Parents commonly worry that their kids spend too much time in front of screens (TV, computers, tablets, mobile devices) and not enough time exercising. Or reading. Or doing their chores. Or engaging in meaningful hobbies. But pediatrician Perri Klass reminds us that the apple doesn’t fall far from the tree:

A 2016 survey by Common Sense Media, a nonprofit children’s advocacy and media ratings organization, asked almost 1,800 parents of children aged 8 to 18 about screen time and electronic media use by the parents. The average amount of time that parents spent with screen media of all kinds (computers, TVs, smartphones, e-readers) every day: 9 hours and 22 minutes. And on average, only an hour and 39 minutes of that was work-related; 7 hours and 43 minutes were personal.


Admitting she could set a better example herself, Dr. Klass suggests that the parents of her patients establish five “sacred zones” where electronic screens are not allowed:

1. In Bed. Pediatricians have long-advised parents to keep televisions and other screens out of kids’ rooms, that bedtime is a time for reading, not texting, Snapchatting, or “surfing.” Keeping smartphones out of the bedroom can be challenging for children and parents, but studies show that doing so improves sleep duration and quality, elevating daytime wakefulness, school and work performance, and overall health. If you must have a smartphone in your bedroom, Klass counsels, keep it on the other side of the room and not on the night stand.

2. At the Dining Table. No screens during mealtime reflects simple table manners. Most likely we’ve all violated this rule:

And yes, that means parents get in trouble if they lapse, and you don’t get to use the old let-me-just-Google-this-important-and-educational-fact strategy to settle family debates and questions of history, literature, or old movie trivia, because everyone knows what else you’ll do once you take out the phone.


3. Reading a Book. It’s a big ask, perhaps, but it is hard to get through a chapter of a book while also scrolling though your Facebook news feed or emails.

4. In The Outdoors. The scenery doesn’t change much when eyes are stuck on a mobile device. When you’re out and about — seeing the world or getting some exercise — put the smartphone into airplane mode. You can still make emergency calls, look at a map if you get lost, listen to music, and use the phone’s camera if the landscape gets especially beautiful.

5. In The Car. It goes without saying that drivers should never touch their smartphones while operating a vehicle. Dr. Klass says everyone sitting in the car, including the passenger riding shotgun, should refrain from screen time. It may enhance relationships and promote quality family time:

This is a tougher one for many families, since screens in the car can be so helpful on long rides, especially with siblings in proximity. But time in the car can also be remarkably intimate family time (yes, I know, not always in a good way). Some of the most unguarded conversations of the middle school and adolescent years take place when a parent is chauffeuring, so it’s probably worth trying for some designated screenless miles.

Read more PediaBlog on screen time here.

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