Every generation has its ‘thing.’ For most adults, the ‘thing’ that caused great debate among parents and experts alike back in the day, was how much television children should be watching. As the popularity of television programming grew in the 1970’s through 1990’s, much of which targeted young people, there were worries that the couch potato generation would be born. How would all this boob tube time affect the kids as they grew up? Would they be able to handle responsibilities and jobs and real life even though they spent so many hours planted in front of the television watching MTV, and other dramatic programming? Were TV programmers stealing away the youthfulness innocence by putting too much out there too soon, and parents too weak to be able to control it?
Looking back, most of us are rather okay. We survived. We have gone on to have successful lives and families of our own. And now, today’s generation of children have their ‘thing.’ Or things, as the case may be.
Screen time today means something very different than it did ‘back in the day.’ Today, screen time is everything from violent video games, to social media and texting, to youtube videos and snapchats, and nearly everything in between. The average 4 year old is able to manipulate a cellphone to play games and download apps, or watch programming. Suffice it to say, that today’s children have much more ‘screen time’ influence going on in their lives than our boob tube generation did.
The question then becomes, how much is TOO MUCH? Most parents talk about teenagers, referencing their zombie like nature and addiction to cellphones and social media. Unlike in our day when we had to wait for a favorite show to come on, kids today can download and live stream or use netflix to get pretty much anything they want at anytime. Instead of mobiles hanging over carseats in the back of mommy SUV’s, babies and toddlers are satisfied with DVD players and hand held devices. And, it is no surprise that kids today spend an average of 6 hours per day, wrapped up in some sort of screen time.
So how much is too much in a world that has become addicted to handheld devices and ‘screen time?’
According to one report, kids age 8-18 spend around 44.5 hours per week in front of some sort of screen. And one of the number one complaints of parents today is that they don’t feel like they are getting quality family time with their children. Around 23% of youth in a recent study admitted that they are likely addicted to video gaming. Dr. Kimberly Young, the director of the Center for Internet Addiction (yes, that is a thing now) said that nearly 73% of all children are getting too much screen time.
But how can YOU tell? For some parents screen time is an automatic babysitter, a way to keep kids quiet in the back seat of the car, a way to keep their minds occupied. Is there really any harm in that?
The warning signs of too much screen and online time are actually fairly simple to spot. Kids may lose track of time while online or watching TV, feel the need to check their phones several times a day, suffer from withdrawal symptoms (such as agitation and irritability) when they are unable to connect online or to the television. Many kids who would fall in the category of addicted to television and the internet, or handheld devices – will forego nearly any other activity in order to play with their devices. Frighteningly, around half of all children online have met, or been approached by strangers online and many kids today have lost the feel for stranger danger – another sign of too much media time.
There are plenty of worries when it comes to how much time our kids spend wrapped up in video games, movies, or watching television and experts believe the reasons parents are so concerned are just. As kids grow up they need REAL, loving and supportive relationships to form as a foundation for their life. Yet today’s children are seemingly getting much of what they need emotionally online, and from a virtual world. While learning to navigate this new world is important – it is even more important that children learn how to operate in the real world, with real people.
Playing, as in physical play is important too. Today, kids don’t see the backyard as a playground. Toys R Us has reported steady declines in the last decade in the sales of bicycles and outdoor play toys. Kids who are allowed to spend too much time online and watching television may not have any other interests developed outside of their little world. They may feel they pressured to return to a video game or TV show.
The bottom line is that we know too much screen time is a problem. What we fail to remember as parents however, is that the ultimate responsibility comes back to us. Parents have the right and power to say no, to set limits and boundaries and have the duty to ensure that kids grow up knowing that BALANCE IS THE KEY TO A SUCCESSFUL LIFE!
Even when the easiest thing to do is to hand a toddler an I-Pad, or allow the kids to disappear in the basement to play video games, or to connect to Youtube for endless hours of entertainment, it isn’t the right thing. The ultimate goal is that our children will grow into adults who can balance things in their life, so that they can remain successful and productive. And this balance starts in childhood. Parents need to set boundaries that THEY see fit, and most importantly follow through on enforcing them. Rather than complain about the world our children are growing up in, or the feelings of disconnect within our families, we need to be proactive and do something about it. Not only is it in the best interest of our family, but it is necessary for our children’s overall health as well.
If you are asking how much time is too much, chances are you already know the answer. Chances are your child is already getting too much screen time. Remember, when it comes to your family and your children YOU are the expert! And YOU hold the controls. Utilize that power to make sure your family experiences balance in their lives.