tablet only, not television) is 4 hours and 33 minutes per day. My average was up to 3 and ¾ hours per day.

Lucky for me, this addiction came after my kids were grown, and it doesn’t decrease my productivity as much because my screen time is in the car (riding) or late in the evening. However, it has made me realize what could have been if I were a child or parent of youngsters today with a screen addiction.

When my kids were young we played games, read and took walks. We had family time.

I wonder if I would be different today?

We’re seeing more and more information on the consequences of our technological society and it’s not all good. Below, is a bulletin board I recently presented for a local health fair discussing screen time, family time, and “finding a healthy balance.” (I’m not in the picture, but it was one of my favorites from the event.) This information opened my eyes to what our younger generation is facing.

Health Fair Presentation: Screen Time vs. Family Time

 

Balance is definitely the key and I’m working on it.

My screen time is now below 3 hours per day. Last night I danced with my grand-kids in the kitchen to “Day-O” and “The Locomotion.” I’m on the treadmill more, knitting and doing crossword puzzles. I am working on my balance with screen time, and I hope this helps you as well.

SCREEN TIME

DEFINITION:  Screen time is the amount of time spent using an electronic device with a screen such as a smart phone, computer, television, or video game console. This is a “buzzword” in today’s age of technology and can have both positive and negative effects on our children.

PROS:

1) Enhances daily life (school, work, daily living)
2) Enhances social connections (family, friends)
3) Apps to support healthy lifestyles, charities, etc.
4) Allows peer support (world groups, rare disease, etc.)

CONS:

1) Obesity: Screen time is generally a sedentary activity. It replaces physical activity, encourages mindless snacking, and stimulates food intake due to advertisements.
2) Sleep Problems: Stimulating content and overuse can interrupt sleep time. Screen light mimics daylight, and thus can suppress melatonin that helps us sleep.
3) Addictive Behavior: The instant gratification of screen time can cause a dopamine response which is associated with feelings of pleasure.  These feelings then encourage increased use, and the cycle begins. Internet Gaming Disorder is a real psychological disorder in which most free time is spent online, and little interest is shown in real life relationships.
4) Poor School Performance: Numerous studies show this. Some causes include overuse and attempting to multitask schoolwork with social/entertainment screen time. 80% of brain development occurs in the first three years of life.  Some studies are showing increased screen time under this age affects brain development.
5) Risky Behaviors: Early exposure to alcohol, drugs, and sexual content can lead to earlier interest of these, as well as increased self-injury, eating disorders, and emotional disorders.  Sexting falls under this category. It’s estimated about 12% of youth age 10-19 have used technology to send a sexual photo. Children and teens may not know the full implications of this, but predators do! Beware of seemingly innocent phone apps as many are fronts for secret apps hiding inappropriate photos/videos. Internet Safety 101 Acronyms is also an eye opening resource for parents of texting children.
6) Cyberbullying: Technology/screen time makes on-line bullying easier. This can lead to academic, social, and health issues for both the target and the bully. The risky behaviors listed above and depression listed below often coincide with this.
7) Depression: Increased screen time may lead to decreased actual peer time, isolation, and unrealistic comparison to peers leading to feeling inferior, inadequate, or left out. Teenagers who have >5 hours of screen time per day have a 71% increase in suicidal risk.
8) Attention Deficit Disorder: The fast flow of information can impact the brain’s ability to stay focused on one task for more than a few minutes.

FAMILY TIME

DEFINITION: Family time is the intentional interaction and/or togetherness with other family members during a specific activity, environment, or time frame. It can be as simple as folding clothes or reading a book, to major vacations.

