Online Media Overload: Can Too Much Screen Time Harm Your Kid’s Future Success?

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If you find it hard to tear your child away from the computer, smartphone or video game console, welcome to the club.

According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, kids between the ages of 8 and 18 consume more than 7 hours of entertainment media during a typical day. Factor in “media multitasking” (using more than one medium at a time) and that time ticks up to 10 hours and 45 minutes of daily consumption.

Hours spent staring at a screen may be detrimental if it cuts into family time, physical activity, real-world socializing and engaging in other important brain-developing activities. At the same time, some access to technology can provide skills that are necessary for a child to thrive in the 21st century.

So what’s the right amount of media consumption for young people?

Unfortunately, there’s a lot we don’t know about how technology use among kids impacts future career and academic success, but here’s what we do know.

The Negative Impact of Media Multitasking

If your child is texting with friends, listening to music, watching a show and trying to do her homework all at the same time, the reality is that she won’t be doing any of those tasks particularly well, says David Bickham, PhD, a staff scientist at the Center on Media and Child Health (CMCH) at Children’s Hospital Boston and an instructor at Harvard Medical School.

Not only does your child focus less on her homework, but the constant “toggling back and forth” between activities means that she will be spending much more time channel shifting—and the whole exercise will take much longer than if she just focused on each task sequentially.

The Solution: Teach your child that, when it comes to getting homework done, the TV should be off, and the cell phone needs to be out of reach. She can enjoy screen time when her assignment is complete.

Caroline Knorr, a parenting editor at Common Sense Media, also suggests walking the walk yourself—don’t ask questions about your child’s day while staring at your smartphone.

Why Screen Time Before Bed Is Bad

Electronics are disruptive to sleep, explains Knorr, and restful shut-eye is important for school success. “Teachers are reporting that kids are coming in and saying that they are not getting enough sleep, so we have a suspicion that they are staying up late [with media] or sleeping with the phone under their pillow,” she says.

The Solution: Turn off all electronic devices 30 to 60 minutes prior to bedtime. Bickham suggests even keeping televisions out of kids’ bedrooms. “Establish healthy, positive media use at a young age, so they get healthy habits down. If they are not used to having a device while falling asleep or while doing homework, they’re less likely to do it [as they get older]” he says, adding that keeping computers and televisions in a common area of the home also allows parents to have more control over the content.

Another great tip: Parents can set up a charging area in their bedrooms where all phones and laptops go at night, so kids won’t be tempted to text with friends until the early morning hours.