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Sonoma Family Life Magazine

Teens’ Screen Use Is Up. And That May Be Just Fine.

The nonprofit Children and Screens asked experts to share their best advice for parents raising adolescents in the midst of the global pandemic. Here is what they said.

The Devil’s in the Details
“While it’s important to monitor the amount of time your child spends with screens, it’s even more important to monitor what they’re actually doing with that time. Talking with friends? Encourage it. Writing a journal? Experimenting with music? Wonderful. Support your child’s need for friendship and creativity while also helping them understand that time away from distractions, time for solitude and mind-wandering, is something you value. Screens open our worlds except when they take us away from ourselves. Getting this balance right means you and your children are talking, and in my view, if that’s happening, the rest will follow. And what really helps: no screens at dinner. Consider dinner to be a sacred space, a place for conversation.”—Sherry Turkle, professor, MIT; author, Alone Together: Why We Expect More from Technology and Less from Each Other (Basic Books, 2012) and Reclaiming Conversation: The Power of Talk in a Digital Age (Penguin, 2016)

Lead the Way
“Now is a great time for parents to play video games, watch movies and TV shows, and explore the world of social media with their kids. This kind of active media supervision allows parents to guide their children through the world of screens, and it’s been shown to have tremendous benefits in terms of behavior, academic success, and even physical health. This process also allows parents to understand more about the fantasy world of their kids, and it offers the chance for a healthy role reversal, one in which the child becomes the teacher and the parent can model good learning practices.”—Paul Weigle, M.D., child and adolescent psychiatrist, associate medical director of Natchaug Hospital, Hartford HealthCare

Turn Off the News
“In order to limit the negative, try setting limits on [students’] time reading news apps. At a certain point, they’re more likely to raise their blood pressure and increase their anxiety by mindlessly bingeing the news than they are to actually learn anything.”—Dr. Larry Rosen, professor emeritus of psychology

Take a Break
“Don’t feel guilty about the increase in your child’s screen time. As the New York Times recently reported: ‘Coronavirus ended the screen-time debate. And screens won.’ That means kids and parents alike face increased risk for physical side effects, including nearsightedness, computer vision syndrome, and neck and back problems. … [P]arents should insist on regular breaks, both for their kids and themselves.”—Patti M. Valkenburg, professor, University of Amsterdam

Keep Screen Time and Bedtime Separate
“One way to enforce bedtime is to shut off screens at least one hour before lights out. When kids (and adults) use screens before bedtime, they’re more likely to want to ‘watch another episode,’ further delaying their bedtime. They also may become psychologically stimulated by something they read or see, which may make it harder for them to fall asleep, even if they go to bed on time. In addition, bright light from screens can suppress the natural release of the sleep-promoting hormone melatonin. In other words, protect bedtime by reducing evening screen time.”—Lauren Hale, Ph.D., professor, Department of Family, Population, and Preventive Medicine Program, Program in Public Health, Renaissance School of Medicine, Stony Brook University

Ask for Help
“Now is a time when those teens who already struggle with their screen use are at risk of seriously losing control. Once an adolescent has fallen into addiction, tremendous family conflict is likely to ensue as parents try to take control. …
[T]here are counselors and coaches who specialize in Internet addiction. Telehealth is not an ideal way to begin a helping relationship, but it may be what saves your sanity.”—Dr. Hilarie Cash, chief clinical officer and co-founder of reSTART Life, PLLC

Danger and Opportunity
“[I]nvolve youth in more adaptive patterns of Internet use. For example, in the coming weeks and months, families may be foregoing in-person meetings in favor of remote holiday gatherings over the Internet. Encouraging adolescents to help arrange and organize such events may provide opportunities for empowering youth to engage in more healthy forms of Internet use.”—Marc N. Potenza, M.D., Ph.D., professor of psychiatry, child study, and neuroscience, Yale School of Medicine 

Children and Screens: Institute of Digital Media and Child Development is a 501C(3) national non-profit organization founded by Dr. Pamela Hurst-Della Pietra. Children and Screens advances interdisciplinary research, informs and educates the public, and advocates for sound public policy for child health and wellness. Find out more at