Screen management was challenging before the pandemic but since March 2020 parents are left fighting a losing battle. According to a 2019 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics, children aged 8-12 spent an average of 4.5 hours a day on screens, while teens aged 13-18 spent 6.5 hours a day. The pandemic has made those numbers rise fast. The New York Times reported, children’s screen time had doubled by May 2020 as compared to the same time period a year earlier, according to Qustodio, a company that tracks usage on tens of thousands of devices used by children, ages 4 to 15, worldwide.
Not only have children been relying on screens for academic purposes but also social and entertainment reasons. All of this extra screen time has consequences. The American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry states that too much screen time can lead to sleep issues, weight problems, mood swings, increased isolation, reduced physical activity, academic challenges, poor self-image, and an inability to relax and have fun without a screen.
Chesapeake Family spoke with Anne Bryan, mother of four sons, former member of the Beaverton School Board, and CEO of Circle, a company that specializes in solutions for screen time management.
CF: Chesapeake Family | AB: Anne Bryan
CF: Has screen time increased for all age groups?
AB: Screen times across all age groups really have increased. Things that are just mind blowing to say out loud are happening, [such as] online preschool. We know that it’s been particularly affecting teens in a very personal way. They need to be able to communicate with their friends so they are online all the time, but they are also more prone to feeling anxiety and depression. All age groups have seen a few pounds get added on, you are more likely to have symptoms of obesity or be more likely to have unhealthy behaviors. Less sleep is happening across all age groups because you are online more and it is distracting. We are really seeing these negative health benefits across all ages with a particular pain point at the teenage years.
CF: Can you tell us just a little bit about your company, Circle? How does it work and what are users getting out of it?
AB: Circle is really designed to be able to provide families with the tools they need to create the home internet solution that they want. We provide parents the information about where usage is happening, when it is happening, and then also the ability to set time limits. Everyone needs [a time limit] and [sometimes we need] to be able to just pause the internet for all devices for a time, [for example], if you want family dinners to be device free. We also provide a new feature, pandemic inspired, called focus time, which makes it so that you can have your online tools available to do the work that you need. During my focus time, I stay off of Instagram, online games, news sites, things that are not critical for me to get my work done. But I can get on and access all of my emails, slack, zoom, those kinds of tools.
CF: I see screen management tools as potentially really useful tools even for adults, because I think so many adults have found themselves in this situation where we often don’t know how to regulate our devices either. We really need to learn and teach ourselves how to use screens appropriately.
AB: As with everything else, we’re the most important model in our home. It really is helpful for parents to regulate themselves, think about what you are modeling. Everyone does need a bedtime. A screen management tool can help a parent self-manage so that adults can control themselves, at least get that reminder. [You can see] how long you were on Instagram or Facebook or Candy Crush, whatever happens to be your vice. The [apps] are designed in order to keep you there and to make it hard for you to know how much time you spent there. And they are very good at their job. Especially as we go through this summer, and back to school, you can ask, who do we want to be as a family? A tool like Circle where you can get more information about your usage, set time limits, create focus time, or use a whole house pause if you need it, are really empowering and great reminders of where your limits are and where you want them to be.
CF: What are some suggestions that you have for summertime screen guidelines, and how might those be different from a virtual or in-person school year?
AB: I always like to start at bedtime and that’s probably because I need a lot of sleep and I know my kids need a lot of sleep too. Bedtime needs to be set depending on when we all need to be up and going in the morning. I would [ask] is our summer schedule going to differ from our during-the-school-year schedule? [During the school year], if you are going to be doing online learning, I would really consider how focus time sits at home. Whether it is for homework time or whether it is for during school time, you are going to need to be online doing things but you don’t want to be distracted. How do you minimize those distractions? Monitoring usage and history, you’ll get a big sense of what the distractions are and when they are happening. Then we can see how to best support our kids in setting up that focus time so that they can get their work done. I really feel like we’re at a great point as we get ready for back to school for us all to say, well, what do we want our new habits to be?
The big thing is that parents are powerful. That’s the main thing that I want all parents to know. And screen time is one of those things that a parent needs to model and manage just like your child’s eating habits or your child’s sleep habits. And that’s what a screen time management tool can really do, help parents model and teach in the way that they want to.
Listen to the Full Podcast here.