Feb 28, 2024

The Impacts of Screen-Based Technology

The Impacts of Screen-Based Technology

screen impacts kids
screen impacts kids
screen impacts kids

I am not an apologist for all things related to technology. Nor am I anti-tech. In fact, if you try to put me in a box, it won’t work. I won’t fit. 🙂

Like so many things in life, how I feel and recommend people interact with technology is nuanced. 

The term “screentime” encompasses many different things – and the benefits and drawbacks associated with different activities matter. FaceTiming with Grandma is very different than scrolling through TikTok. Not all screentime is created equal.

This is why any approach to mitigating the risks and harms of excessive screen use (in all its forms) cannot be the same for every situation or child. 

There isn’t a magic bullet solution that makes all screentime challenges disappear because children are not standardized. (And if there were such a solution, I definitely wouldn’t be in business or writing essays about it!).

Rather than demonize all tech as “bad” or fall on our swords to defend it as “the future,” I take a much more nuanced approach. Our reaction should depend on content, context, age of the child, stage of development, time of day, and so much more. 

There is no question that today, younger and younger children have increased access to smartphones and digital media. A 2023 Common Sense Media survey found that 71% of 12-year-olds have their own smartphone. That statistic climbs to 88-95% for 13-18-year-olds (Rideout/Pew, 2022). 

This same survey found that 31% of 8-year-olds have their own smartphones.

It’s not just the devices themselves that are problematic, of course, but what is accessible on them and how our use of them impacts how we spend our time. One in five teens say they use YouTube and TikTok “almost constantly” (!) and that the problem with TikTok in particular is the “bize-size pleasure” and “low-friction interaction” that comes with its design. Median use of TikTok is about 2 hours per day, but some kids are spending upwards of 7 hours per day on it – often during school hours or overnight. 

Even without reading all the scientific studies that support decreasing our use of social media and smartphones (always a good idea), we can look at that “7 hours per day on TikTok” statistic and wonder– for this child – what else is left in their day? 

What about school and sleep and time with family and friends and homework? 

What about non-screen-based forms of fun or exercise?

My colleague, Dr. Doug Gentile, at Iowa State, calls this “displacement” – the notion that time we spend on screens is time we are not spending on other activities. When some children are spending up to 7 hours per day on TikTok, what is being displaced? (Quite a lot, I would venture.)

Although scientists and educators have expressed increasing concerns about the long-term impacts of so much screen-based technology on children’s health and brain development for a while now, we are finally seeing longer-term data to know that we are trending towards “too much” – though “how much” and “what impact” actually varies greatly from child to child. 

Increasingly, I see more and more parents, teachers, and concerned citizens sit up and pay attention. I know it isn’t easy. There is even a lot of pressure to download an app to fix the problem (Oh, the irony! Don’t do it– it won’t help.)

So for parents who feel behind, uncertain, and overwhelmed, you are not alone. New research is emerging. Those of us who feel concern about the “too much” are on the right side of this very nuanced and complex situation. 

We have to remember that the apps, platforms, and devices we use were not designed with our best interests in mind. They were designed to hook and hold our attention for as long as possible because that’s how the companies who built them make money. 

Many parents who reach out to me for support have stories of the tween who finds ways around their carefully established parental controls, the fifth grader without a device who feels left out because their friends all communicate via text, the teen who can’t get off their phone, and the video gamer who has stopped attending class or doing homework. 

They will say, “It wasn’t like this for me when I was a kid—I didn’t have this much access! We didn’t have social media! All their friends have phones! What are we supposed to do?” 

Please remember it is normal to have these feelings. This is really an unprecedented time in parenting. Secondly, we will be the only parenting generation that remembers a childhood without smartphones and the internet (isn’t that mind-boggling!?). 

I know we are reluctant to wade too deep into advocating for more restrictions because we feel that limiting screens may inconvenience our own lives or negatively impact our children’s friendships. But consuming too much screentime impacts our relationships, skill development, and mental and emotional health. 

As parents, we cannot take our own childhood experiences with screens as gospel for what we do with our children today. It’s simply not the same. 

The good news is that Tech-Intentional™ parenting is an effective way to address these challenges and fight for a healthier childhood. As a reminder, the TL;DR of tech-intentional parenting is this:

  1. Less is more.

  2. Later is better.

  3. Relationships first.

For more about Tech-Intentional™ parenting, please check out The Screentime Solution, available everywhere books are sold. 

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™ are registered trademarks.

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™

are registered trademarks.

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™ are registered trademarks.