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  • Writer's pictureJames Marston

The Complicated Business of Health Technology Use in Families (Social Media Series, Part 2 of 5)

Technology is a tool that has many uses. Determining what uses we’re okay with and which are unhealthy will guide us in determining what a healthy pattern is.  

What do you use screens for? Your habits will guide your child’s habits, so I encourage you to consider how often you pick up your phone and why. How many times a day do you check social media? Why? How often do you read the news? Why?

What is the risk of doing it too often? What are you missing out on by doing it too often? What are you missing out on if you don’t do it often enough? 

How do you feel after you use it? Do you feel better, recharged, and more able to focus? Are you more distracted, irritated, or upset?  

The American Academy of Pediatrics no longer makes a specific screen time recommendation in terms of minutes. They’ve moved towards a model where it looks at the quality of the interactions with digital media rather than the amount of time. (Find the link below.)

Unhealthy interactions are ones that leave you feeling worse off, interferes with healthy functioning or development, or enables negative behaviors or patterns. 

Is it unhealthy to spend 16 hours on screens on a Saturday? Maybe. Is it a one time thing, or is it all the time? Does doing so impact your ability to exercise, eat healthy, sleep well? Does it affect your friendships or relationships?  Are you cranky and irritable afterwards, or are you satisfied and friendly? Are you prioritizing it the right amount, or are you neglecting things you think are more important in order to stay on screens?  

If your child is healthy, has done their chores, has some good relationships, and has nothing going on some Saturday, then spending 16 hours playing Fortnight may not be terrible. Taking breaks is probably important, and not neglecting responsibilities to yourself and your family is important, but beyond that? Maybe it’s not a problem. 

However, if they’re not eating, or not taking care of themselves, and are lashing out at everyone who interrupts them–maybe that’s a problem.  

If they are playing a game with friends and everyone’s laughing and having a good time, maybe it’s no problem. If they’re being toxic, or dealing with toxic people, bullying or being bullied, maybe that’s a problem.  

If they’re bored waiting for an appointment and they pull out their tablet to stay occupied, maybe it’s no problem. If they don’t have the skills to self-regulate without the tablet, and the tablet is stopping them from developing those skills, maybe that’s a problem. 

But then, can YOU sit and wait for an appointment without taking out your phone? Does it matter that you don’t or can’t? Maybe. 

I know I’m offering more questions than answers here, and that’s why continuing the conversation around technology with your child is so important. There are no set rules here–just on-going dynamic evaluations of the impact of interactions with technology has on us and what to do about it. 

That said, here’s my general guidelines for a healthy relationship with technology for children:

  • Technology is a privilege and not a right. 

  • Technology and screen time is less important than people and relationships. 

  • A child’s access to screen time or technology is based on their response to having access to it: If they can use it for 30 minutes then stop with no problem, then they can handle it. If they get overly frustrated and upset and can’t regulate, then 30 minutes is too long. If they are cranky after using it, then they are using it too long. Once they can demonstrate that they can handle a certain duration, that duration can increase.

  • Technology is designed to offer on-demand stimulation to minds. We need to be thoughtful about supporting a child’s ability to delay gratification and prioritize more valuable but difficult interactions and activities over easy, high-stimulation, low-value activities. 

  • Technology can be an important part of mood regulation, but it must be used thoughtfully and not as a replacement for emotional competence. 

Remember that there’s no one-size-fits all approach to technology.  We live in a world that has technology as a huge part of it, and we have to be realistic about that. We can’t ban cell phones from our homes without hobbling ourselves.  We can’t ban all social media when it’s become a cornerstone of many teens’ social lives. We have to accept the reality that these things will exist in our childrens’ lives, and help them navigate that reality safely and healthily. 


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