Is your child a ‘Screenager?’ Expert offers tips for relieving device addiction


Experts say that children are spending too much time behind the scenes – almost seven hours per day on average – but what about their parents?

A generation that grew up on mobile phones and other portable devices are now starting families of their own, and many companies are providing smart phones to their employees meaning that working parents are expected to be available after hours — making it more difficult than ever to lead by example.

Parents are taking notice and looking for ways to have a healthy balance between the family and the time spent on watching TV, playing video games, or interacting on social media via smartphones and tablets, according to Dr. Delaney Ruston, a clinical professor of medicine at the University of Stony Brook Hospital in New York and director of the documentary “Screenagers: growing up in the Digital Age.”

“The younger and the younger children have a lot of screen time, but the reality is that parents are concerned and a step forward to say ‘Hey, let’s find this balance and it works,” Ruston told Dr. Manny Alvarez in a recent episode of’s “Health Talk.”

Ruston identified five tips to help screen addict parents to encourage a healthy balance between screen time and down time in their homes.

Acknowledge positives
“In the documentary, I look at a lot of the families, including my own struggle to parent my teenagers, and I realize that the way in which co-opt-in is very different than what I had done,” Ruston said.

Ruston proposed to begin the conversation about technology in the household with positivity, noting that if not, children may become defensive and shut down the conversation before it starts.

Set limits
Ruston said parents should have weekly talks where they define a couple of times that sentence has to eliminate from the screen the time, such as during a meal with the family.

“So, you just choose a few times during the day, and then you write it in a family agreement,” she said. “It takes a lot of work … it is not easy, but by having these weekly conversations, it starts to make a big difference.”

Ruston recognized that it is no easy task, but said that changes in behaviour of those benefits can be very motivating for parents.

Consider a contract
“I would say, it really is for children the age of 11 to 13. [Is the age] where it really makes an impact, but you are still the conversation about ‘Is it reasonable to perhaps not use the phone if you are in the car together?'”

Remove devices at night and during the homework
This may seem like a no-brainer, but many children can use their devices because of apps, such as calculators or Internet access, that can help with their homework. But Ruston said the most important part of the setting of these limit values is to discuss with your children.

“What I think is so important is that the conversation really changes to their input,” she said. “Teens, as they get older, they begin to see the negative consequences if they are on the screens of late, so when you have conversations about this, they realize, ‘Maybe I want on my device so late in the night.'”

Parents need to follow rules, to
Ruston said parents need to pick up a few of the most important things they are doing to change about themselves and share that with their family.

“…You’re not the only one responsible – because that is how change happens – but [it gives your children] that you are all working on this together,” she said. “It is not only them who have the problem.”

“It’s easier said than done, and that is the reason why ‘Screenagers’ film has all of the different things on the website, such as resources, because you can’t just change this overnight,” Ruston said. “As doctors, we know that behavior change is the biggest challenge we can get.”

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