Building the Balance

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When it comes to screen time and social media, the research being done is clear: tweens and young teens that spend time on social media are at greater risk for several mental health issues including suicidal ideation, depression, low self-esteem and anxiety. So, what is the answer? How do we build a healthy balance between “screen time” and “green time”. Green time? It is just what it sounds like, time outside in nature. Research is also confirming that our kids are healthier if they have time outside playing.

One suggestion gaining traction is the “wait till eight” movement. Parents are being asked to wait until 8th grade before buying their children a smart phone. Of course, not having a smart phone will not keep your child off social media completely, but it will break the 24/7 connectivity that iPhone’s launch in 2010 introduced to the general population. Prior to the iPhone, smart phones were mostly a business device. Men and women in suits with Blackberry devices were the ones glued to a phone. The iPhone changed that in an instant. Platforms like Facebook grew exponentially, and the age of social media was born.

It is important to take a moment and consider how these social media platforms work. They are free. So why do they exist? Where is the money? It is in clicks and data mining. Instagram, Facebook, Snap Chat and the like make money by encouraging users to “like” things. And the likes are addictive—really, they are truly addictive. Many of our youth are equating likes with popularity. Self-esteem is tied to responses to posts and followers. Advertisers pay for clicks and data on what users like.

In addition to the issues with social media and the impact of “influencers” on our kid’s self-esteem, there is the 24/7 connectivity issue. Cellphones allow us to carry our connections with us all the time. Disagreements at school don’t end when a child goes home. In addition, conflicts between two people are often chimed in on by entire groups of friends, some of whom may not even know the kids initially involved in the argument or incident. Group texts can explode a child’s phone with many unkind and even hateful comments. The same goes for any social media apps they may be on. A small disagreement can grow to involve a multitude of commenters taking sides and making judgments. And let’s not forget about bullying. It is no longer limited to the school setting. Bullying follows kids home to the dinner table, the backyard and their bedrooms.

So, parents of younger children are finding themselves between a rock and a hard place. The horse is out of the barn, and many kids in upper elementary and middle school have smart phones. How do you tell your younger child that yes, big sister got a phone in 6th grade, but you have to wait until 8th? My suggestion is that you consider getting them phones that they can use for text only. This meets our need to reach our kids whenever we need to, but limits the 24/7 connectivity to social media. I hope we can close that gate we opened, and get the horse back into the barn until our kids are a little bit older. It is likely to start with some drama, but in the end I suspect our kids will be happier, especially if the waiting until eight becomes the standard, not the exception.