Wellness Wednesday: Cutting back on screen time as a family


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Cutting back on screen time as a family
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Today we're talking screen time. Screen time reached an all time high for many children this past year, whether because of attending school on their device, the pandemic, keeping them inside and away from their activities, or maybe just trying to connect with their friends that they can't get together with as much. So now, as gathering restrictions ease and we're entering the summer months, some parents are looking to cut down on their kids' screen time. I can relate to that, having a young son who did virtual learning. University of Minnesota professor Jodi Dworkin is here to talk about how screen time usage has changed.

Every Wednesday morning at 8:30 CST, Jill Riley connects with experts and local personalities for some real talk about keeping our minds and bodies healthy — from staying safe in the music scene, to exercising during a pandemic, to voting and civic engagement. Looking for more resources and support? Visit our friends at Call to Mind, MPR's initiative to foster new conversations about mental health. Subscribe to Wellness Wednesday as a podcast on Spotify, Apple, RSS, Radio Public, Stitcher, or Amazon Music.

Jill Riley: How has screen time changed during the pandemic? For many families, there was more of it.

Jodi Dworkin: There was a lot more of it. For most families, young people were attending online school. Their after school activities also went online; many had very limited in person interaction with friends and family, and then screen time was increasing for that as well to help keep them connected. I have not heard from any family who would say they did not see a major increase in screen time. And that would be true for parents too.

Yeah, I'm guilty of that. But I would have to assume that there are some pros in there. Is all screen time created equal?

It's certainly not created equal. When you talk with young people, they would say being online for school is not the same as hanging out with my friends online. There's lots of things that make screen time different when you're doing it for different things and for different reasons. What we want for young people, I think that we need to keep in mind that we want them to grow up to be responsible digital citizens. So there's some long term goals of wanting young people to be able to use screens [and] use the internet responsibly, safely. And we need to try to help build those skills in them while also limiting their screen time and keeping them safe. So when young people were spending less time in person, finding time to connect with friends, whether it was through gaming or social media sites, was really important for their mental health, was really important for helping to keep them connected, was really important for ensuring they could get access to information that they need. We also know it puts them at risk for things like cyberbullying, or negative experiences that we don't want them to have. So talking with them about responsible uses, what information to share online, what information to not share online, who to trust online, became really important for parents and was more important for parents as young people were spending more time in those online spaces.

What's your advice for parents or caregivers who are navigating those conversations with children about why it's important to limit screen time?

One of the things I've heard really often from parents and from young people has been, I need something to do that's not online. They spend so much time online, that I think many were feeling like, give me something to do that's not online. All of their online time wasn't fun time. Right? A lot of it was school. When we think of young people spending time online, we don't think of them sitting in Google Meets and doing math class, things that are less enjoyable. One of the really important things I think is for parents and caregivers is to really be able to sit down with young people and talk about yes, your swing time has increased, and so has mine as a parent, right? My screen time has also increased. Now, what are we going to do differently now that things are opening up, now that some kids may be back to school? What are the new expectations that we're going to have now that probably don't look like what they did a year and a half ago, pre COVID? We're at a...maybe it's a phase three? I don't know. But it's a new phase. It's a new way of thinking about it. That's not going to look like what it did prior. And that's okay.

I think it's interesting to hear that young people and younger kids are almost like, I'm tired of my screen. I never thought I'd hear a young person saying that: like, oh, just get me away from this device already. I need to do something else. That's a good point that you make that it's not the fun time. It's not the play time. It's not the time spent gaming or interacting with friends. Maybe we've kind of shown the side of screens that that is not as fun and kids will actually maybe want to get outside again.

Right? I mean, something we find in research is that using technology to communicate with friends complements in person time. It doesn't replace it. What we've seen over the past year and a half in many families is that it's hard to replace it. Most young people don't want to just interact online, they do want that in person connection. And it doesn't mean you still don't want to stay in touch. But to replace it, I think, was really hard.

You brought up a couple times that even for parents, even for adults, screen time has increased. As a parent, how can I be a good example for my son?

Kids are really aware of what the adults around them are doing. And when we say you need to limit your screen time, kids have seen their parents also having increased screen time. It's hard to reconcile that. I think when families can say to kids, you know, I've been on my screen too much, too. We both had a year, we've had to rely on it for more things than we would like. So how are we all going to make changes as a family? And maybe that means when we're outside phones are down. And that's not just for the teen, right? That's for everybody, and give young people a voice in that. Give them the chance to say, hey, I would love to do this and not be online. Or, you know, it would be great to be able to spend time with my friends, but I'm not sure what to do that's not online. Can we generate some ideas of activities we can do?

Wellness Wednesday is hosted by Jill Riley, and produced by Anna Weggel and Jay Gabler. Our theme music is a portion of the song "F.B. One Number 2" by Christian Bjoerklund under the Non Commercial Share Alike 3.0 International License.

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