“Screen time” for kids conjures images of addiction and danger lurking around every digital corner. But every family discussion about the use of smartphones, computers and social media doesn’t have to be a battle.
“Just because [kids] may meet an unsavory person in the park, we don’t ban them from outdoor spaces,” said Mimi Ito, director of the Connected Learning Lab at University of California-Irvine, at the 10th annual Women in the World Summit on Thursday. After years of research, the mother of two college-age children said she thinks parents need to understand how important digital spaces are to children and adjust accordingly.
Taking away access to these spaces, she said, is taking away what kids perceive as a human right. Gaming is like the proverbial water cooler for many boys, she said. And for many girls, social media can bring access to friends and stave off social isolation. “We all have to learn how to regulate our media consumption,” Ito said. “The longer you delay kids being able to use those muscles, the longer you delay kids learning how to regulate.”
With screen time so important to their children, parents may take it away as a form of punishment, which could have its own dangers, according to Dr. Delaney Ruston, a physician who appeared on the panel along with Ito and Marissa Shorenstein, Northern Region President for AT&T.
“When we use these scare tactics, it’s really often that our kids aren’t gonna come to us,” said
Ruston made a documentary, Screenagers, about screen time negotiations in her house. “I was talking so negatively about screen time. ‘Those Snap things, you think they disappear, but they don’t.’ She saw me as the enemy.”
Ruston changed her tactics. While she is still a proponent of limits, she now devotes weekly family talks to ideas about screen time and devices.
The moderator of the panel, Stephanie Ruhle, a news anchor at MSNBC, cited statistics that should make adults think about the example they’re setting. While kids spend an average of three months a year on a screen, adults spend a month more than that.
Shorenstein urged parental controls and education about how to negotiate screen time. In a survey commissioned by AT&T, two-thirds of teen respondents said they’ve engaged in at least one risky behavior online, and 57 percent said they know how to hide content from their parents. “In my home, we’re pretty strict. Our kids don’t have access to devices except for when they are on a plane, train, or automobile,” Shorenstein said. “So they like to travel.”
Additional reporting by Nicole Savini.