Local modeling

Experts suggest tech as a reward, modeling behavior for screen time

Do as I say, not as I do?

Nearly 3 in 5 parents have seen their own screen time increase since the pandemic began in March 2020, according to a survey.

The survey of 992 parents and guardians by MyVision, which was released in July, also found that 62% of parents felt that using their own device influenced their children, and of this group, 72% felt that it was a negative influence.

Whether it’s for work, education or entertainment, people of all ages can appear attached to their devices wherever you look. But Springfield medical experts say there are simple ways parents can help their children stare at screens less often.

“We’re in a technological world – it’s unfortunate – and it’s not going away, so just take that into account,” said Brooke Davis, child life specialist at CoxHealth. “Teaching children that it’s okay to use technology, but at the right time and place.”

Too much time in front of technology can have negative effects on children, according to Dr. Barbara Bumberry, who practices family medicine with Mercy.

“We know there’s an association between screen time and depression and obesity, and some evidence even shows a decreased quality of life in children,” Bumberry said.

Limit screens with young children

The MyVision survey found that almost one in four parents give technology with screens to their children at one year old or younger.

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, children under the age of 2 should not interact with screens except for video chatting with family. A study published in JAMA Pediatrics in 2014 found that children in this age group spent more than 3 hours a day in front of screens.

“This age group tends to learn better with live interaction, face-to-face learning, as opposed to screen time,” Bumberry said.

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Davis explained that time glued to a screen takes away time that could otherwise be used for development.

“When they’re using that screen time, they’re not developing those motor skills doing a craft project or playing outside,” Davis said.

According to the American Association for Pediatrics, children between the ages of 2 and 5 should be limited to one hour of screen time per day.

But not all screens are bad for kids, depending on the context. If parents are watching an educational program with their children, the parent’s presence can “enhance (the child’s) learning and understanding of what they’re watching. It’s beneficial,” Bumberry said.

Screens as a reward

One thing Davis emphasized is that screen time shouldn’t be used just to distract kids.

“You see it all the time in restaurants and in stores. It’s something we give kids out of habit so they don’t scream and throw tantrums,” Davis said.

Instead of giving in, she advises parents to use it as a reward.

“Playing outside and then having the technology – making it a reward system so it’s not just used for everything, like a distraction,” Davis said.

A Missouri State student looks at her phone on campus Wednesday, September 22, 2021.

For older children, technology can provide them with skills they will need later in life, while being educational.

“Teenagers and tweens can learn meaningful information using screens, and parents can teach their children to negotiate boundaries and boundaries around screen use,” Bumberry said. “For example, parents can negotiate with their children so that if they finish their homework, they can play their video games. Or, for every hour of physical activity, they can spend an hour in front of a screen.”

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However, teens and tweens also have the most screen time – 5-7 hours a day on average, not including screen time at school – which can have significant consequences.

“We know that screen time in this age group can lead to poor cognitive abilities and lack of sleep, which can then lead to impulsiveness. For this age group, the best way for them part of maintaining healthy mental health is making sure they get at least an hour of physical activity most days of the week,” Bumberry said. “They need to get enough sleep, which for this group of people age is 8 to 10 hours. And limit their screen time to a few hours a day.”

Parents should monitor their own screen time

One of the best ways for parents to ensure their children develop healthy tech habits is to model those behaviors themselves.

“As parents, we make sure we’re aware of that. I know on my phone it gives me a weekly average of screen time per day, so I check that myself constantly, and I just a mental bill of that every week – how I spend my time on the phone and how that gets mimicked for my kids too,” Davis said.

For parents and children, taking a break from technology is essential.

“The most important thing is that parents need to spend time directly caring for their children, not on their phones or screens all the time,” Bumberry said.

Bumberry also acknowledged that for some parents it may not be as easy as it looks.

“For example, in many households, parents don’t have an affordable alternative to entertainment, or parents are exhausted, or they have things to do around the house,” Bumberry said. “…they may live in a neighborhood where it’s not safe to play outside, and those kids may have less physical activity.”

A student checks his phone while walking on campus on the first day of classes at Missouri State University on Monday, August 17, 2020.

Susan Szuch is the health and public policy reporter for the Springfield News-Leader. Follow her on Twitter @szuchsm. Story idea? Email him at sszuch@gannett.com.