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Too much screen time is turning our kids into boring beasts

Your kid is getting way too much screen time, and you know it. It’s time to do something about it.

We’ve known for a long time that kids and screens are a bad combination. Anxiety, attention problems, depression, eye pain, neck pain and so on come with spending your life online. But the pandemic hit, and our phones, tablets and laptops became our lifeline to the world.

So you let your kid on TikTok to learn all the dances. And all their friends were being puppies on Snapchat, and you didn’t want yours to be left out. They played video games together, they bonded over breaking beds and trading pets. They called each other “sus” — suspicious — and tried to find the imposter. It was a moment. 

But now your child can’t function without a phone, and you’re not sure what to do.

School is back; activities and playdates are back. Life is back. It’s going to be hard in the short term, but you need to seriously restrict your child’s screen usage.

I’ve watched families arrive at a beach, lotion up their children and then tuck them under umbrellas with their phones to spend the day. Or arrive at restaurants and hand out iPads for the children with no expectation of any interaction through the meal. A playdate at a park with friends turns into two kids staring at iPads side by side.

A kid watches her iPad and eats.
Parents frequently give their children iPads or phones at dinner to keep them quiet and entertained.

This is damaging, and the harm will be long-lasting. You have to stop pretending otherwise.

Kids need boredom. They cannot be entertained every minute of every day. Kids who can’t be bored end up being boring. Their dull faces become incapable of maintaining a conversation with anyone. Eye contact is impossible. They can’t function. They’re on a drug, and everyone seems OK with it.

That’s the worst part of too much screen time. It leads to people who can’t meaningfully participate in society. They don’t know how to have relationships. The phone stands between them and real life. That real life, with awkwardness, tedium and monotony, just can’t compete with constant dopamine hits and filters that fix every flaw. But we all know how much better that imperfect reality actually is.

It’s on parents, too. “We just want a quiet dinner out,” parents tell me. I get it. But if you sit down to dinner, and your 3-year-old automatically expects a phone, he or she will never learn to socialize over a meal. She will never hold a conversation at a dinner table. She will never be interesting or interested in other people. You won’t take that phone away when she’s 4 or 8 or 12. You’re setting her up for a life of thinking it’s appropriate to stare at a device through dinner with others. It’s not.

“Everyone does it.” That’s just not true. A lot of people are letting their children overuse screens right now, yes. But you don’t have to lean in to that. You want more for your kid — or you should. Don’t let him or her become a zombie because all the other kids jumped off a bridge. Be the parent.

Two kids use an iPad.
Decreasing screen time can help children develop social skills.

Look, I’m not perfect. There have been dinners out where, for one reason or another, we’ve let our kids use phones or tablets at the table. Maybe our reservation got messed up and that was the only way to get them to hold it together for a 10 p.m. dinner. Maybe we had spent the day sightseeing on vacation, and dragging them out for a meal was going to lead to meltdowns without it.

My 12-year-old is ignoring me in favor of a video game because it’s a weekend morning and this is her allowed time. Flights are a wall-to-wall screen extravaganza in our family. But moderation at all other times is key for us. The screen as a tool is one thing. The screen as a crutch is another.

A lot of the time in parenting, we know what we need to do but find it hard to actually act. Let this serve as your push to do the right thing for your children and limit their online time. We’re raising the next generation, and we owe it to them to rehab them from their screen addiction. And while you’re at it, maybe limit your use, too.

Twitter: @Karol

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