Older generations have always found fault with the young (and vice versa). Just as baby boomers were once criticized for self-indulgence and consumerism, the young are nowadays accused of being self-absorbed and narcissistic individuals who spend their days glued to their screens. Children and young people do spend a large amount of their time in front of screen-based devices and this fact makes it easy for adults to lecture them and dismiss excessive screen time as a problem solely plaguing the young. However, one must remember that due to the increasing availability and prevalence of screen-based devices in daily life, increased screen time is not restricted to young people but applies to individuals of all ages.
We have all heard the phrase:
“The problem with kids today is…”
Parents regularly worry about their children’s excessive screen time, believing it to be important to restrict their use. However, parents rack up considerable screen time themselves and are avid media users, just as their children. A recent report of screen media usage among parents in America showed that the average parent spends about nine hours daily with screen media, with personal use accounting for 82% of that time. According to the same report, most parents nonetheless believe that they are good media and technology role models for their children and limit their use of devices. Lectures about screen media use are, however, most likely bound to fall flat if delivered by parents who are themselves glued to their screens most of the time.
Many parents don’t practice what they preach in regards to limiting screen time
In addition to being able to avoid sounding like a hypocrite when preaching about restricted screen time, managing one’s screen time as an adult is important because it can directly affect children’s screen time. The amount of time parents spend on their phones and other devices is predictive of their children’s screen time, with studies indicating that parent screen time is perhaps even the strongest predictor for how much time children spend in front of screens. This finding can partly be explained by the fact that young children learn much of their behavior by observing their parents and the people around them. By witnessing adults using smartphones, computers and other devices in various settings, children thus learn and imitate their screen habits. A child that sees their parents constantly checking their email during dinner or that repeatedly must compete with devices for their parents’ attention, is likely to learn and emulate these patterns of screen behavior.
Children learn a lot by observing the behavior of adults
Besides the importance of adult screen time as an example for children’s behavior, managing one’s screen time is also for your own benefit. Too much screen time can have negative consequences for adults as well, for example affecting sleep and leading to a sedentary lifestyle. The American Academy of Pediatrics and World Health Organization have offered screen time recommendations for children and even though no such recommendations exist yet for adults, they are nevertheless advised to be mindful of their screen time. Being aware of the amount of time spent in front of screens is a part of maintaining a healthy digital lifestyle, regardless of one’s age.
We should all be more mindful of our screen time
It is important to note that screen time is not inherently bad. Just as with various other things in life, it is a matter of striking a balance. Moderate use can have numerous benefits for children and adults alike. How much time is spent using screens is important but equally, and perhaps even more so, how that time is spent.