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Digital Gifts: Keeping Kids from Tuning Out

Research finds teens are using digital devices with screens for about nine hours a day. (Flickr/Rebecca Pollard)
Research finds teens are using digital devices with screens for about nine hours a day. (Flickr/Rebecca Pollard)
December 8, 2015

INDIANAPOLIS - Many Indiana kids will find digital gifts under the tree this holiday season, leaving some parents with concerns and questions about screen time.

A recent report from Common Sense Media found that teens are using a tablet, gaming system or other device with a screen for about nine hours a day - and for those 8 to 12 years old, it's six hours.

While technology creates opportunities for learning and communicating, Glenn Augustine, interim chief executive at the Indiana Youth Institute, said it's important to ensure that kids aren't plugging in and tuning out.

"A child online creating digital art probably is pretty good being there for an hour or two, rather than a child just playing video games or engaging in social media," he said. "So you really have to look at your child, you have to look at what they're doing when they're online."

The study found that teens spend more time listening to music on digital devices than do tweens, who more often watch television. Both age groups watch TV, text, use social media and listen to music while doing homework, which experts say can interfere with a child's ability to study and learn.

To maintain a healthy family dynamic, Augustine recommended setting aside time to connect as a family without digital devices, limiting screen time and turning off devices 30 minutes before bedtime. He said there are indications when a child is spending too much time with technology.

"First thing your child wants to do when they get up in the morning is get to that game or to that app, and any time they have free time wanting to do the same thing," he said. "So just engaging with the same thing over and over again could be irritability or aggressive behavior and also just forsaking other activities for that one activity."

Technology is not just limited to the teen set. Common Sense Media reported that more than one in three children under age 2 are using tablets or smartphones. Augustine said these young children learn best from face-to-face social interactions such as simply sitting with a parent reading a book.

The report is online at commonsensemedia.org.

Mary Kuhlman, Public News Service - IN