University of Findlay Psychology Expert: Screen Time During Summer Months
Technology and screen time are a part of everyday life, and it’s incorporated into our workdays, children’s school days, and at home. “One of the problems with it is that it can’t be demonized. It’s not all good, and it’s not all bad,” said Allison Kiefner Burmeister, Ph.D., associate professor of psychology at the University of Findlay.
Kiefner Burmeister has published articles relating to screen time and adolescents, and she offers parents the following advice. “Media is going to be there, and we are not going to be able to get rid of it. It then becomes about monitoring the screen time and setting limits,” she said.
Psychologists recommend limiting the amount of screen time for both kids and adults, and they all agree that children under the age of 18-months should avoid it all together. “They will become accustomed to a level of stimulation that neurologically, real life is never going to replicate,” said Kiefner Burmeister. That being said, she also wants parents to realize that there is no shame or embarrassment to bending the rules for certain social situations, citing airplane rides and family dinners at restaurants. If the rules are bent, she says that what is on the screen is very important, “What we are really looking for are things that have very slow-moving colors and pictures, and nothing that is overly stimulating.”
After 18-months, Kiefner Burmeister recommends the following:
- 18 months – 24 months: < 1 hour of Educational Media (colorful, but extremely slow)
- 2-5 years old: 1 hour per day with educational media
- 6+ years old: Set limits for your kids, and make sure all the screens they use are monitored (phones, television shows, video games, etc.)
- Everyone: No screens one hour before bed, and don’t use screens to fall asleep
With all screen time, Kiefner Burmeister recommends parents set limits for their kids, and encourages them to make the announcement ahead of time. Giving the kids time to message their friends before the screens are turned off can help ease the pain of taking the screens away. Without limits, negative consequences can arise. “As we see the amount of screen time increase in kids, we start to see what we call green-time (time outside) decrease. With that we see increases in obesity and depression, and a decrease in overall psychological well-being,” said Kiefner Burmeister.
To help break up the mind-numbing scrolling of teenagers on social media, and the zombie-like gaze of your toddler staring into their tablets, parents are encouraged to ask their children questions about what they are watching. By asking their kids about the show they are watching, or about the videos they are enjoying, parents can stop the absorption and remind them that they are watching a screen. “You want to make sure they can jump right back out of the media they are watching when you say their name. You want to make sure they can articulate to you what they are watching,” said Kiefner Burmeister.
When the time limit is up, and it becomes time to take the devices away, psychologists say that a meltdown is common. Parents are encouraged to remember that setting limits is going to be hard, as the children and teens don’t want to go without their screens. However, they are also encouraged to not give in to the fits and the meltdowns. “If the kid has a meltdown for five minutes and the parent gives in and provides three more minutes, that is ensuring that the meltdown lasts even longer. At that point the parent is no longer conditioning the child…the child is conditioning the parent,” said Kiefner Burmeister.
While parents may associate their child’s behavior with someone that is an addict, Kiefner Burmeister says that is an overreach. “Sometimes these kinds of behaviors rise to the level of addictions or at least addiction-like behaviors. At that level, evaluation and treatment by a psychologist would be warranted. That said, these problematic behaviors do exist on a spectrum. The important thing is for parents to seek help if they feel like they could use it.” Some warning signs of addictions that psychologists assess include the child’s life consistently being disrupted (grades going down, not going out with friends, etc.) due to the focus on getting back on the screen.
Kiefner Burmeister suggests parents set boundaries and even time slots or days where no screens are being used. She says family dinners are a great place to start, as putting down the phones and tablets can create the opportunity for communication and bonding. Taking away screens in the evening can also be beneficial for kids getting better sleep, as it decreases the amount of blue light before bed and decreases the amount of stimulating overdrive.