Have you noticed that when parents gather, it doesn’t take long before the topic of kids and social media comes up. That’s because concern over screen time is a big deal, especially in this post-pandemic season. Parents want to know: How much is too much screen time? When should we step in? How do we reverse poor habits, and what will the lasting digital fallout of the lockdown be?
These conversations weigh heavy on parents for a good reason. According to a report from Common Sense Media, teens spend an average of seven hours and 22 minutes on their phones a day. Tweens (ages 8 to 12) spend four hours and 44 minutes daily. This is time outside of schoolwork.
Since the pandemic, another study claims that screen time for teens doubled to 7.7 hours a day—plus 5 to 7 daily hours of online learning, according to a study published in JAMA Pediatrics. In addition, according to the Journal of Affective Disorders Reports, children overall have been spending nearly triple the recommended amount of time on their screens.
The good news is that social media also became a powerful tool for kids during the pandemic. Social channels helped kids connect with peers and combat loneliness and other mental health challenges. Still, the poor habit of device dependence may have come with those benefits.
Revising Screen time
While the debate continues over social media’s impact on kids and the research methodology continues to evolve, we can hold on to one clear truth: Any activity in excess can cause kids harm. When it comes to social media, too much screen time may contribute to sleep deprivation, a lack of healthy, and poor academics. In addition, studies show that mental health can be impacted by exposure to hate speech, sexual content, cyberbullying, and comparing oneself to others both physically and financially.
As parents, we know when our family’s wellbeing is in jeopardy. We see it even if we fail to acknowledge it right away. Our kids might become compelled to check their phones. In fact, they panic when they can’t check their likes and comments every few minutes. We notice the red eyes and moodiness at the breakfast table caused by a late-night Tic Tock marathon. We sense a surge of anxiety in our kids when technology goes from entertaining to distressing.
Thankfully, it’s never too late to help your kids better understand the impact of their actions and revise digital habits.
Establishing new habits
1. Start small and make it fun.
In the bestselling book Atomic Habits, author James Clear says, “The task of breaking a bad habit is like uprooting a powerful oak within us.” He adds, “The task of building a good habit is like cultivating a delicate flower one day at a time.” Lasting change, says clear, needs to be enjoyable, not a punishment. If the goal is shaving a few hours off your child’s screen time, consider connecting time limits to an enjoyable activity such as making a meal together or creating an art space in your home for creative projects.
2. Consider a device curfew.
The data is in: The bright screens (and blue light emitted from devices( can cause permanent sleep cycle and brain/melatonin issues, which can have a cascading effect on physical and mental health. Turning off (or limiting the use of) electronic devices at least 15-30 minutes before going to bed may help prevent any adverse effects of technology and screen use on sleep. Consider investing in filtering software that comes with the time limits the whole family can all agree on. Do your research to ensure your family’s technology functions to empower, educate, and entertain.
3. Encourage mindful media use.
Consider how your child uses their time before suggesting sweeping changes to your child’s screen time. Are they vegetating, or are they consciously engaged? Are they creating and learning? Are they engaging with others or stalking accounts and slipping into “comparison despair?” Are family and school responsibilities suffering? Is there a compulsion to post or thoughtfulness? All kids are different, and all online experiences vary. Encourage your child to take time to consider how they feel and what they think while they are using their technology.
4. Educate your kids—use facts.
One way to negotiate screen limits is to make sure your kids understand the impact of excess media. Balance includes tapping into the benefits of social media while also taking steps to protect the body’s need for physical activity, real-life relationships, goal-setting, creative activities, mindfulness, and self-reflection.
Helping kids manage and constantly revise their social media habits is a 24/7 endeavor from the minute they wake up to the minute they fall asleep. The biggest piece of that “management” plan and is keeping frequent, open, and honest communication a critical part of designing habits that encourage a healthy relationship with both peers and technology.