The dangers of screen time for children

When it comes to screen time, it's much more than just fun and downtime playing video games, or watching the latest videos. We are talking about your child's mental health.

Recently, the U.S. Surgeon General issued an advisory about social media use and kids and teens mental health development. And while some programs are beneficial for learning and development, many, including the most popular ones could be detrimental to child development

They are some of the hottest and popular programs and apps on your kids' phones or laptops. It's now the reality. Millions of kids and teens, stuck to the screen.

Which is why Emily Cherkin, works with parents and kids on the dangers of some of these apps. Cherkin is known as "The Screentime Consultant."

"Like any online platform, online bullying is a thing," said Cherkin. "I am concerned about excessive screen use, not occasional, not moderate."

We know there are millions of apps and programs that can potentially harm your child. But, according to Cherkin, three of them are the more popular ones, but also the most concerning.

The first one is TikTok.

"There’s no age verification. There’s not like TikTok police out there going wait, you’re 12 or 9 right?" she said. "To me, if the military can’t use it, if the government is worried about it, we’re ok with our 8-year-olds using it?"

Social media sites like TikTok, gather so much information about your child. The algorithms are so finely tuned that the more people watch, especially kids, the more hooked they get, said Cherkin.

"From a brain development standpoint that is not healthy for any of us. But when we’ve got kids who are so vulnerable, still developing, and that’s what we’re giving them," she said.

When Cherkin speaks with her clients, she notices that they have a decrease in focus. They also lack the ability to delay gratification, and there are challenges with patience and social situations. Another popular, yet potentially vulnerable app for kids is YouTube. Even in the kids' version, Cherkin expressed concerns. She said, read the fine print.

"They find out when they’re watching a video. The type of device they’re logging in from, iPad or computer. What settings they use. Their IP address," she said.

Along with what videos they're watching, who they're interacting with, and even records their voice, she said. And then there are the games, particularly Roblox.

"It’s like a big universe of lots of different games," she said.

While it sounds fun, that ‘big universe’ has some scary elements to it. A major concern that Cherkin has, is the third party chat feature.

"There are a lot of concerns about predatory grooming. That’s scary stuff that parent’s think about that’s very real," she said.

When it comes to Roblox, she advises parents to not just let their kids play this program alone.

"I’ve heard stories of kids whose avatar is ‘assaulted’ in the game by another avatar, or made to feel uncomfortable," she said. "Kids go through these social experiences. And when we take it into the digital world, there are fewer adults supervising, or the adults there aren’t there to have the best kids’ interest at heart."

So, what can you, as a parent do to help? One step, she said, is to just have an honest conversation about their screen time. Make sure that when they do see something that makes them feel uncomfortable to not get angry. You want to make them feel comfortable, so they can be honest and open with you.

Another practical step is what she described as "living out loud."

"So you reach for your phone. You say, ‘I’m picking up my phone, I’m looking at my calendar to see what time soccer practice is. I’m checking Google Maps to see how long it’s going to get to practice. I mean mundane boring, all out loud," she said.

The reason why you do that is because you are communicating to your child what exactly you're doing. Most of the time kids see just see the back of our phone when we use it. And when we don't communicate what we're doing, eventually they will mimic those same mannerisms. 

Lastly, in this age of instant gratification, Cherkin said to embrace the boredom.

"Boredom is the birthplace of creativity. We want kids to know how to handle boredom. That’s so important. So, to that point, us parents waiting in line and scrolling on our phones, is telling our kids that we can’t handle boredom either," Cherkin said.