My children are at an extremely low-tech school. There are no televisions, computers or tablets in the classroom, and mobile phones are forbidden during the school day. Families are encouraged to keep their children screen-free in the early years (up until age six) and for grade one through seven, limited screen time is recommended for weekends only. Our family has followed these guidelines since our children started at the school and we have rarely deviated from them.
Now that my daughter is 13 and in high school, the struggle to limit screen time and exposure to social media is real. Most of my daughter’s classmates have Instagram accounts and many of them are smuggling phones into the classroom, despite the “no tech” rule. She says that without her own account, she often feels a disconnect with her classmates because she didn’t see the latest Instagram post that everyone is talking about. Are we impeding her ability to socialize and communicate with her friends? Maybe this is simply the Generation Z (Post-Millennial) way of reaching out to each other, like we did as teens when we pulled our long phone cords across the hall to our rooms to chat with friends all night. This leaves me questioning my decisions and hoping that my husband and I are making the right choices for our daughter when it comes to limiting exposure to social media and screens. And I’m also wondering why it feels like I’m one of the only parents still holding out.
However, after recently watching the documentary Screenagers: Growing Up in the Digital Age, I felt better about our decisions when I saw studies on the effects of excessive screen time and how it can harm the physical development of young people’s brains. Studies show a connection between too much screen time and poorer attention spans, as well as an adverse impact on learning. Screenagers filmmaker and mother, Dr. Delaney Ruston, documents the real pain her daughter feels when her mobile phone is taken away, and reminds parents that teens are not able to self-regulate when it comes to screen time and social media. Parents and caregivers must be the ones to set limits and consider writing up a contract to regulate screen usage if they decide to allow it. They must also set an example for children by being good role models themselves. And that means having their own guidelines for time spent on devices.
Another encouraging moment for me came at the end of the film, when a group of teens talk about how happy they are that their parents enforce boundaries and rules around their screen time, saying that they’d probably be failing school if they didn’t have clear limits. How refreshing. I think that what’s most important to remember as a parent navigating the ever-changing frontiers of technology and social media, is that you are still the shaper of your children’s future. If you place expectations on what food they eat, what grades they get and how much sleep they need, then why wouldn’t you do the same for media and technology? Food for thought. Who’s got my back?