Clay Cranford

By Clay Cranford

Two large Apple shareholders with a $2 billion stake have written an open letter to Apple. They are questioning the smartphone maker, saying it needs to respond to what’s seen as a “growing public health crisis” of smartphone addiction in young people.

As a School Resource Officer and as a Behavioral Threat Assessment Investigator, I have been witnessing a growing number of children struggling with depression and anxiety in our communities.

In a peer-reviewed study that appeared in the journal Clinical Psychological Science, after 2010, teens who spent more time on new media (screens) were more likely to report mental health issues than those who spent time on non-screen activities.

The study found kids who spent three hours or more a day on smartphones or other electronic devices were 34% more likely to suffer at least one suicide-related outcome—including feeling hopeless or seriously considering suicide—than kids who used devices two hours a day or less.

Among kids who used electronic devices five or more hours a day, 48% had at least one suicide-related outcome.

We cannot make the Internet and mobile devices go away, but we can limit our children’s use and filter the content they are consuming. Here is how we are going to do it:

1. Set Priorities: When your child gets home from school, set priorities on the tasks they need to get done first, such as homework and possibly chores; then entertainment screens (e.g., TV, Xbox, etc.) get turned on.

2. Set Limits: Setting limits on screen time may be the most challenging thing parents have to contend with. Screen time is defined as time spent using digital media for entertainment purposes. Other uses of media, such as online homework, don’t count as screen time.

How much screen time is too much? Today, in a world surrounded by digital media 24/7, defining screen-time limits is difficult. The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommends infants to 18-month-olds should not be exposed to any digital media. Children aged between 2 and 5 should be limited to one hour per day. For children 6 and older, research shows that two hours or less a day is ideal.

3. Family Dinner and Screen Free Zones: Establish and enforce screen-free zones in your home. The dinner table is a great place to start when carving out screen-free zones in your home.

In fact, there is a lot of research to show that screen-free family dinner has important psychological benefits for your children.

Shared family time presents teaching opportunities for parents. The time together allows adolescents to express concerns and feel valued.

4. Engage More: It seems our “digital natives” are not as good as filling their non-structured time with physical activities as we were at their age. They may need a little help and direction. Naturally, the younger we start with our children doing this, the easier it will be.

5. Charge your teen’s mobile devices in your room at night: When your children go to bed, take their mobile devices out of their rooms and charge them in your room. Electronic devices in a bedroom after lights out is a distraction from getting a good night’s sleep.

The guidelines laid out here are not difficult to follow. They do, however, require intentionality. If this seems overwhelming, then take on the guidelines, one at a time.

Clayton Cranford is the author of ‘Parenting in the Digital World,’ which is available on amazon.com. He speaks at schools throughout the United States. Free cyber safety seminars for parents can be found at cybersafetycop.com.

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