Screen Time vs. Family Time
By Matt Eschler PhD, LMFT, St. George Center for Couples and Families, Owner, Clinical Director
Brigham Young University and American Family Survey tell us that the overuse of technology has moved into the number one spot in our “things to worry about.” American Family tell us that drug abuse, bullying, and sex all take a back seat to screen-time fears in the minds of parents and educators.
A knee-jerk reaction to our fears is to limit or get rid of the item causing concern—to throw away cell phones and keep them out of the hands of our children until they are at least thirty-three years old or to move televisions, phones, game consoles, and anything with a screen to the center of the living room so that we can be there when a child is looking at a screen. Once we start down the road of limiting, monitoring, or leaving behind all technology, we realize that we (husbands, wives, and older adults) are having the same complications with screen time as our children are having.
How many times have you walked through the tables at restaurants and noticed a table of eight or nine adults all sitting with a phone in their hand and their eyes on the screen, ignoring everyone at the table? One researcher calls this phenomena FOMO: the fear of missing out. FOMO is, according to slang dictionary, “a pervasive apprehension that others might be having rewarding experiences from which one is absent.” This is a form of social anxiety. FOMO anxiety is characterized by an overpowering desire to stay continually connected with what others are doing. This is so real and so pervasive that people are often “with other groups” while sitting face to face with a spouse or a child.
In 1982, American parents were inundated with research that promoted limiting television use. At that time, most homes had one screen: a television. The television was usually a cumbersome, heavy box sitting in the living room. Wealthy families may have had two or three televisions. People with vision would state that some day, every room of a home would have a screen. I remember laughing at how silly that would be.
Well, here we are in 2019. Not only do we have a screen in every room of our homes, but seventy-two percent of children who are eight years old and under have a “screen” in their front pocket or hands. Eight-four percent of teens who are twelve to eighteen years old use screens to do all social messaging and are on a screen eleven hours a day.
Surprisingly, adult screen-time use is about the same! In 2014, adults spent thirty-nine minutes on a screen each day. A recent survey of adults showed that their screen time had increased to eleven hours a day, an increase of over ten hours a day in just four years! Adults check their phones every four minutes and feel rude if they don’t respond to every message immediately. We have neck pain, headaches, and social anxiety because of our attachments to our electronic devices.
All of this being true, screens are here to stay in some form or another. Technology shouldn’t be stuffed back into a bottle and shelved because of our fears that our children will misuse it. Our children organize track meets, sporting event practices, service projects, and school work on their phones or phone apps. We find our spouses and our children through phone calls, texts, and tracking applications. Phones are part of our education system. Homework is sent electronically, and grades can be accessed immediately by concerned parents.
In his book The New Childhood, Jordan Shaprio tells us that we will be ahead of the screen game if we stop thinking about limiting use and start thinking about enhancing use. Shapiro believes that parents should allow their children to begin their digital experience earlier in their lives and then stay involved every step of the way. I agree with this idea! In the next issue (Sept/Oct 2019) of St. George Health & Wellness Magazine, I will explain my reasoning and provide parents with tips on ways to teach screen-time ethics. Until then, pay attention to your own phone ethics and the amount of time you spend with a phone in your hand and your eyes on a screen. Your FOMO might be keeping you from being fully present with people you love.