Are we fighting a losing battle with screen time?
It seems like every time I talk with other parents, especially parents of teenagers, the topic of conversation at some point turns to “screen time,” or how much time our kids are spending on digital devices. Of the parents I’ve spoken to, it seems like the vast majority are frustrated and having a hard time managing screen time. Like me, they have usually tried different systems or rules but, again like me, they have found it difficult to effectively and consistently police those rules. The addictive nature of gaming and social media mean that their kids will inevitably test boundaries and find loopholes in the rules. The parents who seem to have the situation most under control are the ones who have set the strictest of boundaries from the start and managed to stick to their guns.
In our case, phones are not allowed in the bedroom overnight and, at least during term time, homework has to be finished before there’s any access to game consoles. Phones are trickier during the daytime, though. Are the boys in their rooms doing homework, or is the phone a distraction then, too? One approach I’ve taken that seems to have at least reduced the tension levels at home is telling the boys they have to sort out between them (rather than with me) the rules around who gets access to the game console when. After a few failed attempts that ended up with one or other of them complaining to me about how the other was breaking the rules, they seem to have learned how to compromise, and the arguments seem to have all but disappeared.
My kids are all doing pretty well academically, not getting straight-A, top of the class results but doing well in the subjects they like, a bit less so in the subjects they’ve become not so keen on. They have friends at school, take part in extra-curricular activities like sports and drama, and seem generally well adjusted socially. Except that “socially” these days involves a considerable amount of the social interaction happening online. My older boy very rarely hangs out with friends IRL (in real life) and is usually the most reluctant to join family outings. His feelings about being deprived of screen time in order to go for a walk in the beautiful Kent countryside or enjoy the cultural activities on offer in central London are usually quite clear. I try to figure out whether the sullen behaviour is being made worse by digital withdrawal or is just par for the course with anyone going through their mid-teens, something to be endured but with a finite endpoint. I have my fingers crossed.
Thinking back to my own teenage years, I know I watched more television than was considered healthy at the time, but I also listened to a lot of music on my Walkman, spent hours designing model railways, read the odd book (voluntarily!), and spent a fair bit of time hanging out with friends. While I did become more withdrawn in my mid-teens, I always associated that with the difficulty I had in dealing with my parents’ divorce. So I find myself unsure of what is temporary and “normal” and what is permanently damaging…
I guess what worries me most is the mental image I sometimes have of my kids as young adults who are still engrossed in the virtual world and unable to completely engage with the physical one, choosing digital escapism rather than dealing with exhilarating, messy, and admittedly sometimes scary human relationships. Or will the gravitational pull of the real world eventually draw them away from their digital devices long enough and regularly enough for them to become well balanced young adults?
Internet Addiction Disorder – it’s a real thing. Some reports suggest internet addiction affects up to 38% of the general population.