Dr Aric Sigman asks - Do your parents nag you about your screen time?
How many of you have parents who nag you because they think you spend too much time on your screens?
In most of the schools I visit, most of the students answer “yes”. If you’re like my teenagers, you probably think the reason they want you to have less screen time is because they’re too old to fully understand the digital world that you’re growing up in. In other words, it’s a generation gap problem: they just don’t get it. And you may very well be right. They may not get it and they may be digital immigrants, as opposed to digital natives like you, but that’s not the main reason parents and teachers are increasingly concerned about excessive non-homework screen time. And by that I don’t mean reading the Old Testament or Shakespeare on an iPad, nor am I talking about revising or remote learning using your computers. I’m talking about what we now call discretionary screen time (DST), meaning television, YouTube, social media and computer games.
In the United States, where I come from, the average teenager is spending around seven hours a day doing just those things, not counting homework and revision. Here in Britain, by the time the average teenager reaches 18, they will have spent three-and-a-half full years of 24-hour days just on this recreational screen time, again not counting homework and revision. By the time your generation reaches 85, the average person will have spent 20 years of 24-hour days just on recreational screen time. That’s almost a quarter of their life.
Obviously, what you watch makes a difference to your wellbeing. We already know that. And I assume you know the difference between internet porn and Gardeners’ World. But that’s not what we’re talking about. The question you need to ask yourself is when I finish my homework after school, how many hours of my spare time do I spend on screens and what time of night do I turn my screens off and actually fall asleep? Because the answer to that is now a medical issue. High levels of screen time are considered a physical and mental health risk. When I speak to children or parents or even teachers at school, many seem very surprised to learn of the strong links between excessive screen time and excessive body fat, and even Type 2 Diabetes.
Excessive screen time is also now linked with lower school grades, changes in brain structure and function, and screen dependency problems among other medical concerns.
So I hope you can see that your parents and teachers are not trying to spoil the party because they’re ignorant of the joys of screen time, believe it or not they actually care about you and simply want you to enjoy your screens but to get the balance right. Even my own children at one time wrongly thought that if “Dad would only try staying up till two in the morning playing Call Of Duty: Black Ops or TikTok or Instagram, then he’d understand why it’s so great and he wouldn’t complain about us wanting to do it so much”. Well, they now realise that’s not the reason. It’s no different than my concerns about lots of unhealthy food, alcohol, sunburns and skin cancer, or any other type of high exposure.
So next time you hear your parents say, “Isn’t it time turn that thing off and did something else?”, try to cut them some slack and understand that the problem with being a parent is that you have to tell your children not what they’re interested in hearing, but what’s in their best interests.
Dr Aric Sigman is an American health education/PSHE lecturer to pupils at schools and to parents and staff He publishes medical papers on health and development subjects and addresses PSHE subjects including: screen time/dependence, alcohol, ‘soft’ drugs & vaping, preventing mental health problems in children, body image, and understanding boys, sex and relationships. Further information: www.aricsigman.com