Kids and Screen Time (Part 1)

Four years ago I wrote a post on the time U.S. children spend looking at screens. Phones, laptops, desktops, and television were included. I quoted CEOs and top leaders of Silicon Valley firms who wrestled with the problem of how much time to allow their children to watch screens. The answers to the question of, to what degree if at all, should kids be restricted were far from unanimous. These well-versed, adept men and women showed deep concern over their sons and daughters looking at devices many hours a day. Moreover, they avoided a laissez-faire approach.

I do not know whether these high-tech leaders feel that way today but there are other Silicon Valley dads and moms who work for Apple, Microsoft, Google, Facebook and start-ups (as well as many non-techie parents) who wrestle with the dilemma of valuing highly technology while seeing the negatives of their children spending excessive amounts of time on these devices.

But the fact of children looking at screens large chunks of the day (both at home and in school now) has worsened, not gotten better. I say “worsened” because more than 75% of children below the age of two and 64% of between 2 to 5 years-old exceeded the recommended guidelines, according to researchers at the University of Calgary, who analyzed over 60 studies looking at more than 89,000 children around the world.

Moreover, children ages 8-12 in the United States, on average, spend 4-6 hours a day watching screens, while teenage youth are on screens up to 9 hours daily. And these averages do not include the time they spend in school on cell phones and classroom devices. Surely, screens both entertain and teach. And these devices do keep children occupied. But, and this is an important “but,” excessive watching of screens may cause problems in kids. And parents worry.

In 2019, YouTube CEO Susan Wojcick told The Guardian that she while she wants her five children to develop ‘self-control methods,’ there are moments when she has to limit screen-time.

“I have times when I take away all my kids’ phones, especially if we’re on a family vacation, because I want people to interact with each other,” said Wojcick. “So, I take away their phones and say: ‘We’re all going to focus on being present today.'”

Listen to a manager for a Silicon Valley firm who limits his 12- and 10-year old daughters’ device time to 30 minutes a day yet he uses devices for hours:

“I’d give myself a B-minus or C-plus — and that’s up from a solid F at one point….The kids have called me out on it, for which I was grateful.”

The sting of parents considering themselves hypocritical in setting limits for their sons and daughters in using tablets, cell phones, and laptops at home while they are on the devices for long stretches of day and night (average daily use of mobile devices for adults was five hours while awake) is an ever-present issue in Silicon Valley and across the country. It pinches San Francisco Bay area parents even more so.

Sharael Kolberg says she was one of those parents. A Silicon Valley writer (her husband worked in marketing) describes an experiment they did with their daughter in A Year Unplugged: A Family’s Life Without Technology. She recalls: “We went back to the ‘80s, basically. I got out my record player and typewriter, we used the phone book and paper maps. It enhanced our relationships with our friends and family. Technology takes that away from us.”

Few parents and their children are going to go cold-turkey for a year regardless of what Kolberg writes and medical associations recommend. But many parents will try to reduce use of their devices and the ones they buy for their children because it cuts down on family face-to-face communication particularly when both (or single) parents use devices daily (and nightly) for their work (see here).

In the next post, I quote the guidance that experts in the field of child development and technology give both parents and students.

1 Comment

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One response to “Kids and Screen Time (Part 1)

  1. David F

    Hi Larry, thanks for this–looking forward to the next post. Just a thought…as a teacher, I go out of my way to design my assessments so that students can complete it without a device. If I assign a reading I have to take the time to make hard copies or purchase classroom copies of books, which is a luxury some schools won’t be willing to accept (though the debate over the environmental friendliness of modern paper production vs e-waste is a topic for another time). When meeting with parents, they have been overwhelmingly positive and often go out of their way to thank me for providing this option.

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