kid online

Every generation of parents is confronted with new problems. According to a survey released Tuesday by Common Sense Media, today’s parents are struggling to raise children who are growing up with no idea of what it is like to live in a world without smartphones, iPads or laptops.

These moms and dads are the first to have to figure out how to monitor what their kids are watching online and how to know when screen time has become excessive. They’re struggling to get kids to put down their devices, go outdoors and learn how to engage in physical play.

For most of us, the internet has become nearly indispensable. But just as one can find endless instruction on everything from budgeting to classic literature, one can just as easily call up hardcore porn sites or social media pages filled with hate speech. And, if safely navigating the internet can be a challenge for adults, imagine the pitfalls awaiting young children and adolescents permitted to wander around for hours unchaperoned in that electronic version of the Wild West. Studies suggest parents should be intervening to curtail that time. Unfortunately, the evidence says otherwise.

Young Americans are online in growing numbers and for unsettling long periods of time. Kids between the ages of 8 to 18 are watching internet videos for more than an hour a day — that’s more than double the time they spent watching videos four years ago. The average tween (ages 8-12) is spending 4 hours and 44 minutes every day watching the video-sharing platform, YouTube. Teenagers are spending an average of 7 hours and 22 minutes on the site. And that doesn’t count time spent online for homework or schoolwork.

For both tweens and teens, watching YouTube has become a favorite pastime. According to Sarah Domoff, assistant professor of clinical psychology at Central Michigan University, even the youngest tweens “are adept at getting access to regular YouTube or other streaming content — partly because their parents are overwhelmed.” Domoff says parents should be doing more to track their kids’ screen time.

We agree. Excessive screen time by children has been linked to myriad physical and mental health issues such as eye strain, poor sleep quality, obesity and delayed cognitive and social skills. While YouTube videos can be fun, entertaining and even educational, they are no substitute for real-life experiences.

— Robin Beres

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