You almost forget what kids look like these days, because their faces are buried in their phones.
“I check my phone, that’s the first thing I do when I wake up. I wake up with my phone, shut off the ringer, and put it in my bag,” says 16-year-old Camila Moreira, a Junior at Revere High school. Her cousin Priscilla Farnese is 18, and they prove our point. “Me, I probably, it would be a hundred at most, 150, 200. I text a lot,” Priscilla says.
How about these numbers from the Kaiser Family Foundation. The average teenager and yes, preteen, is spending almost every moment they are awake, on some kind of electronics and it’s not just texting. It’s screen time, it’s the computer, Facebook, TV shows, iPods, and video games.
“Seven and a half hours each day are dedicated to using media, and because of multitasking, several media at the same time, they are exposed to ten hours and 45 minutes of material everyday, and that doesn’t even count the hour and half of texting they’re doing,” says Dr. Michael Rich, the director of the Center on Media and Child Health at Children’s Hospital Boston.
After school and sleep, that leaves no time for anything else in the day. Dr. Rich says we should just accept it as part of our kids’ lives, but make sure we as parents are hyper aware of what is going on, on each of those screens. “We are now over half of a 24 hour period being dedicated to media exposure, and we know very little about how those media are affecting our kids,” Dr. Rich says.
As parents, we spend money on the game systems, the computers, the phones, because it’s what our kids want, it’ll make them happier, right? Well, not so, says the study. The kids who are totally plugged in, or heavy media users, are just not as happy.
These kids agree, “I hear my parents talk a lot and they seem like they were a lot more happier, even though they didn’t have a lot. They had like the raggedy doll and whatever, and I think about it, I’m like, how could you live without television, whatever? I feel like they’re much happier,” Camila says.
“I can see the point because some people might get addicted to it, people get addicted to a lot of things, and people can get addicted to the internet, and ti’s they might lose their friends, and it might be, I don’t know, I can kid of see it, but at the same time, the internet, the technology, will create new friends,” Priscilla says.
Grades, they can suffer too. The study shows those heavy users also tend to have grades that are “C” and below. While they’ve got A’s and B’s, these girls admit, it’s easy to get distracted. “So you do your homework, if you have to do research, whatever, you still have the email up, you have facebook up. You have the game up, the music, it’s like everything is still there,” Priscilla says.
So then it’s up to us, as parents to realize our kids are always learning from what they’re exposed to, online, in video games, everywhere. It’s not just in school. Know they are soaking up things from that screen time as well.
“We will spend a lot of time choosing a school for our kids, and meeting with teachers, and then we send them to school, and they learn about Abraham Lincoln, and photosynthesis, and French. And they come home, and we assume they switch their brains off when they’re playing ‘Call of Duty’, but they are learning as much from ‘Call of Duty” as they are from Abraham Lincoln,” Dr. Rich says.
Experts agree, not all media is bad, but as a parent, knowing what you’re kids are being exposed to, can make a difference. And a little moderation can go a long way.
“I think that to be a good parent, one needs to have one’s eyes open. Understand what kids are doing, understand how they’re spending one’s time, what they are spending their time with, and how that’s likely to change them. So that we can proactively get our kids using media in ways that make them healthier, make them stronger, make them better, more productive and successful citizens,” Dr. Rich says.
Most teens will agree, they know they spend a lot of time online, but for them it is just part of being a kid. “My mom tells me she’s worried a lot about my school, even though I get good grades, she wants me to get all A’s. So she’s always telling me get off the computer, go do some work or your homework, and I’m like, ‘Mom, I’m doing it!”
Kaiser Family Foundation Study on Media Use:
Dr. Rich’s ‘Ask the Mediatrician’ Site: