The pandemic has changed the way we internet. School, health appointments, even extra-curricular activities are happening online, kids are spending so much more screen time than parents would want them to. Experts says more kids are experiencing vision problems as a result, and some worry that a lack of face-to-face interactions may have detrimental effects on emotional health. How can parents address these issues?
Gina Melton: Does it seem like your kids have kind of been glued to their screen since the pandemic began? I know for absolute sure it’s a daily battle in our house with remote learning, even some extracurricular activities online — it’s really almost hard to get away from the screen. So, if you feel like you’re at your wit’s end when it comes to screen time, you’ve tuned in to the perfect conversation today.
Hi, I’m Gina Melton with the Just Kids Health podcast from Children’s Nebraska. Join me as I talk with the region’s pediatric experts about everything related to children’s health from medical issues to mental health — all to keep your child healthy, safe, and strong. Isn’t that what we all want? So just sit back and listen or you can multitask or work out — whatever you wanna do.
Now today, we welcome Dr. Tony Pesavento. We’re gonna talk about navigating screens and social media. And if you’ve been listening to this podcast for any length of time, you know that we’ve addressed this before with the doctor. We talked about bullying and cyberbullying. But today we’re gonna get just a little more focused on screen time and so much of it during this pandemic. So good to have you here again today.
Also listen to, “Screen Time And Children’s Health“
Dr. Tony Pesavento:: It’s great to see you, Gina.
Screen Time Recommendations
Gina: Great to see you. This is like the question that all of my parent friends ask. How much screen time is too much screen time?
Dr. Pesavento:: Oh yeah. And it’s one of the most common questions I get in my clinic. It’s one of the most common questions I get when I’m working at the gym. It’s the most common question I get on text messages — you name it. Yeah. I even get screen time questions about screen time. You better believe it.
Gina: That’s funny.
Dr. Pesavento:: It’s probably one of the more challenging things about being a parent in 2021 is understanding and knowing how to manage screen time. And there are the basic recommendations. So, let’s go over what the big organizations say.
Dr. Pesavento:: So, the American Academy of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry says if your kid is 18 to 24 months, it should be limited to just video chat. If your kid is 2 to 5 years old, they recommend about one hour per day on a weekday and 3 hours per day on a weekend. If your kid is 6 years and older, they recommend firm limits and if you can’t see me, I’m doing air quotes. This is a podcast.
Gina: Firm limits, yes.
Dr. Pesavento:: Which is — they recommend about 2 hours a day during the week and on weekends they don’t make a recommendation, probably because they know no one’s gonna follow it.
Dr. Pesavento:: Those are the numbers. Is that realistic? Really hard to say. Is that realistic in today’s world where we rely on screen time for almost everything, even school due to the recent pandemic? It’s really hard to tell. It’s — so when people ask me, “What is appropriate screen time?” — I think the first thing I tell them is you gotta break down what screen time is, Because not all screen time is created equal. I had a couple of kids who have been a little bit mischievous and tell me, “Well Dr. Pesavento, I can only go to my first two periods due to your screen time recommendations.”
Gina: Oh. Right.
Dr. Pesavento:: Well done. So you’ve gotta break down what screen time is, because there’s also screen time that can be really, really beneficial — not only for school, but for learning programs, face-timing Grandma and Grandpa when you can’t go see them. There’s a lot of great screen time in there. So, really, it’s about breaking down screen times into what is educational, and just general beneficial versus what is more relaxation, recreational screen time.
Negative Impact of Excessive Screen Time
Gina: Absolutely. Now that’s — I read this crazy study. I wanna see what you think about this. It’s just related to what you were just saying.
Dr. Pesavento:: Yeah.
Gina: They did this study at UCLA, right. And they found that the 6th graders who went 5 days without exposure to tech — do you know what I’m talking about here?
Dr. Pesavento:: No, no.
Gina: They said when 6th graders went 5 days without exposure to technology, they were significantly better at reading human emotions in people than kids who had regular access to phones, to TVs, to computers. And that’s what I worry about sometimes with my boys. Because like if I call them, they’re like, “Why are you calling me?” You know. You’re supposed to be texting me, right. And I don’t know if they’re gonna know socially what to do.
Dr. Pesavento:: It is so interesting and it is something that we see all the time. And I agree with you. I worry about it too. I think the best part of that study is 5 days off screens and kids were able to revert close to — back to how they normally would interact. So it’s not like we’re causing permanent damage across the board.
