Posts Tagged ‘ Screen time ’

Summer Parenting Tip #5: Unplug

Sunday, June 30th, 2013

Screen time is increasing for every age group – from babies to adults – and as a result face-to-face interaction goes down. So while there is nothing inherently wrong with screen time, it’s also a great idea to use summer as an opportunity for everyone to unplug for a while and, well, interact.

I’ve had many parents comment to me that they find themselves – and their kids – simply spending too much time focused on their screen. Computer, phone, TV, whatever – we all attend to the screen much more than ever. And they are finding it rewarding to simply designate an hour or two when everyone is together as a screen free time.

Same goes for kids hanging out with each other. There is a new form of communication within peer groups these days – almost everyone has a phone and uses it while they are with their friends. Sometimes they are texting others who aren’t with the group. Sometimes they are texting within the group. Again, this isn’t inherently troubling as every generation has its own technology that they use for social communication. That said, it’s also not a bad idea to ask all of them to turn off the devises for a while and just hang out with each other.

It’s not so much about losing social skills – although there is an element of that. It’s more that the human brain is wired fundamentally for social interaction. Sustained, reciprocal interaction is rewarding. Kids and adults alike can find themselves surprised at how much fun it can be to interact without someone being distracted by a text or someone needing to check something out online. We all spend plenty of time doing that. The reality is that it can be rewarding to go out of your way to find times and contexts where we all unplug for a while and just talk and laugh and enjoy each other’s company.

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Is TV Viewing The Unhealthiest Screen Time For Kids?

Tuesday, April 9th, 2013

A new study published in Pediatrics suggests that it may be, at least when it comes to risk for obesity. 


91 teens (45 girls) around 14 years of age responded multiple times a day – via an electronic diary – to questions about what they were doing, over a 1-week period. Included were questions about a variety of screen time activities (for example, TV, video games, computer) and how much attention they were paying to each activity. Electronic diaries are an excellent method for getting kids to report on what they are doing in “real time” – it’s quick and easy for them to do and studies have shown that they provide reliable data using this method. The kids also had their height and weight measured by the research team in order to calculate their body mass index (BMI) – which is one metric used to measure risk for obesity.


The overall findings were intriguing. First, the raw amount of screen time reported by the kids was not associated with their BMI. The statistical association of interest involved TV, but again it wasn’t about how much TV the kids were watching. Rather, it was how engaged the kids were when watching TV that was associated with BMI – the more a kid reported that they were paying the MOST attention to TV (versus all other activities), the higher their BMI.


There are limitations to the study design that need to be addressed. The most prominent is that each teen was only observed during the 1-week period (this was a “cross-sectional” study).  Finding statistical associations in a cross-sectional design limits what we conclude because we can’t tease apart what leads to what.  It could be that kids with the highest BMI levels were the most likely to become engaged in TV viewing. It could be that TV viewing was one of the causative factors for their increased BMI levels. The point is that with these kinds of data we can’t distinguish between those interpretations. And of course we don’t have data on younger kids from this study, so technically there are no inferences to be made on non-teens.


Noting the limitation discussed above, researchers use cross-sectional data to generate and support hypotheses to be tested in future studies. The interesting idea that comes out of this paper is the speculation on the specific health risks associated with TV viewing versus other forms of screen time. One deserves particular mention. They note the potential impact of commercials promoting unhealthy foods – which may be particularly influential for kids who are highly engaged watchers. What’s interesting here is the idea that it’s not just about screen time, and it’s not just about TV – it’s about the specific risk of being a highly engaged TV viewer that seems to be linked with BMI. But future work will need to measure all these things and evaluate them longitudinally.


Clearly this paper is the beginning, and not the end, of the story. The story, however, may be quite informative for parents if future studies replicate and expand the finding – and particularly if longitudinal studies provide clearer evidence of the directionality of the findings and support for the hypothesized mechanisms. Starting with younger samples of kids and tracking them across time will help determine if engaged TV viewing is especially linked with increases in BMI. But right now the interesting idea for parents to think about – at all ages – the potential downside of when kids get too attached to passive activities. This study suggests that TV may be the worst culprit for multiple reasons. But the bigger picture is that we are probably moving away from talking about screen time per se – many kids are increasing rather than decreasing screen time – and shifting toward a focus on unhealthy habits and unhealthy content that may be linked with specific types of screen time.

So … right now keep on eye on when your kid seems most likely to pair eating with screen time, and see if you can discourage that link. And see for yourself at home if it seems to happen more when they are especially glued to the tube.

Remote Control and Salty Snack via

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Screen Time For Kids: Then And Now

Saturday, December 17th, 2011

In my review of the 6 most important studies of 2011, I selected the recent survey on kids’ screen time conducted by the nonprofit group Common Sense Media. This report provides very new data that tells us what we suspected – kids’ screen time keeps increasing even though the American Academy of Pediatrics continues to urge parents to try to stick to reasonable guidelines. One reason for this is that technology – especially mobile technology – is becoming more central to many people’s lives, including youth. Another reason is that stationary technology (like a TV and DVD) is becoming a staple in kids’ bedrooms. But the question remains: Is this a problem?

Here’s the thing that many of us are now worried about – do all the new options out there flood many kids with too many opportunities for screen time? And even disregarding content, is the ever-expanding volume of screen time going to inhibit other forms of cognitive development? I don’t have an answer to that question. But I admit, as someone who studies child development, I do have concerns. Even though I watched lots of TV growing up, and was pretty much unsupervised, I had a grand total of 6 channels to choose from as a kid (yes, this is before cable TV became a reality). There were no DVD players, and in fact no VCRs. (Okay, so by now you’ve figured out that I’m not exactly a young adult!). And I’ll state the obvious: we didn’t have home computers and hand-held devices and mobile phones. So after a while, you kinda ran out of options in terms of sitting in front of a screen. 

But that’s not the case now. A great blog post by my fellow blogger Allison Winn Scotch titled “Moderating Screen Time – What’s Okay, What’s Not?”  touches on lots of the issues that most of us parents wrestle with. Allison mentions that, like me, she is somewhat liberal in terms of how monitors her kids’ screen time, in part because, like me, she “grew up watching bucketloads of the tube  and still developed an avid love of books and reading, and still became (quite obviously) a writer.”  But she is still trying to figure out what’s enough, and what’s too much, when it comes to her kids – as am I.

My only thought is that we – meaning those of us who offer advice on child development – may have it backwards when we talk about setting limits on screen time. Maybe we should be emphasizing the things we think kids should be doing, like reading at least 30 minutes a day, getting 30 minutes of exercise daily, and having devoted time every day for family talk without any devices on. As kids get older of course homework needs to be done. Let’s not forget that each kid needs to get a sufficient amount of sleep night after night  so a consistent and appropriate bedtime needs to be upheld. Once all those conditions are met, then we don’t have to worry so much about how much time our kids spend looking at a screen.

Let’s face it, I’m not worried that kids aren’t learning how to read because of screen time. I’d just like to be sure that some young kid who could develop into a prolific writer like Allison (check out her bio here) can still develop a love of writing while living the life of a digital native.

Image of young girl with mobile phone via


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