Teens and tech at home

Tips for managing screen time and usage

Reporter: “So, your kids must love the iPad?”

Steve Jobs: “They haven’t used it. We limit how much technology our kids use at home.”

A September 2014 New York Times article captured the Apple co-founder’s perspective that surprised many. Jobs, like many parents, was concerned about his kids spending too much time with technology.

Children’s use of technology at home is amplified by its increased use in schools. Quite often, a computer, television, tablet or other form of media is required to complete graded assignments.

Parents are faced with a double-edged sword: pride in a school district that embraces technology as a learning medium and frustration by the need to establish yet another set of parameters for kids to follow. Factor in the everyday challenges of raising a teen and the use of technology at home can be a hotly contested issue.

The U.S. National Library of Medicine defines “screen time” as “a sedentary activity” using “very little energy,” such as watching television, working on a computer or playing video games. In 2013, it estimated that “most American children” spend three hours per day watching television, with two to four additional screen time hours. In 2010, The Kaiser Family Foundation put screen time for teens a bit higher—more than seven hours per day and more than 50 hours per week.

“Young people now spend more time with media than they do in school,” stated the American Academy of Pediatrics in a 2013 policy statement on children, adolescents and the media. “It is the leading activity for children and teenagers other than sleeping.”

How much is too much?

Lois Paul, technology integration coordinator for the Timberlane Regional School District, has been a middle school educator for more than 27 years. As far as technology time goes, Paul recommends up to two hours for homework and two hours for entertainment, she said, “the reality is that it’s closer to six.”

Dr. Katie B. Paré, a pediatrician at Dartmouth-Hitchcock Nashua, and also a mother of four, encounters the issue of technology use on a personal and professional level every day.

“As a general rule, I recommend for teens to limit media use to two hours a day outside of school/educational purposes,” said Dr. Paré. “Parents need to consider what the teen’s objective or goal is for using a certain screen time, be it entertainment or enrichment.”

Jamie Karr, 13, a seventh-grader at Ross A. Lurgio Middle School of Bedford, seems on par with general tech time guidelines. She estimates screen time at four hours per day, citing her iPad for games; computer for math, music, research, writing and online reading; and her mom’s iPhone to check Instagram.

“It enables me to train in math to get a head start for the next school year and I don’t have to wait for someone to take me to the library, as I can check out/return books online,” Jamie said.

Jamie’s mom Kelly Karr, a public relations consultant in Bedford, is also mom to Jaclyn, 8, and Luke, 10. She said Jamie’s high volume of homework could require more than the four hours of screen time.

“It seems that the difference with a teen versus the younger kids is that the teens have much more things to actually do on electronics than just play games,” said Karr. “Jamie might be listening to music, writing novel-type stories on Google Docs, doing research, texting a relative or reading eBooks. When she is gaming, it’s usually playing trivia with her friends or siblings. She still enjoys soccer, volleyball, swimming, water skiing and being social, which tells me that while technology can be addicting, Jamie is still able to maintain other interests.”

Finding the “right balance” of life with/without technology can be difficult. Approaches vary, depending upon the parents and teens themselves.

Mary and David Hibbard, a clinical social worker and project manager/biomedical engineer from Bedford, have two children at Bedford High School. Abby, 17, is a senior working toward an international baccalaureate diploma. Sam, 14, is a freshman who serves as Patrol Leader for Boy Scout Troop 135 in Manchester.

Mary Hibbard agrees it’s important to strike the right balance, so technology complements—rather than complicates—her family’s life.

“I know it is too much tech if they are missing any homework or their grades are suffering, they aren't helping or interacting around the house, don’t want to spend time with friends, or won’t participate in activities, exercise, hobbies, etc.,” she said. “As long as they are fully engaging in their life outside of tech, it is the right amount. We allow tech to be one of the many different things that they do.”

Mary Hibbard and her husband have a proactive parenting philosophy on technology: create a rich family environment that technology is a part of.

She says they watch certain television shows as a family and others as subsets (e.g., both kids together, or one kid and one parent). They purchase music together and go to concerts. The Hibbards listen to/discuss audiobooks, and share articles, forward funny emails and texts. They’re even connected to each other on some social media channels.

“Doing all of this together has created a culture where overusing technology isn't a problem, but (for the most part) adds to our family,” said Mary Hibbard. “The more it is open conversation, the less gets hidden. We want a home where we don't have to micromanage the kids, but where they make good decisions that they will take with them.”

Dr. Paré suggests that teens “be honest” with themselves about their use of smartphones, tablets, laptops, television/movies and videogames, and parents should establish “family time when everyone agrees that devices are off.”

“Starting as a pre-teen, your child should know that you have control over the content that comes through the web and can see where they have been,” she said. “However, don’t be the every minute watchdog. They need to know they have some freedom and trust within your umbrella of protection.”

Avoiding the hazards of technology

Teaching children proper technology etiquette is similar to teaching how to demonstrate good manners. In addition to leading by example, rules should be established and enforced, with regular evaluation and adjustment.

“You would not give your child the keys to the car without proper training, or allow your child to go to the mall alone with friends, until you gave them proper instructions about your rules,” said Paul. “You may think your child knows more about technology than you, but you know more about keeping your child safe. Having taught Internet safety for three years at the middle school, I can tell you that many students had no idea when they were putting themselves in harm’s way.”

In addition to the dangers of conversing with strangers, or other online risks (cyberbullying, accessing inappropriate content, etc.), general hazards of too much technology time for teens include:

•             Negative impact on social behavior and skill building

•             Decreased school performance

•             Sleep deprivation/insomnia

•             Sedentary lifestyle preferences that can lead to obesity

•             Increased experimentation with tobacco, drugs, alcohol and sex

•             Excessive physical ailments, such as aches/pains, poor posture and eye straining

•             Heightened feelings of anxiousness, loneliness and depression

•             Poor decision-making (texting while driving, etc.)

•             Forming unrealistic expectations and aspirations of the “real world”

“Another danger includes media images causing stereotyping and self-comparisons,” said Dr. Paré. “The drive for ‘the best selfie,’ or to create Facebook illusions of ‘the perfect social life,’ can lead to isolation when teens believe they don’t measure up.”

As with most positive behaviors and interests, children look to their parents for cues. Therefore, parents should recognize how much time they actually spend using technology and acknowledge that changes may be necessary.

For example, establish parameters for when tech use is allowed (after homework is completed) and when it isn’t (family mealtimes). Also, discuss the benefits and hazards of each technology, and how to address them as a team. 

For more information:

Internet Safety: Parents, Guardians, Communities NetSmartz Workshop, National Center for Missing & Exploited Children

Generation Smartphone: A Guide for Parents of Tweens & Teens Lookout, Inc.

Jessica Ann Morris is Managing Director of jam:pr, a strategic communications firm providing PR, marketing and freelance writing services. An eternal Star Wars fan, Jessica believes she was a Jedi in a former life and carries a miniature Yoda at all times.


Categories: Technology and Social Media, Teens