JEA Q.2 2019

Tech Trends

Screen Time for Children & Adults: An Opportunity for EAPs

By Marina London, LCSW, CEAP

In October 2018, The New York Times published the article, “A Dark Consensus About Screens and Kids Begins to Emerge in Silicon Valley.”

Essentially, the article asked technologists in Silicon Valley about their struggle to limit the screen time of their children. Counterintuitively, the people who invented social media and apps are much stricter about screen time on average, than the rest of us. They believe, “the benefits of screens as a learning tool are overblown, and the risks for addiction and stunting development seem high.”

How big of a problem is the misuse of screen time by children? The Novus Report is a nonprofit dedicated to preventing the relationally damaging effects of media misuse and explicit material by engaging students, families and schools through awareness, tools, and support.

They cite studies showing that:

* 90% of young men age 18 have been exposed to pornography, much of which is hard-core (meaning it often involves violence and overtly explicit imagery);
* Of the 90%, the average age these young men were sexualized by pornography was between 8-11 years old;
* Similarly, 60% of young women by the age of 18 have been exposed to porn as well. Almost 80% of this exposure, which isn’t always voluntary, is happening in the perceived safety of their homes;
* 90% of the 8 to 16-year olds who have viewed online porn did so while doing homework; and
* 60% of families who give their children smartphones, do so between the ages of 10 and 11. (20% give their children phones between the ages of 8 and 9.) 

Novus argues that ongoing exposure to this material can lead to sexual addiction, unplanned pregnancies, and puts children at a higher risk of being victims of sexual violence. It molds and shapes their values and attitudes towards themselves and how they view others around them. This can often lead to a distorted perception of reality, a devaluation towards human life in general, as well as trivializing violent behavior.

From a tech standpoint, I believe that too much screen time, and screen time that exposes children to toxic imagery is possibly the greatest issue facing the parents of the under-18 generation. And it’s not just children who are being damaged. Adults are also struggling with the lure of the screen.
Thus I think there is a golden opportunity for employee assistance professionals to inform themselves about current best practices related to screen time so they can advise employee clients on this issue and potentially create workplace presentations on these topics as well.

Going back to the Times article, here are three different approaches to screen time: 

* Parent number 1: Daughters, ages 5 and 3, have no screen time “budget,” no regular hours they are allowed to be on screens. The only time a screen can be used is during the travel portion of a long car ride or during a plane trip.

* Parent number 2: Children aren’t allowed to have cellphones until high school, are banned from phone use in the car and severely limited at home. 

* Parent number 3 (The more comprehensive approach I liked best):
“...no phones until the summer before high school, no screens in bedrooms, network-level content blocking, no social media until age 13, no iPads at all and screen time schedules enforced by Google Wifi controlled from his phone. Bad behavior? The child goes offline for 24 hours.”

The reality is that opinions about best practices limiting screen time are all over the spectrum. Some parents believe that all children should learn to code at an early age. Others don’t believe in strict limits, they’ll argue they watched TV all the time as a child and still became successful. 

There is a dearth of research on the subject, in part due to the lightning speed with which technology evolves. As soon as we establish best practices, we are faced with a new evolution. In our lifetimes, virtual reality environments will be increasingly perfected, and some of us will be able to drop out of the real world entirely. (Note: For an excellent illustration of how that might impact our children and grandchildren, read “Ready Player One” by Ernest Cline.)

Of course, the difficulty is that regardless of the rules in your house, other children may have cell phones and tablets, and it is easy to go over to a friend’s house after school and use their devices.

The Novus Project offers a range of resources for students, parents and educators. They favor a multi- pronged approach that includes using parental control software and talking to children as early as elementary school about the danger of pornography and explicit material.

As stated earlier, EAPs have the opportunity to be on the front lines when it comes to developing education, and interventions for all of their clients. This is not a problem that is going to go away.

Marina London is the Director of Communications for EAPA and author of iWebU, (http://www.iwebu.info,) a weekly blog for mental health and EA professionals who are challenged by social media and Internet technologies. She previously served as an executive for several national EAP and managed mental health care firms. She can be reached at m.london@eapassn.org.


Resources

A dark consensus about screens and kids begins to emerge in Silicon Valley (2018, October 26). Nellie Bowles. The New York Times. Retrieved from https://www.nytimes.com/2018/10/26/style/phones-children-silicon-valley.html

The Novus Project. Retrieved from http://thenovusproject.org/