These days, every time I turn around, my kids are looking at a screen. Whether they’re watching a movie on TV, playing a game on a DS or sending a text to a friend on their iTouch, it seems they just can’t escape the lure of the screen.
They’re hardly alone. A study by the Kaiser Family Foundation earlier this year found that kids aged 8 to 18 are spending more than 53 hours a week absorbed in entertainment media. That’s more than a typical workweek.
Too much time on a screen concerns me for many reasons. For starters, it takes time away from other activities. They could be reading a good book, riding their bikes, or hanging out with their friends. They could be practicing their instruments, walking the dog, or engaged in a hobby like sewing, which my daughters both enjoy.
Too much screen time puts them at risk for weight gain. After all, they’re not moving when they’re on these devices. Many kids – and adults — like to claim they don’t have time to exercise. But if kids can spend an average of 7 hours a day on entertainment media, then they can certainly eke out a measly hour of exercise. That’s what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends for kids aged 6 to 17.
Too much screen time also affects sleep, both in terms of quantity and quality. Kids who fall asleep to the drone of the TV never learn to put themselves to sleep naturally. Tweens and teens who send texts late into the night arrive at school exhausted.
And that leads to the academic impact. Kids who spend too much on these devices get lower grades. The Kaiser study found that 47 percent of the kids described as heavy users (they reported using 16 hours of media a day) said they got mostly C’s or lower, compared with 23 percent of kids who were light users (those who use 3 hours or less). At a time when children in other nations continue to do better on math and science, this bodes poorly for our future.
My daughters don’t spend even close to 16 hours a day on entertainment media, but on days when they watch movies and play games and text, they certainly bump up the amount of time they spend in front of a screen. Even as I write this, I hear the bling of my daughter’s game in the distance.
What are parents supposed to do? I know what we do. We lecture. We cajole. We chase them off their screens. We urge them to see friends, get outside, and play sports. In response, they gripe and complain. “But I just got on,” they always say.
So here’s what I want to say to the screen-addicted kids of this generation: Create your own drama; don’t just watch the ones on TV. Talk to your friends; don’t send a text. Play a board game; not a video game. Stay plugged in to the real world, the one that’s happening in front of you, not the artificial ones embedded in technology.
You’ll be healthier and happier for it.