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Have your children started to act obsessed over the computer screen? Are you setting the right example?

Much ink has been spilled over the matter of children's screen time. Public debates have also taken a lot of air time, with parents, teachers, psychologists and pretty much anyone else under the Sun expressing their own view on the topic. Ultimately, most of these heated debates came to the same conclusion: children should be granted less screen time, be it on their computer, tablet or phone.

Now here comes the paradox: just how often do you tell your kids to get off their phones, while personally grabbing your smartphone to check your Instagram feed?

The Displacement Hypothesis

The displacement hypothesis refers to the fact that when children spend extra time on a computer, the rest of their age-specific activities will be displaced from the respective day. In other words, kids cannot be in more than one place at a time, which means they cannot be at the park having fun in a merry-go-round while also playing a game on their desktop computer at home. They are missing out on a number of fun, creative activities that could help them grow or improve certain skills. Keep in mind ages 10 to 14 are considered pivotal years, as children start to discover themselves and their place in the world. They need powerful family support so they can make the best choices possible. Children in their teen years (15-18) need parental guidance and support in all life instances, good and bad. 

There are  voices claim that this hypothesis does not take into account a number of critical factors:

  • Most children are good at multitasking; they can play a game while chatting with their friends on their phones and letting you know how their last soccer practice went over breakfast;

  • Kids can use their tablets to make digital art they can display on their social media pages or a school talent show

  • Children rely on Google when doing their homeowner or researching their school projects

  • Kids also enjoy listening to podcasts online and most of them are informative and can help them improve their vocabulary or learn new things – and they can do it while playing computer games

Most studies usually disregard these important details and solely focus on the fact that precious time was “wasted” sitting in front of a computer. In reality, smartphones, computers and other similar devices have completely changed the way we interact, work, play, study and communicate. This is why there are voices that claim cutting off children's screen time would have some undesirable repercussions on their well-being. Maybe the focus should change from getting kids to stop using their computers throughout the day to knowing how much screen time is bad and how much is good. All these carry a name:

The Goldilocks Hypothesis 

Researchers from the University of Oxford is trying to answer the million dollar question “How much screen time is good for kids’ well-being?” with a paper called "A Large-Scale Test of the Goldilocks Hypothesis: Quantifying the Relations Between Digital-Screen Use and the Mental Well Being of Adolescents."They collected data from more than 120,000 adolescents in the UK and found that their mental well being dropped when they were using little screen time and increased to a small extent when spending a longer time in front of a computer, then resulted in a downturn. The study focused on activities like TV watching, video game playing, the use of computers in general and the use of smartphones.

In other words, parents should pay attention to how much time their children spend in front of a blue screen – too little time can be more damaging than you might think. Also, the focus should fall on the actual activities that kids engage in online. Are they “only” playing games or do they use the internet for research? 

How To Set The Right Example

  • So you think your kids spend too much time gaming. What about you? Studies show that around 80% of adults gamble online, to win money or for recreation purposes only. Adult gaming can be anything from the same games our kids play, to social games or even online casino games. So if you too are a big fan of some type of gaming, or anything else online, you may want to set a schedule for your own online entertainment activities as well. This way, your kids will get a good example of the importance of time management of online entertainment in general, and not regard it as a “kid rule”. One can also focus more on using their computer or phone for school- or chatting-related needs during the week and stick to the weekend for playing games or streaming online TV shows.

  • Also, try not to jump straight on your phone first thing in the morning, while moving around like a zombie, making breakfast and coffee. Try to do something more meaningful instead and get the kids involved. It could be anything from 10 minutes of meditation, having a light breakfast together or simply talking to your kids about their schedule for the day - but leave the phone aside.

  • When at the dinner table, set your phone on “silent mode” and engage in a real conversation with your spouse and kids. Encourage them to do the same. If they are into the habit of eating in front of the computer, make them come back to the dining room table instead and spend some quality time with the family.

While spending a lot of time in front of a computer all day, every day will eventually affect your kids' well-being. At the same time, you should focus on ensuring they are still getting enough screen time to keep them happy and engaged.  Work on your own screen time habits as an adult and set the best personal example possible.

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