Dr. Pesavento:: But it is a different way of communicating. It is a different way of interacting with others. And I think that we’re seeing that especially refer back to it —the way that we do pandemic because now we work on screens for the most part. I know I do. Outside of my household responsibilities, all of my outpatient stuff is done over a screen. And it’s a totally different way of doing things. It’s really hard to read emotions. It’s really hard to read nonverbals when you’re not interacting with the person in the same room. And so, it doesn’t necessarily surprise me that kids who have less exposure to screens did better with the more human contact.
Gina: You say that about — like I do meetings. You know, these team’s meetings.
Dr. Pesavento:: Yeah. Yeah.
Gina: There’s Zoom meetings, right? And I find myself — first of all, I’m looking at myself on the video and not the other people.
Dr. Pesavento:: Totally.
Gina: Which is so weird.
Dr. Pesavento:: Oh, yeah.
Gina: Like I think we all do that, right? But then the other thing is, you just can’t feel their energy. Like you don’t know exactly —
Dr. Pesavento:: No.
Gina: “Oh, whoops. I accidentally talked over them.” Because I feel like you can’t exactly feel that, right.
Dr. Pesavento:: Yeah. Yeah and I read another thing that has gone totally by the wayside in terms of just general interaction is humor, because you can’t even tell if people like your jokes.
Dr. Pesavento:: There might be a laugh but it’s delayed or some — or even if you’re doing just like a — like I do a lot of lectures for medical students. Half the time they’ve got their camera up. I don’t know if they like what I’m saying or not. It’s just a different deal.
Social Media Etiquette
Gina: It is. It’s a totally different deal. Well, that brings me to this question — how about teaching kids media literacy and social media etiquette? What are your thoughts on that?
Dr. Pesavento:: Again, it’s really hard. And if the expert’s saying it’s hard, then it must be hard. No. I think the biggest thing that you need to do when you’re talking to kids about social media is you have to emphasize that it’s almost no different than friendships. Meaning you gotta know who’s on the other end. And you gotta have some physical contact at some point with that person on the other end. Just so you know that what they’re getting and receiving is legitimate. And that’s not only a social etiquette thing — that’s a safety thing, in general.
And so, that’s really hard — and that’s really hard as parents. And I know a lot of kids have friends that they meet online and such. And I think that’s good in certain aspects because it allows kids from all across the world to connect. I think that’s amazing. But it also makes me very cautious about who our kids are interacting with. So, I really strongly encourage kids and parents to — if you’re interacting with somebody, kind of know who’s behind that — who’s behind that name. Kind of know that individual, at least in some way.
Gina: Well, and that includes like even video games because my boys play video games —
Dr. Pesavento:: Absolutely.
Gina: With kids they don’t know and —
Dr. Pesavento:: Totally.
Gina: Or you know hopefully kids but it’s just — how do you know what to share and things like that? What are you sharing on social media? What are you sharing with those people that you’re gaming with?
Dr. Pesavento:: Yeah. And that’s another great topic for kids. It’s not only who you’re talking to. It’s what you’re talking about. So, if you’re playing Madden and you’re talking about — oh, Russell Wilson, what a great pass. Probably not the most harmful thing in the world, right?
Dr. Pesavento:: But if you’re playing Madden and you’re talking about what’s going on in your family that week, it’s a little bit different. It’s a little bit different if you don’t know that other person and it can be a little bit frightening. And if you’re — and especially if they’re sharing more personal details and more personal information. It can be anxiety-provoking.
Gina: A lot of it is boundaries, right?
Dr. Pesavento:: Yeah. Yup, tons.
Gina: Tons of boundaries. And as parents too — setting those boundaries, right?
Dr. Pesavento:: Oh, absolutely. And there’s a lot of great studies about how kids model what their parents are doing. And I think that as — when they see parents who are texting and chatting and using social media, it’s almost like that’s okay. It’s a permission slip. I’m not saying that that’s wrong either. I’m not. I just think it’s more — it’s about the limits again. I think it’s important to have conversations with kids about what you’re doing and who you’re chatting with. “Hey, give me a second. I gotta send Aunt Linda a quick message,” you know.
Dr. Pesavento:: Just to kind of reinforce, “This is what I’m doing. It’s not that I’m sending a message to somebody that I don’t know.” Just to let kids know that you’re being cognizant and are thinking about what you’re doing on the phone so you’re modeling what you want them to be doing.
Gina: Modeling behavior.
Dr. Pesavento:: Absolutely.
Gina: I love that. I didn’t even think about that — saying that to my kids. That’s wonderful advice.
