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Scary reality: Kids screen time doubled.

by Rochelle Brenner

Guess how many hours a day the average kid spends on screen time. It’s so high it’s sickening.

A study published in JAMA Pediatrics (reported by CNN and many other news outlets this week) showed that screen time has DOUBLED since the pandemic -- from four hours a day (disgusting) to almost eight (beyond disgusting).

That’s the average. And it doesn’t count school or educational time on Zoom. Let me say that again -- that doesn’t count virtual school. That’s social media, video games, streaming videos, and mindless games.

That’s just how far we’ve declined. When we put the kids in mass masks, and closed their playgrounds, and banned their sports, they retreated to their devices. And they haven’t come out of it. The same well-respected medical journal published studies over the last few years about the detrimental effect of excessive device time. It’s like we’re letting our kids’ brains drink soda for hours a day. (That’s not a medical observation, that’s my commentary.)

I blog about parenting and martial arts but if I’m honest, my kids have also doubled their screen time and I’m determined to reverse the trend. If you’re overwhelmed and discouraged and disappointed, it’s not too late. There are ways to improve.

1. Model the behavior. Put your phone on a charger outside of your bedroom at night and don’t go back to it until after your morning routine. Put a time limit on your own phone to hold yourself accountable to the amount of time you spend on it. You can override the limit, but it will remind you to put down the device. On a personal note: Most of the time my kids are mindlessly on their devices, it’s because it keeps them quiet and occupied when I want to be on my phone. Before the pandemic, I had a TV with only an antenna at home. From December 2019 to March 2020, I didn’t turn it on because the Eagles season had ended. I watched TV socially with friends but I didn’t have Netflix and my TV was the size of a piece of loose leaf paper. I didn’t have WIFI at home. Then school went virtual and I got both of my kids phones. I got WIFI and a big TV. I watched more TV in March 2020 than the previous year. I’ve deleted Candy Crush on my phone several times, but I keep adding it back. Karate went forced virtual for weeks at a time. I slid into habits I never wanted. It’s my responsibility to schedule my life back and especially get my kids focused on better habits. Now the only app they can use on their phone during the week is the library.

2. Be busy. Everyone has the same 24 hours in a day. Busy kids fill that time with activities, so they don’t have as much time to sit on the phone or video games. Studies have found that busy kids are less stressed and more fulfilled. Get your child involved in an after-school sport or hobby. Make sure that screen time is the LAST thing they get after everything else is done: shower, dinner, chores, practice, homework, relaxing, puzzles. The longer you delay it each day, the less time it will be available. I know this means device time will be right before bed, but you can adjust the schedule so it doesn’t disrupt sleep patterns.

3. Get to karate class more. The after school program is screen-free. Karate classes are unlimited - try to make it to one more day each week. It will make a difference in your skills and take time away from screens.

4. You need “Breakthrough motivation.” That’s the experience when a child goes from being unmotivated, disinterested and resistant and finally breaks through with confidence and desire to improve. Motivation comes after action. You have to keep going until you’re good at it. If you quit chess after a couple games, your decision to quit is justified: You weren’t any good at it and you don’t miss or regret it. But if you keep practicing until you are good and invested time and energy, you reach a tipping point with motivation. You eventually are motivated to keep going and you see the value in getting better. In the beginning, it’s hard to change habits. Spending time with screens is addictive and enjoyable. Eventually, the benefits of being pulled away from the screen will result in a breakthrough in improved mental health.

Actual JAMA Pediatrics studies you can read for yourself:

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