This past winter, I caught my 11-year-old on his tablet long after he’d exhausted his screen time limit for the day.
I’m sure he’d been sneaking extra time for a while, but I’d been giving him the benefit of the doubt. I wanted to believe I could trust him, but I was also secretly enjoying the peace and quiet that usually means he’s on a screen.
This time, however, I caught him red-handed, so I took the tablet away for an unspecified period of time. I guess he knew he was guilty, so he accepted the punishment without complaint.
In the months before this, I’d begun to worry about him. He was moody and cranky over Christmas break and even worse during an extended snow break. He never wanted to go out and play with his neighborhood friends, and when he wasn’t on his screen, he’d lay in his bed staring at the ceiling.
I made an appointment to talk to a therapist about this, but by the time I met with her — a few days after he lost the tablet — he was so much better. He was more engaged, playing with his old toys again, and he seemed much happier. She agreed that too much screen time could be contributing to his mood.
If you are worried about how tablets, smartphones, video games and the like are impacting your kids, check out our story Is technology killing our kids’ social skills?. Although there aren’t many studies on the topic, there is a lot of good information for parents to consider — including advice on how to manage screen time.
Several families in the story have had the same experience as I did. Their tweens seemed almost happier when the screen was taken away.
Teens, however, don’t seem as affected by spending time on screens. I definitely put more restrictions on my 11-year-old than I do my teenagers. My 15-year-old son spends a good bit of time playing Xbox with his friend down the street and their “friends” in Wisconsin. We are constantly giving him a hard time about these “friends” that he only knows through gaming, but I’m not worried about him. He has a good head on his shoulders, plenty of real life friends and a full life off screen.
My girls, meanwhile, spend a great deal of time on their phones, “snapchatting” with friends, checking social media and watching videos. But they also spend a good bit of time on homework during the school year, working in the summer and in sports. If you add up the time I spent watching TV and talking to friends on the phone as a teenager, it would probably equal the time my girls spend on their iPhones.
Eventually, my youngest got his tablet back, but he has to give it to me when he’s not using it. That way, he’s not as tempted to sneak extra time. He knows how I feel about screen time and my concerns about what it does to him, so he started lining up projects early in the summer to keep from getting bored. As I write this, he’s building a car out of cardboard.
FranklyStein is a blog by Chesapeake Family Magazine editor Betsy Stein, who lives in Catonsville with her husband, Chris, and four children, Maggie, 17, Lilly, 15, Adam, 15, and Jonah, 11.