Video screens are no longer just used passively for television watching and gaming; they are tools that teenagers use to communicate and socialize and they are an important educational tool, especially for students involved in STEM (science, technology, engineering and mathematics) courses.
In 2015, the American Association of Pediatrics updated its screen-time recommendations in recognition of the ubiquitous nature of screens. Where they formerly recommended limiting screen time and then turning them off altogether, they now recommend engaging together and modeling limited, productive screen use.
The goal isn't to control or ban screens; the goal is to engage together and model healthy screen use.
This is especially important for teenagers.
According to Brooks Michael, a Carilion adolescent health educator, teens are looking at video screens for an average of 8 to 9 hours each day.
“This is important for many reasons, not least of which because staring at screens late at night, the way teens tend to do, interrupts their sleep,” she said.
The resulting tiredness carries over into the next day and makes students even more sedentary, which encourages more screen use. Michael sees many teenagers who have grown up with this habit display a lack of certain necessary communication skills.
“To interview for a job, you need to make eye contact," she said. "Many students find in-person conversations more challenging than they would have before they had smartphones.”
So what can parents do?
Treat media as you would any other environment in your child's life.
Many parents are justifiably fearful of their teenagers’ rich online social lives. But accepting that teens find value in socializing online opens the door to communication about it. Research online privacy and safety together and keep lines of communication open.
Be a good role model.
Limit your own media use. Make sure you are getting regular exercise and maintaining good sleep habits.
Communicate openly by putting your smartphone down. Side-by-side communication is equally valuable and sometimes less confrontational with adolescents. Set aside time to talk with your teen while walking through the neighborhood or driving together.
Create tech-free zones.
Institute a no-cell phone rule at mealtimes. Buy traditional alarm clocks instead of using mobile app alarms and keep screens out of bedrooms overnight.
According to the AAP, these recommendations encourage more family time, healthier eating habits and better sleep, all critical for children's wellness.
“Traditional face-to-face communication is vital for teens’ well-being,” said Michael. “Some things just need to be said rather than texted.”
Read more about teens and cell phones from adolescent health educator Brooks Michael.