The Pros and Cons of Screen Time for Children and Teens

Two children and their parents using a laptop, tablet and mobile phone at the kitchen tableGerri Minshall is a senior child and adolescent clinical psychologist, at Life & Mind Psychology in southern Sydney.

Screentime… so what more can possibly be written about it? It captivates and obsesses us, and makes up the fabric of our everyday lives and yet leaves us reeling after yet another fight with our teenagers about gaming instead of doing homework. Even adults lose hours surfing the net or online shopping.

 

It’s no surprise that we haven’t quite cracked all of the psychological and family issues surrounding screen time. After all, the iPhone was released only very recently, in 2007. If you can remember mobile phones that were a massive brick in a tradie’s ute (or even using an electric typewriter) then it’s pretty obvious that the world has changed a lot and very fast.

 

This is not an article bagging the numerous screens and technological devices in our lives. It is an article about psychological principles and treatments that can help you and your family move to a life enhanced by technology—not a life that is degraded and dragged down by excessive screen use.

 

So what is screen time and what are the advantages?

 

Screen time is any recreational activity that occurs in front of a screen: television or DVD watching, Facebook or other social media, game playing such as xbox or Wii, net surfing or even churning through the data on your phone. It entertains us, stimulates us, and brings us together. Whether you are discussing “The Bachelor”, admitting it’s the DVD box set that is holding your marriage together, or enjoying a cute wildlife show with your kids, there’s no doubt screen time can bring joy into your life.

 

But… (and with such a powerful phenomena there was always going to be a ‘but’) there are real and ever present dangers to engaging in too much screen time. Read the categories below to find out the dangers and how to handle them for improved wellbeing.

 

If you are an adult susceptible to low mood or anxiety:

 

Extended screen time may keep you sedentary, which could leave you feeling flat and sad. If you are spending all night, every night in front of a screen (and particularly if you are not even enjoying it), then it’s time to take action. Professional help from our team can be of real benefit here.

 

In the meantime, plan your shows. Everyone has their favourite shows and you have the right to that just like anyone else. It’s the aimless drifting and passive viewing that can displace other, more mood enhancing activities, that is the real danger.

 

If you suffer from anxiety, then you may already have an inkling that certain internet searches or other online behaviours may contribute to the problem. Again, come and talk to us about exactly what is going on for you and we will help you work it out.

 

If you are the parent of a teenager:

 

Here’s the million dollar question: How do you keep them safe and still make sure they get some homework done? Here are a few ideas:

  • Apply the same rules to your teenager as you apply to yourself. After all, everyone can get lost in internet or gaming or whatever else your screen poison may be!
  • Having said that, there’s no harm in the occasional spot check, especially if your intention is merely curious: “Explain to me how this works”.
  • Talk about healthy relationships and how that is the same whether it’s online or in the real world.
  • Remember the grandmother principle: If you wouldn’t write it in front of your grandmother, then don’t write it at all.
  • Speak to our team for advice on stricter “stimulus control” measures (such as automatic shutdowns from computers at a certain time of night).
  • Choose the right moment to have a chat with your teen about how addictive the internet or gaming can be.
  • Check out cybersmart.gov.au for all of their great resources on cyber safety.

If you are the parents of young children:

  • You are in the best position possible to set rules and guidelines.
  • Keep an eye on how much time they actually spend in front of a screen – think in terms of shows not stations.
  • Don’t let your parenting depend on the kids being absorbed by screens. It’s so easy to tell yourself “I’ll just unload the dishwasher while they watch another show.” Don’t let the TV be a babysitter.
  • Background TV is not ideal and has been found to have a detrimental effect on young children. Switch it off until a special show comes on.
  • There’s no reason for bedroom screens. They have been found to add about an hour of viewing to a child’s day.
  • Put the texting machine (otherwise known as a phone) away. It makes kids ‘crazy’ anyway!

Do you have trouble sleeping? Do you worry you are not in the healthy weight range?

If answered ‘yes’ to either of these questions, or if any of this resonates with you, this could be indicative of a more serious issue. Come and see us as soon as you can, and you may wish to schedule a visit with your physician as well.

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