Bad Screen Habits are Hard to Break

Written by PTC | Published May 26, 2021

Over the past 15 months, screen usage has soared among school-aged children. The New York Times reported that by May, 2020, children’s screen usage had already doubled as compared to the same period the year before, and a new Ipsos survey found that 22% of parents reported that their children “spend an average of 10 or more hours a week on entertainment-related screen time.”

But now, as restrictions are slowly being lifted; as schools are gradually reopening; summer camps are cautiously making plans to proceed; and life is beginning to return to some semblance of “normal,” parents are facing the new challenge of weaning their children off-of these highly addictive electronic devices and screens.

It is enough of a problem that both Axios and The Wall Street Journal this week offered solutions for families who are struggling to dial-back their kids’ screen time. Their recommendations include things like resetting pre-COVID tech rules; taking a “tech Sabbath;” leaving devices at home and ensuring that parents are modeling good behavior with screens and devices. In addition, Axios recommends setting a timer and creating incentives.

But both articles underscore how vitally important it is that parents try to return to pre-pandemic levels. "Brains change when you're spending time online," according to Robyn Mehlenbeck, director of George Mason University's Center for Psychological Services. "There's an addictive quality to gaming, so it becomes very difficult to wean off. It's a real crisis right now."

Dr. Michael Rich, Digital Wellness Lab founder and associate professor of pediatrics at Harvard Medical School, adds that as with any addiction, screen addiction causes physical changes in the brain and can exacerbate underlying issues like anxiety and depression. "The goal is not to cut out screen time altogether. Unlike a substance addiction, where abstinence from the substance is the treatment, the therapeutic goal for screen over-use is teaching self-regulation.”

Between smartphones and school-issued laptops, kids are more connected than ever; but these seismic shifts in how kids consume media also mean it is harder than ever for parents to stay on top of their child’s screen usage. Beyond cutting-back on screen time, it is also critically important that parents familiarize themselves with the parental controls and content filters for any devices, apps, or streaming services their children might be on. That’s why the PTC recently released “Dollars and Sense: Parent’s Guide to Streaming Media.”

If you are trying to reduce your child’s screen time this summer, Screen-free Parenting has ideas for 1 million screen-free activities for you and your family.

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