Sexting, online bullying, video game addiction, obsessive checking for messages, disruptions to lessons and sleep, anti-social behaviour are becoming more common in the digital age.
It’s so tempting to write off excessive phone time as harmless. Because these lost moments tend to happen in short bursts throughout the day, you might not realise the total amount of time you or your children are spending staring at a screen or on social media.
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All these moments can add up to a ton of wasted time and cause significant developmental delays, addictions and problems.. A 2017 found that people spent over four hours a day on their smartphones. That number is even higher for teens, a massive 6.5 hours! That’s a part-time job – and a sizeable chunk of the staggering 10.8 hours we spend daily in front of screens.
What too much screen time is doing to everyday family life
Not many of us realise just what too much time on a screen is really doing to us and our children. Spending too much time on social media can cause issues we may not even be aware are happening.
Screenagers is an award-winning film by Delaney Ruston that looks at the reality of everyday family life and shows what spending so much time looking at a screen is doing to us and our children. The film offers solutions on how we can decrease our time looking at screens and help young people (and adults) to have better more fulfilling lives and relationships.
"I was really struggling with my daughter who wanted more social media and my son who wanted more video games," the filmmaker said. "I was completely at a loss at what to do and frustrated with all the tension in the house."
5 signs that your child is spending too much time online, including playing video games on a phone or computer or on social media
1. Withdrawal from normal face-to-face social interactions. Phones may begin to create conflict in their closest relationships (including with you).
2. Consistent anxiety, stress or feeling overwhelmed by normal routines. They may avoid real life responsibilities, such as chores or homework.
3. Their grades begin to slip, and assignments reflect poor work or are not completed at all.
4. They are Ill at ease, awkward or unresponsive to people in front of them or in the same room.
5. They often practice phubbing; the practice of ignoring one's companion or companions in order to pay attention to one's phone or other mobile device. It's not just teens that phub, adults often phub, it's not uncommon to see this practice at a restaurant when they snub people next to them by looking down at their phone.
Staring at a phone screen has consequences for families and teens
The average teenager is spending 6.5 hours or more on a screen every day, that is way too much - even Facebook and Google stop their staff using phones and laptops during meetings so they are not distracted
"Excessive screen time can lead to problems such as decreased attention span, problems with developing social skills and a risk of real clinical internet addiction," Ruston said. "These can affect kids currently in their studies but also in the future with their careers."
Research suggests that screen time (especially social media use) leads to unhappiness
In a 2018 Source: Pew Research Center Study, teens who report being online almost constantly said that this time spent on social media made them feel "worse about their own life." NYU Stern associate professor of marketing and Irresistible author Adam Alter chalked up to "being flooded by the best 1% of all moments experienced by the people you follow, which is enough to make you question the quality of your own time."
That sense of inadequacy that can follow social media use points to the pressure reported by constantly-online teens to only "only post content that makes them look good to others" (20%), or "content that will get lots of comments and likes" (17%).
Dr. Paul, a psychologist who works with teens said; "When peers portray idealised versions of themselves on their social media profiles, I’ve seen this evoke envy and self-doubt about the quality of one’s own life," He also said that "some teens feel anger if they feel that they can’t relate to that person anymore, because their lives appear to be 'so amazing."
How can we help our children to create a balance?
Our children are going to use social media, regardless of what we do or say, and that's not necessarily a bad thing. What's important to is to create a balance of spending time online versus spending quality time offline. What are some actionable ways that teens (and adults) can spend less time online?
4 things parents can do to help our children have a good online vs offline balance
1. Manage screen time and homework pressures- like all of us, teenagers can be easily distracted. Manage the time by using timers or giving screen time as a reward.
2. Limit phone data use. If data is limited this gives children an incentive to spend the limited time they have in better ways.
3. Parents can teach teens about being media savvy- looking at social media with a critical eye,"Consider how someone’s social media profile may not refect reality and may not show how their life really is, and why others might be portraying an idealised version of themselves online.
4. Teach your children to look inward and be self reflective about what is happening to them when they're almost constantly online -- and why they're spending that much time online in the first place.
Luna White - Inspiro Health Promotion worker on teenage screen use
Inspiro Health Promotion worker Luna White spends time at primary schools promoting the importance of the ‘Switched-On Kids’ program. Currently Luna is working with 5 local primary schools, educating the students and co-designing e-safety message posters with students, and running parent events.
She says that most of the kids are aware of the risks and issues of being online – it is an ongoing conversation and one that schools (and parents) are really grappling with. Below Luna answers some important questions about teenagers and screen use.
- Luna what are the main issues that you see facing teenagers with screen use?
Parents need to have open and consistent dialogue with their kids from a young age. I am doing most of my work with upper primary school students and parents, Create trust early so they will talk to you when stuff goes done (as it inevitably will during the teenage years). Prental controls are important at home- FamilyZone is a great app that allows age-appropriate settings for individual devices. Be aware of what games/apps your kids are on.
- What kind of work are you doing with schools in this area?
I am running ‘Switched-On Kids’ with 5 local primary schools. Educating the students and co-designing e-safety message posters with students, and I’m running parent events. Most of the kids are pretty aware of the risks and issues of being online – it is an ongoing conversation and one that schools are really grappling with.
I’m happy to chat with parents or teachers. Call the health promotion team on 9028 0153 to find out more.
Inspiro has free youth and family counselling. Call us on 9028 0153
See what Inspiro is dong in Lilydale, Belgrave and Healesville to help young people here