It’s been a week since the news: Kids between the ages of 8 and 18 spend more than 7.5 hours a DAY using some kind of media device.  That’s 47% of their waking hours IF they only sleep 8 hours a day (and the majority of children and teens need more sleep than that). No matter what you think the effects of that usage are, that is a lot of hours!

I like the New York Time’s report on it (click here) which includes a link to the report from the Kaiser Family Foundation, but it’s been reported in multiple news outlets which you can easily find. So instead of rehashing it, I’d like to give you some of my thoughts on it (and this may become a multi-post topic for a couple weeks).

First, a bit about our family and media. We’ve always had a limit on “screen time” with our boys. All screens combined (tv, computer, video games, handheld, whatever) were limited at first to none, then one hour a day, then to two.  We have no tv’s or computers in any bedrooms (including parents’). We have one tv, no cable, and until the last couple months when I started teaching online, we had only one computer. That “family” computer, though, we’ve had since 1995, heavily used by all of us over the years. We have “only” two cell phones in the household, the third is at college with the oldest; all three are prepaids and we use them quite minimally with texting not even set up on them.

We’ve tried over the years to accept the usefulness of developing technologies without ignoring them or trying to block them out entirely. We try to keep the focus on “tech as tool,” nothing more and nothing less. It is as Dr. Rich stated in the NYT article, they are present “like the air they breathe, the water they drink and the food they eat.”

But bottom line, as parents, we still are the gatekeepers for health and safety for our children’s air, water, food–and media/tech use.

It’s not easy. We’ve just been through a painful period with our youngest over video games (which I will write more about later). I frankly get tired of evaluating, evaluating, evaluating my usage and my child’s usage on what feels like almost a daily basis. Many days, I just wish it would all go away.

But then, here I sit, using it to do two of the things I love best–blogging (a form of outreach and teaching, I hope) and teaching an online course. And I love it. 🙂

So what’s a parent to do? Here’s some  ideas that work for us:

  • Remember you are the parent. And media is not an essential for a healthy life. It truly isn’t. Confront some true suffering in life and you’ll get in touch with this very quickly. It’s a tool. It is useful. It is not life. Help your children learn to find the balance because they will have to do it on their own one day.
  • Keep your perspective. The article suggested that listening to music while surfing was an increase over what the study found. I’m not sure I agree. All my life (but especially when I was a teen), I listened to music while studying, while talking with friends, even while eating. I also spent an embarrassing number of hours on the phone with my friends. Is my son’s time IM’ing really that much different? On the other hand, if he begins to continually flip through songs without listening all the way through, if he never spends any face to face time with friends, those media uses are probably crossing the line into the potential problem area. And I help him correct those before they become habits. But otherwise, perspective tells me he’s actually being a pretty normal teen and just using a different modality than I did.
  • Set limits. And talk with other parents about these so “sneaking around” and being the big, bad “meanie” are less likely to happen. When media starts taking the place of doing other good things, there’s a problem. And with support from your child’s friends’ families, you’ll all be able to monitor those limits easier. (I guarantee you, they have the same concerns.) When the kids can’t do the easiest thing and get plugged in, they’ll find other things to do–and discover they can enjoy themselves and life without the electronics.

What are your concerns? What works for you?

More later!