Staff Physician, Children's Healthcare of Atlanta
Medical Editor, WebMD
I was driving my 9-year-old son home from school the other day, when he said ‘Mom, no texting when you are driving’. It was at a red light, I explained, but he wasn’t buying the excuse.
As researchers focus on how screen time affects kids, I do wonder, should we focus more on how it affects parents, especially how it affects interaction with their kids?
The science is pretty clear that too much of certain types of screen time isn’t good for children. It can take away precious time from academics and exercise. A recent study reported that teens spend about 9 hours a day on media,, mostly on entertainment and tweens about 6 hours. But what’s the impact on a child if she sees her parents always glued to their phones, laptops, or the TV? This is where the science is less than clear.
Parents seem to love screen time almost as much as kids do. A recent Pew Internet Report found that 75% of parents use social media and have a median of 150 friends on Facebook. This is across age, gender, income and education level. 94% post, share, or comment with 70% saying they do it often.
Although there does not seem to be any clear data on parents’ screen time and relationships with their kids, recent research seems to show the links probably aren’t good. A small study at Boston Medical Center found that 40 of 55 adults took out a mobile device almost immediately when eating with their kids at a fast food restaurant
When parents don’t spend time talking to babies and toddlers, it creates a major gap in their language skills, which could put them behind their peers in reading and language by 3rd grade. We know that not engaging with kids at these stages has a colossal impact on their language and academic development, but what does it mean when parents use screens to tune out from older children?
Some schools recognize this issue and are changing their curriculum style to better engage children. The Atlanta Speech School, which teaches children with dyslexia and other language disorders, mentors parents and teachers to be more of a ‘conversational partner’ and to engage their children in discussions.
Screens are not going away and some interactive screen time may even be a good thing. But my kids and I now have some new rules in our home that apply to everyone, kids and grown-ups. No screen time in the car, at the dinner table, or at bedtime. Hopefully these first steps will help us get to what really matters: good relationships and happy children.
In this brave new world, I think that we can still apply that good, old-fashioned rule: Practice what you preach.