Earlier this week, two major Apple investors published a letter pressuring the tech giant to take a more active role in combating the harmful effects of iPhones on children. The letter cited a growing body of research that shows the negative consequences of kids who use smartphones too much, including depressive symptoms and other mental health problems.
This letter caught my attention since my career revolves around teaching kids to code. But it also struck a nerve with me as a parent, as it shed light on the potentially harmful effects of smartphones on children.
Like many other parents, I've struggled with raising a child in the digital age. So I was very interested in the investor proposals, such as adding technology to allow parents to restrict cell phone usage during certain hours.
While Apple decides how they will take leadership on this issue, here are five things you can do to protect your kids from the negative consequences of screen time.
1. Limit screen time.
A recent study by Jean Twenge, a professor of psychology at San Diego State University, found a correlation between time spent on electronic devices and an uptick in depressive or suicidal thoughts among teens. Setting limits on technology is perhaps the most important thing a parent can do to foster a healthy relationship between their child and technology.
Limiting your child's online time is easier said than done, however, as more and more of our children's world moves online. But you can start now, making bedrooms screen-free, or requiring that devices be turned off an hour before bedtime. In my house we put phones away and turn the TV off for every meal. This helps us separate in-person engagement from online engagement, and just makes dinner a lot more enjoyable.
2. Make screen time educational.
Studies have shown links between excessive screen time and depression, obesity, and poor social skills. However, these studies mostly focused on forms of passive consumption of technology, such as browsing social media, watching television, and listening to music.
Encourage your child to engage in content creation online. Whether your child is interested in computer coding, music production, or graphic design, you can help your child's interests develop online in constructive ways. Sign them up for online courses, or challenge them with new projects. These fun and educational activities motivate your child to take a more active and creative role, rather than being a passive observer.
3. Monitor your child before, during, and after screen time.
The best way to know if technology is negatively impacting your child is to communicate with them. Pay attention to your child's behavior before, during, and after consuming digital media. Have conversations with them about their screen time. If your child becomes distanced, irritable, or demonstrates any other abnormal emotions, it might be time for you to step in.
Maintain communication with your child through these efforts, to help them become aware of how technology is affecting them. Starting these conversations early can help them make better decisions regarding their own screen use.
4. Be a participant in your child's screen time.
Screens can be isolating, especially due to social media's dominance over our world. But turning technology into something that brings the family together can help keep kids social and engaged.
AAP guidelines for children under 6 recommend that you participate in screen time with your child, and communicate with your child during the activity. I love playing interactive games with my daughter, as it not only helps her learn and grow, but it allows us to bond. A lot of the games we play are early coding games, which are fun to play and lay the foundation for a computer programming education.
5. Set a good example.
In a response to the Apple investors' letter, iPhone co-creator Tony Wadell pointed out that cellphone addiction is not just a problem with children, but with adults as well. UK adults spend 8 hours and 41 minutes a day on screens. Most people check their phones up to 150 times per day.
What do children learn if they see their parents texting and driving, checking emails during dinner, or staying up late to scroll social media?
As a parent and tech-lover myself, I know how difficult it can be to set aside my phone for even an hour. But in order to help our children have healthy screen habits, we must cultivate those habits ourselves. Set limits on your own screen use. Challenge yourself to leave your phone out of your bedroom, or put it away when engaging with your kids. These behaviors start at home, and ultimately, they start with ourselves.