Dr. Pesavento:: Yeah. And it’s the same on your social media account. What parents share on social media can often be a reflection of what their kids are sharing. And so make sure that you’re setting limits on what you share on social media and your kids will often follow suit.
Reducing Screen Time
Gina: How do you, kind of, cut back on screen time without starting a fight? Gosh.
Dr. Pesavento:: The most fights that I see when parents try to cut screen time are when they try and do it in one fell swoop. I go back to the adage of “don’t blame the kid when you give them candy a hundred nights in a row and the one night you take it away, they get mad,” right?
Dr. Pesavento:: That doesn’t work. That doesn’t work. So, let’s take a raw number and say that — oh, use your kids. So, let’s say your kids are spending 3 hours a day on screens and your goal — you come to see a professional and they say, “Gina, that really should be 2.” If you go from 3 to 2, there’s gonna be a lot of pushback, right?
Dr. Pesavento:: Now, if you say — if you meet with your kids and say, “Okay. This is what we gotta do but this is how we’re gonna do it. We’re gonna go 2:45 — 2 hours 45 minutes for the first two weeks, and we’re gonna back it down slowly. And we’re gonna talk about how and why we’re backing it down.” So, then give them the reasons for that.
That’s gonna go a lot better than if you just say we’re just gonna take it all away at once and we’re just gonna go down to this limit and that’s it because it’s like anything else. So, before we started talking about this podcast, we were talking about our caffeine intake. If I were to go from a large Starbucks to a small Starbucks — not only would I be cranky, but I’d have a big headache.
Gina: Right, right.
Dr. Pesavento:: But — so how would I do it in a reasonable way, I’d cut down slowly. I’d have to really moderate how much I’m doing in smaller amounts. And it’s no different for screen time and cutting back.
Gina: And that brings me to this. I know you have a younger son.
Dr. Pesavento:: I do.
Gina: And I have like a tween and a teen kid. So, I’m assuming how you talk to them about this is different in all scenarios from toddler up to teenager.
Dr. Pesavento:: Yeah. You gotta meet them on their level. My son uses screens to watch television shows that he enjoys to where I’m sure your sons use screens to communicate with their friends. And there’s a whole different paradigm there, right. Because —
Dr. Pesavento:: I — if I were to tell my son that we’re gonna cut back a little bit, he’d be upset about watching his TV shows but life probably goes on. You’re getting into the idea of — I’m cutting back your contact with your friends. That’s a whole different deal. And that’s gonna be perceived completely differently than my son.
And so it’s just — it’s gotta be — and that’s why understanding the paradigm and understanding how you’re gonna talk to kids is gonna be important. That’s why cutting down screen time in the pandemic is a lot different than cutting down screen time two years ago.
Dr. Pesavento:: Because you’re taking away — two years ago, you’re taking one of their outlets away. Now, you might be taking their only outlet. And that’s legitimate, right. Because —
Dr. Pesavento:: If you’re being responsible with the pandemic, they might not — they’re probably not seeing their friends pretty often.
Seeking Out a Mental Health Professional
Gina: Yeah. Absolutely. Well, and then if parents need help, there’s always you at Children’s Hospital —
Dr. Pesavento:: We’re happy to be there.
Gina: And the staff at Children’s Hospital. You’re always there. And I feel —
Dr. Pesavento:: We’re happy to be there.
Gina: That feels really good to know because it’s a hospital that’s made totally for kids.
Dr. Pesavento:: Yup. And that’s what we do and that’s almost all we do. And if you kind of look in at, “When do I need a children’s doctor” — the biggest times that I see kids who struggle with screen time, kind of, transition from maybe even normal excessive use to we really, really need help — come from a little bit of what we talked about during our last podcast, is when we get into cyber bullying. And we get into kids seeing social media as their only real source of identity and real source of self-confidence which can, in turn, lead to symptoms of anxiety and depression.
And that’s where, really, where the doctors here can come into play. We’re happy to talk to you about screen time guidelines all you want but if you were to ask when do you really wanna seek out a mental health professional, it’s when you start to see other areas of their life impacted — school, sports, friend’s interactions. If that is being overshadowed solely by their need for social media then that’s a great opportunity for us to get involved and see how we can provide assistance.
Gina: Dr. Pesavento, thank you so much.
Dr. Pesavento:: Oh, it’s my pleasure. It’s great to see you as always.
Gina: Nice to see you. Kids are lucky they get to come see you.
Dr. Pesavento:: Oh.
Gina: Thank you so much for listening to the Just Kids Health podcast and please remember to rate, review and subscribe. And for more information on how we can help your child, visit https://www.childrensnebraska.org and follow us on social media.