Should your child detox from their phone this summer?
Screens – whether they are phones, tablets, computers or televisions – are more accessible than ever now. Screen time is valuable to many children but might get excessive during the summer. A Baylor College of Medicine psychologist describes how to use the phone for good this summer while cautioning the dangers of too much screen time.
While there is no arbitrary number of hours spent on the phone to determine phone addiction, parents should focus on their child’s behavior toward their phone. If something seems different or problematic, that might be a warning sign that your child is spending too much time mindlessly online.
“It could be that your child is not talking to anyone at home, talking less, always spending time in their room or getting anxious or unhappy about whatever they see or do online,” said Dr. Laurel Williams, professor in the Menninger Department of Psychiatry and Behavioral Sciences at Baylor.
Evidence shows that spending ample time on devices watching TV, playing video games or on social media results in less physical activity. Children should be active and participate in enriching activities in the summer to not fall behind in school. Children from lower socioeconomic backgrounds who lack the means to participate in summer enrichment programs often lose information during the break and take longer to catch up at the start of the school year. These children might not have the opportunity due to expenses, parents unable to detach from work to drive their child to activities or their neighborhood might not be designed for outside play. They might not have many options other than turning to their screen for entertainment.
“If your child is engaging in mindless activities, that could be a problem academically. It’s not necessarily a bad thing to spend time on the phone, but make sure their screen activity is not causing any harm,” she said.
Williams suggests finding online tools to play free or subscription-based educational games. She encourages families who cannot send their child to activities to access school resources for information on apps or websites that promote a safe, educational environment for kids. This allows parents to pay attention to their child’s online activity while getting involved with them. Show interest in your child’s educational games so they feel encouraged to continue while monitoring their progression.
“Kids often want to show you what they’ve done – they want you to be proud of them. If you don’t show interest or check to see if they’ve done it, don’t be surprised if your child loses interest,” Williams said.
Tracking your child’s screen activity is crucial. Bullying and negative content often are a result of spending time on social media, and kids might not comprehend that people are nastier when anonymous. They cannot read subtle cues and have no consequences for being mean online. While inputting parental controls is important, children might still come across inappropriate posts online, so make sure to look at the history.
“There is clear evidence that social media can lead to anxiety, depression and problematic eating issues, especially for girls. They see curated images of people that are not real, so it really preys on that adolescent stage where want to belong,” Williams said.