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Screen Time and Your Child’s Development: Why Disconnecting is a Good Idea

Apr 11, 2019

You thought raising TEENAGERs was tough, but raising SCREENAGERs is even more challenging!

A recent PEW Research Center Survey reports nearly nine out of 10 teens think excessive screen time is a problem, and six out of 10 say it is a major problem. 

At the same time, loneliness, the health effects of which are considered to be comparable to smoking, is more pronounced in younger generations - despite the fact that many teenagers appear glued to their smartphones and may seem like they are more connected to their friends than ever.

Social media has essentially put typical adolescent development on steroids. Increased focus on peer status and approval, social comparison and feedback-seeking, standard for teenagers, becomes amplified on social media. The 24/7 availability of online social interactions is changing the experience of being an adolescent.

Social media, in and of itself, is neither “good” nor “bad” but there are some cautions parents should keep in mind.

  • Social media is the new norm. Completely avoiding it is not realistic nor would it allow “typical” peer interactions to occur. Instead, have a conversation with your teen about the pros and cons of social media use (and overuse).
  • Maintaining face-to-face interactions is important for social development. Family dinners (with a no phone at the table rule) are an ideal time to stay connected. Commuting time can include a no earbud rule to allow for conversation between parents and kids.
  • “Real life” interactions, through sports, music, drama, religious youth groups, part-time jobs or volunteering, can protect teens from the negative effects of social media.
  • Shutting off phones at night helps teenagers get sufficient sleep, which regulates mood, appetite and behavior.
  • Turning off all screens at least 30 minutes before bedtime helps the sleep-wake cycle regulate and increases the ability to fall asleep more rapidly.
  • Putting phones away while driving saves lives!
  • Teens can make a game out of not using their phone when together (e.g., if at a restaurant, everyone silences and stacks their phone and the first to pick up their phone when the stack vibrates pays for the meal).
  • Consider adopting the motto “Phones off, friends on.”
  • Parents can set a good example by not focusing on their phone when with their family.

For more behavioral health resources for kids, visit OnOurSleeves.org or view our YouTube channel.

Featured Expert

Mary Fristad, PhD, ABPP
Vice Chair for Academic Affairs, Department of Psychiatry

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Pediatric News You Can Use From America’s Largest Pediatric Hospital and Research Center

700 Children’s® features the most current pediatric health care information and research from our pediatric experts – physicians and specialists who have seen it all. Many of them are parents and bring a special understanding to what our patients and families experience. If you have a child – or care for a child – 700 Children’s was created especially for you.