Kids and Screen Time: The Stats, the Risks, and Parent Tips, Too

Fortune freelancer Mark Koba recently reported that venture funding for education technology hit the $1.87 billion mark in 2014 and will most likely reach $2 billion this year-a considerable increase over the $385 million spent five years ago. Meanwhile, our public schools spend more than $3 billion every year on electronics and have already given […]

Kids and Screen Time: The Stats, the Risks, and Parent Tips, Too

Fortune freelancer Mark Koba recently reported that venture funding for education technology hit the $1.87 billion mark in 2014 and will most likely reach $2 billion this year-a considerable increase over the $385 million spent five years ago. Meanwhile, our public schools spend more than $3 billion every year on electronics and have already given about 20% of students a computer.

Naturally, parents are buying into the craze, too–but it might actually be time to hit the pause button, instead. That’s because a recent Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) study found that we’re actually not getting all that much bang for our bucks.

Its bottom line conclusion: Schools that have invested big-time in technology have seen no noticeable improvement in results on the Programme for International Student Assessment, aka PISA. This is the case not just in math, but in reading and science, too. What’s more, in countries like China, South Korea, and Singapore which restrict computer use, students outdo their more tech-invested peers in countries like the United States.

In other words, says NPR’s John O’Connor: “The more time students spend online in school, the worse they do. Students with moderate technology use performed best on international exams.”

Nevertheless, the tech shopping sprees go unabated. In fact, a 2015 “Back to School Consumer Pulse Poll” of parents found that:

  • 72% intended to buy back-to-school tech
  • 38% intended to buy tech to meet classroom needs or requirements

Moreover, the K-12 parents in that poll planned on spending, on average, $390 on back-to-school tech alone, with 50% of them saying they already own a tablet. Another 44% were buying one this time around.

Such findings prompted author and freelancer Jenny Shank to write, “I don’t blame teachers for having the kids practice test-taking and typing-teachers are under a lot of pressure with the Common Core tests, and they are trying to make sure every kid is comfortable with computers. But at home, I can choose to unplug my kids.”

And it’s looking like more of us should follow her lead considering a recent Pew Research Center survey that found that:

  • Nearly 75% of our 13- to 17-year-olds have a smartphone or access to one;
  • 24% of our teenagers report going online “almost constantly;”
  • 92% of teens report going online every day;
  • 56% of teens go online several times a day.

Moreover, a study in Pediatrics found “almost universal exposure, early adoption, and use of mobile devices among young children, and…

  1. 97% of the families own a television
  2. 97% said their children used some sort of mobile device, most of them starting before their first birthdays
  3. 75% of their children had access to some type of “smart” mobile device
  4. 20% of their 1-year-olds own a tablet computer
  5. 28% of 2-year-olds can navigate a mobile device with no help
  6. 21% of 4-year-olds own a gaming console
  7. 28% of the parents said they use a mobile device to put their children to sleep

Meanwhile, doesn’t #7 on that list beg the question: Whatever happened to bedtime stories?

Similarly unsettling is a report from Common Sense Media that found that more than 30% of children in the U.S. play with mobile devices while still in diapers! At the same time, the organization found that our teens spend almost 9 hours every day with media, with…

  • 66% saying they listen to music every day;
  • 58% watch TV every day;
  • 45% use social media every day-but only 36% find they enjoy it “a lot;”
  • 66% text while doing homework, with almost 66% claiming it has no effect on their work’s quality or their ability to study and learn, despite loads of research to the contrary.

And in case you’re wondering, our 8- to 12-year-olds evidently spend almost 6 hours every day engaged with media, and 62% of them watch TV every day.

Enter the American Academy of Pediatrics… Back in 1999, the AAP discouraged all screen time until the age of two-but apparently to no avail. So now change is afoot with new recommendations due out some time in 2016. Most likely they’ll absolve parents of some of the guilt we feel when plugging in our kids.

For now, though, the AAP recommends:

  1. “That parents establish screen-free zones at home by making sure there are no televisions, computers, or video games in children’s bedrooms, and by turning off the TV during dinner.
  2. Children and teens should engage with entertainment media for no more than one or two hours per day, and that should be high-quality content.
  3. It is important for kids to spend time on outdoor play, reading, hobbies, and using their imaginations in free play.
  4. Television and other entertainment media should be avoided for infants and children under age 2.”

It follows up by saying, “A child’s brain develops rapidly during the first years, and young children learn best by interacting with people, not screens.”

Oh, yes, and meanwhile, have no doubt that media use poses real health risks to our kids. Says Victoria L. Dunckley, M.D., “Children or teens who are ‘revved up’ and prone to rages or-alternatively–who are depressed and apathetic have become disturbingly commonplace.”

She then goes on to explain: “Children’s brains are much more sensitive to electronics use than most of us realize. In fact, contrary to popular belief, it doesn’t take much electronic stimulation to throw a sensitive and still-developing brain off track. Also, many parents mistakenly believe that interactive screen-time-Internet or social media use, texting, emailing, and gaming-isn’t harmful especially compared to passive screen-time like watching TV. In fact, interactive screen time is more likely to cause sleep, mood, and cognitive issues, because it’s more likely to cause hyperarousal and compulsive use.”

Best bet, then? Start with this from Dr. Steiner-Adair: “Technology is a poor substitute for personal interaction,” and go from there. No regrets.

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