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Device Dilemma: Kids Spend More Time Online, But Is That Bad?


Kids have more screen time than ever before, which can make parents pause when they think about Christmas gifts for their kids.

For many children, the latest smartphone is at the top of the gift list. But for many parents there is more fear than ever about the effects of the pandemic.

The use of tablets and phones has increased since early 2000, said Deanna Trella, a professor of education in east Washington.

“Since the vast majority of students were distance learning most of the time, that doesn’t necessarily mean worse or better,” Trella said.

According to a study published in October by the Journal of American Medicine / Pediatrics, the average screen time for some children doubled from 3.8 to 7.7 hours per day during the pandemic. And that doesn’t count the time you’ve spent in it

The key word here, however, is “average,” a word that is of little use to concerned parents. Most children are not average, and even those who are may not stay that way.

In terms of screen time, it means that a particular app can pique its curiosity in good and bad ways.

Trella acknowledged that “the raw numbers have increased dramatically,” but says the problem is more nuanced – and for many children, it may not be a problem at all.

Like it or not, this makes it harder for parents to dig a little deeper to better understand how their kids deal with phones, tablets, and the opportunities and challenges they present.

“Problem behavior is what we’re looking for, and there are different uses around education,” said Trella, who is very knowledgeable about children and their electronic devices. Her areas of expertise include the effects of the pandemic on youth and family dynamics.

“Apps or other programs that have some educational qualities over problematic ones: social media that can be addictive, that children don’t necessarily feel comfortable with after using them.”

Others have sounded the alarm bell about the impact social media has on children, including elementary school students.

According to a survey published in October by CS Mott Children’s Hospital in Michigan, about half of parents of children ages 10-12 said their child used social media apps in the first six months of this year.

Perhaps even more worrying, almost a third of children ages 7 to 9 use social media apps.

“There is ongoing debate about how early to early is when it comes to using social apps and how parents should oversee it,” said Sarah Clark, a pediatric researcher at the University of Michigan.

Most parents move up.

When deciding which apps are suitable for their child, more than 60% of parents considered whether the apps have parental controls, are suitable for their child’s age group or are required for their child’s schooling.

Between 51% and 66% of parents have used parental locks, parental consent for new contacts, privacy settings, daily time limits, and a passcode for certain content on certain websites.

Many parents also had concerns about their children’s abilities to safely navigate social media apps. Some feared their child might divulge private information without realizing it, run into sex offenders, see adult pictures or videos, or be unable to tell which information was true or false.

For these and other reasons, they are rightly concerned, Trella said.

“We saw the algorithms,” said Trella. “Their intention is to get you to get involved and live out your interests: Another Tik Tok video … Next, you feel like you haven’t done your homework and you feel lazy.”

A child’s total screen time could be longer than parents thought. Experts encourage them to start monitoring, explain the Screen Time rules, and enforce them.

Parameters should be set at the time of purchasing and installing apps, say other experts.

Some experts advocate a tiered approach based on the age and maturity of the child. On the lower end, the phone would only contain the factory preset apps with no internet browsing allowed.

When ready, the child could get internet with allowed accountability software and eventually video games and select social media.


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