CONS:

1) Family drama
2) Could discourage independence
3) Potential loss of privacy
4) Conflicting interests/time frames

PROS:

1) Family members MATTER! Each person feels important and loved.
2) Fosters Communication: Verbal and non-verbal communication improves as game rules are explained, teamwork is needed, or members just plain “talk” to each other. Very young children learn best with “back and forth” talk.  This is critical for their language development.
3) Strengthens Family Bonds: Family time brings members together emotionally, helping them realize they can count on each other.
4) Improved Academic Performance: Study time can be family time. Parents can ask their children about their school day, help them with homework, be involved with their school activities and show that they value education.
5) Decreased Behavior Problems: Family time teaches interpersonal skills, communication, and how to treat others. Family time allows a safe place to practice these skills.
6) Greater Self-Confidence: Parents who have a positive self-image and value themselves while interacting with their children, will model and foster a healthy self-esteem and positive self-concept in their children as well.
7) Conflict Resolution: Family time can involve some conflict. It also is a great place to work on this invaluable life skill. It is a safe place to express your emotions, communicate, and resolve problems. It gives the child a place to learn/practice/model appropriate behavior.
8) It Is Fun! Family time can lead to a lifetime of great adventures, happy memories, silly stories, quiet moments, and more.

FINDING A HEALTHY BALANCE

ALL CHILDREN/TEENS/YOUNG ADULTS NEED:
  • 8-12 HOURS OF SLEEP PER DAY
  • PHYSICAL ACTIVITY DAILY
  • MEDIA FREE TIME
  • ATTENTION FROM THEIR PARENTS

HOW DO WE BALANCE SCREEN TIME AND FAMILY TIME?

  • Know what your child is doing on-line.
  • Have together screen time: co-view, co-engage, co-play.
  • Set realistic limits and stick to them.
  • Encourage unstructured off-line play.
  • Be a good role model. Children are great mimics.  Parents need to limit their own screen time and teach kindness/manners when they are on-line.
  • Create tech-free zones. Bedrooms and family meals are great examples here.
  • Don’t use technology as a pacifier. If your children are bored or emotional teach them strategies to actually handle these situations.
  • It is okay for teens to be on-line, but also okay for parents to be aware of and involved in what they are doing both on and off-line to guide them in appropriate use and behavior.
  • Teach your children common sense media usage. Not everything online is true, real, or trustworthy.
  • Communicate screen time expectations with others (care givers, grandparents, etc.)
  • Reserve screen time for special occasions such as long car rides, illness, or bad weather.
  • Avoid screen time during meals, grocery store trips, short car rides, etc, as children need to learn patience, tolerate boredom, and learn appropriate interactions with others.
  • Make children/teens earn screen time as this will teach them the importance of working towards a goal.
  • Communicate and socialize in person. Kids need to learn eye contact, manners, and how to talk face to face.
  • FAMILY TIME, FAMILY TIME, FAMILY TIME!

FAMILY TIME IDEAS

  • PLAY CARDS, GAMES
  • WALK, BIKE RIDE, SPORTS
  • BACKYARD FUN (TAG, SWINGSET, ETC)
  • VOLUNTEER WORK
  • CHURCH/SCHOOL ACTIVITIES
  • HOUSEHOLD CHORES
  • GARDENING
  • VISIT FAMILY/FRIENDS
  • SHARE A MEAL
  • HOBBIES
  • READ TOGETHER
  • TRAVEL
  • PARKS/TRAILS
  • PUZZLES
  • ZOO/FARM
  • MUSIC/CONCERTS/DANCE
  • PICNICS/CAMPING/FISHING
  • SEASONAL ACTIVITIES (SWIMMING, SLEDDING, SNOWMEN)
  • EVERYWHERE GAMES (TELEPHONE, I-SPY, SLUG BUG)
  • STARGAZING/CLOUD SHAPES
  • SCAVENGER HUNTS
  • SURPRISE A FRIEND WITH A VISIT/GIFT
  • COOKING/BAKING
  • CRAFTING
  • EXPLORE NATURE
  • SNUGGLE TIME
  • EXPLORE FARMER’S MARKET, DOWNTOWN
  • GARAGE/ESTATE SALES/ANTIQUING
  • CARNIVALS/FAIRS
  • TRAIN RIDES/WATCHING

To encourage this family time, we had a raffle of a “family fun basket” at the health fair. The basket is full of games, cards, books and more to encourage families to put down their screens and talk, play and be with each other. Pictured below is Mary who won the basket.  She was very excited to go home and share this with her family. Have fun Mary!!

Health Fair Presentation on Screen Time vs. Family Time

Resources:

AMERICAN ACADEMY OF PEDIATRICS, HEALTHYCHILDREN.ORG

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