Psychologist says to treat technology ‘like a guest’ in limiting screen time

BY Lauren Wanko, Correspondent |

Brothers Harry and Isaac really enjoy their tablet time, though they know it’s limited. When mom Sara Stopek was a young girl she didn’t have a tablet filled with an array of apps, but her kids do. It’s something her and her husband often think about when parenting.

“It’s definitely a challenge for us and something that we have to constantly be updating as the technology changes and as our kids get older,” she said. “Their expectations are different, our expectations are changing as well.”

“Technology is something that has always been with us. Now we’ve got tablets, but there was time when TV was new, when radio was new, and everybody wondered what are we going do with this technology? How is it going to change everybody’s lives?” asked Dr. Maurice Elias, a psychologist at Rutgers University. “And I think what we have to recognize is that any technology that comes into our lives we have to take control over, and we have to teach our kids how to use the technology and not have the technology take over our kids.”

Elias says think of technology as guests in your house.

“You have to basically say, ‘OK, here’s when we’re going to have our guest. We’re going to have it for an hour, or we’re going to have it for a half-hour, forty five minutes. We’re going to have it in the evening. We’re going to have it in the afternoon. We can use it for these things, not those things,'” he said.

Parents need to set clear limitations on tablet use, control the content on the devices, and be aware of the amount of time kids are spending on social media, Elias said.

“Young teens in particular are very susceptible to social media. They are learning what’s true and what’s not true. Sometimes young teens think that whatever is on social media is true, and of course, then they lose perspective. And, of course, it can be very depressing to think that a couple of people have said bad things about you because when you’re a teen you amplify. So, if two people said something bad about you, then you think everyone thinks bad things about you,” Elias said.

Between phones, TVs, computers and other devices, the time can quickly add up.

“I have heard estimates of kids spending up to seven hours a day on various screens,” Elias said. “Now seven hours is an upper bound, but parents have to ask themselves, how much time do we want our kids to be spending on the screens? What’s so interesting is how kids get completely absorbed when they’re on their screens.”

The professor says parents also have to be mindful of their own screen time. We often stop to check a text message or email in the middle of doing something with our kids. He says dinner is also a particularly good time to turn off all the devices and simply talk.

“In the future, many technologies will change, but what will never change is the importance of having caring, interpersonal relationships with people,” Elias said.

Harry and Isaac also happen to be the professor’s grandchildren, so while they can enjoy their screen time, it looks like they have even more fun playing with their grandfather.