Today’s Family: Screen time

I’ve researched this topic for some time mostly to prove to my kids — now 18 and 22 — that too much screen time is not good. At least that’s what I thought. I knew about 11 years ago that this “Facebook” thing was going to be a problem when I threatened to deactivate my daughter’s account as a consequence of misbehaving. I thought my then 11-year-old daughter was going to implode at the thought of not being able to “visit” with her friends — all 200-plus of them!

I intuitively knew this punishment wasn’t the best solution, but it wasn’t until I witnessed her extreme reaction that I knew this was going to be an epidemic. I had to begin defining what was going to be my role as a parent and counselor.

That said, there are pros and cons. Let’s start with the statistics.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, the average American child, age 8-18, spends seven hours and 38 minutes per day plugged into some sort of screen. By the age of 7, a child born today will have spent one full year’s time watching screen media. Almost 75 percent of children aged 2 and younger have access to some type of “smart” mobile device at home. Thirty percent of households admit to leaving their television on even when no one’s watching, exposing children to almost 4 hours of background television on a typical day.

You Do The Math

If kids sleep eight hours a night, attend school and other activities for 8-9 hours, and text about a hundred messages a day, opportunities for real-time face to face time become scant.

Although it’s easy to criticize our kids, we as adults are just as guilty. Who bought their devices, and who are they modeling? Are we spending far too much time on our cell phones texting and calling while driving, telling our children, “Don’t you dare do this.”

We’ve replaced board games with cable TV and electronics. We don’t even go for an outing to the mall anymore, instead, we shop online. The frontal lobe and now cerebral cortex of the young brain is developing without the ability to learn empathy or problem solve.

As long as your children are living at home, it’s not too late to become more active in guiding them in healthy directions. Screen time usage becomes a question of how much is too much, and more importantly, what is being missed when our faces are in a screen?

Some Strategies

Create viewing guidelines: 1. What factual data is my child learning from this program? 2. What kind of character traits is it seeking to build? 3. How does this program treat family members? 4. Is it consistent with our family values?

Growing up in a hyper-connected world, kids admit they would rather text than talk. Encourage them to open up by saying “tell me more.” They will want to put down their screens if you allow them to have a point of view. Include the kids in creating a family plan around screen time. Set rules around use, incorporate contracts, or try No Tech Tuesdays.

Free play should be non-screen. Give kids space to use their imagination. They are used to instant gratification and access to cures from their “boredom.” The art of patience is lost when efforts are immediately rewarded.

Also, try playing “unplugged” games that stimulate the brain and help kids predict another’s view, like card or board games. Role-playing and dress up also help them step into another’s shoes.

Look for teachable moments. This cannot happen when everyone’s face is in a screen — unless you are doing it together — i.e. reading and discussing a recent news article, or looking at Facebook photos with each other. The most cherished times your children will remember are the times they spent with you, not their phone. They might not admit it though, so you have to make it happen.

Another way to facilitate the development of your child’s social skills is to have regular family dinners. Find it impossible to have dinner together? Schedule family meeting times or discuss in the car, at bath time, or bedtime. These occasions are critical to teaching your children social skills.

Do not use your phone or iPad as an electronic babysitter. (I know this is a tough one.) Use screen time as a reward or consequence. Technology is not totally to blame, but the impact on the growing mind and heart of a child is undeniable. Grateful kids realize the world doesn't revolve around their wants and needs. Cultivating a thankful heart in your child has become a lost art.

Another hint is to look out for mood changes. When children spend too much time playing video games, especially if they are playing violent games, they will often become grumpy, easily-angered, impatient, and argumentative. Try taking away their devices and see what happens. Notice how other social behaviors maybe not outward anger but withdrawn, no desire to do anything, secluded, or low communication.

It’s never too late to make a difference.

** The opinions expressed are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of the ownership or management of Chadds Ford Live. We welcome opposing viewpoints. Readers may comment in the comments section or they may submit a Letter to the Editor to


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About Kim Engstrom

Kim Engstrom is a certified mental health counselor and mother of two located in Chadds Ford. Online Counseling and Walk and Talk Therapy now available. For questions or more information on this topic visit or Facebook at Kim Engstrom and KE Counseling Services. A complimentary 30-minute discovery call or in office meeting is available to all first-time clients to discuss your family goals.



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