The growing problem of kids and screen time

The growing problem of kids and screen time - A woman holding a wine glass - Screen time

There is a dirty little secret among the tech elite. Two of the most famous tech founders in history admitted to this practice even though they helped champion it worldwide. Who are these mysterious figures, what did they know, were they right?

The famous figures are Bill Gates and the late Steve Jobs and it looks like they knew about something we are now just learning, how the addictive power of technology is affecting the brain development and brain health of young minds, both recently confirmed by a massive ongoing study by the National Institute of Health (NIH).

In a New York Times interview in 2011, Steve Jobs revealed that he didn’t let his kids play with the iPad, a device that had just hit the market and Bill Gates famously didn’t let his kids have a cell phone until they were 14 years old. Did they know something back then that we didn’t?

Perhaps they did. This landmark study by the National Institute of Health will follow the development of a group of kids for many years into adulthood but they have recently revealed preliminary results. Conducting a series of MRIs on these kids, they can already detect a premature thinning of the cortex, the outer layer of the brain that helps process information from the five senses. This is something that happens naturally later in life but they are seeing it earlier in these kids that are spending a great deal of time in front of screens.

According to Javier Hiriart, M.D, a pediatrician and physician from Baptist Health, the key is to use these devices in moderation. I agree, the problem I see as a parent is that unless you are proactively trying to control screen time for your kids, it becomes very hard since they have access to screens almost all day not only on their smart phones and tablets, but also in schools.

How to monitor or block screen time for your kids

In part due to the backlash on the addictive nature of these devices, Apple released the Screen Time settings. On Apple’s mobile operating system’s latest version 12, they released a feature called Screen Time. You can turn it on by accessing the settings icon and scrolling down to Screen Time. In there, you can monitor and control how much time you or your child are spending using the different apps and websites. It monitors the different categories such as Social Networking, Entertainment or Productivity but the best part is that you can set a time limit for the usage of these apps.

You can schedule Downtime where only phone calls and apps you approve get to be used, you can set specific app usage limits and even create restrictions for inappropriate content on your child’s device.

Two useful apps for monitoring and controlling screen time

Qustodio and Mobicip are two apps I’ve recommended for years now on my TV segments and interviews. I use one of them myself to monitor my teenage kid and I’ve found it to be very useful. Originally designed as content filters, they allow you to really understand which apps your kids are using, for how long and you can set time limits for the different applications on your kids’ device.

What are the long term effects of too much screen time on kids? The landmark NIH study will reveal in time the true effects of the overuse of tech on kids. These are the first generations that are being raised in front of an interactive screen and we are not going to know the long-term effects on their minds for many years. In the meantime, I think it’s better to err on the side of caution.

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