Worried about too much screen time? Here's what you need to know

Posted at 4:53 AM, May 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-05-05 16:19:49-04

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — Now more than ever our kids are getting a lot of screen time, whether it's from trying to keep them occupied, virtual learning, or connecting with loved ones, there really isn't a way around it these days. But, what impact is it having on their mental health and how can you create a healthy balance?

Brittany Brower has her hands full right now with four young kids under the age of four, especially with her husband being an essential worker. She admits she allows more screen time than she would like to. "To be honest with a new baby, that’s kind of how I survive right now," Brower said.

Some days harder than others. "I remember being in tears. Like he literally got babysat by his phone today but that's what I needed to do survive and I feel guilty about it." Like so many parents, she's just trying to make it all work right now.

But, Dr. Nicole Beurkens, a psychologist with the Horizons Development Resource Center says don't put so much pressure on yourself. "During this time it's normal and natural and it really is OK that kids are spending more time in front of screens. There's a difference between just sitting for hours and mindlessly watching Youtube videos or scrolling vs using face time with grandma and grandpa. Quality is a piece of this, just beyond the quantity," Beurkens said.

So what do you need to watch out for? Dr. Beurkens says increased symptoms of ADHD, anxiety and depression. Overall, just that worsening mood and behavior you may see in your kids the more time they get in front of a screen.

"Where we have to watch out, over the course of the day, that tends to increase kids irritability and can lead to increased problems. Whether it's younger kids, where you are noticing as the day goes on, wow they are really wound up or tantruming more or more irritable. Or in pre teens and teens we see the disrespectful behavior or that irritability," said Beurkens.

When you start to see those behaviors, thats when its time to make some adjustments. You can start by setting basic boundaries, like device free meals and no phones in the bedroom. Dr. Beurkens says its also important to make sure they get breaks throughout the day and to differentiate where and when you use devices for learning and for fun. She even suggests using parental controls, which can be helpful in keeping your kids on task.

"The good news is it doesn’t take long when we pull back on use of devices for kids for their systems to reset behavior and their mood to improve," Beurkens explained.

But, more than anything she says, give yourself grace.

"There is no one size fits all answer you need to be looking at what is going to work for you your kids and family," Beurkens said.

Brower tries to remind herself the same. "You know, I do have 4 kids under 4. I can’t be in all places at once. I guess I celebrate the days where he does have a good attitude and know that it’s a phase and just take one day at a time."

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