Collaboration needed to address screen-time issues

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From cellphones to computers and tablets to TVs, we’re surrounded by screens these days. There’s no escaping technology, but it was startling to hear local psychiatrist Joe Boyle say that a decade from now we may look back at technology — especially in the education system — like they did with the tobacco industry after realizing the harmful effects of smoking well after the fact.

Inter Lake reporter Kianna Gardner took an in-depth look in last Sunday’s edition about how schools are addressing the question: How much is too much screen time?

While the American Academy of Pediatrics recommends screen time be limited to one hour per day for kids ages 2 to 5, there is no specific time recommendation for children 5 and up. Other research, however, suggests screen time be limited to two to three hours per day for older children. The bottom line is that the monitoring of screen time for kids falls squarely on the shoulders of parents and teachers.

The assertions made by Boyle and youth therapist Charley Jones, both of The Newman Center in Kalispell, which specializes in behaviorial health, were startling.

“Technology is kind of taking away the critical thinking process when solving problems, so doing basic things like calculating distances or measuring things can create an anxious state.”

That anxiety, brought on by too much screen time, can lead to mood and sleep dysfunction, inability to control emotions and a lack of social development.

It’s reassuring to hear that many schools in the Flathead are taking steps to address the screen-time issue and want to collaborate with parents in controlling the amount of time kids are glued to their devices. While technology certainly has its benefits, the key lies in teaching children to use it responsibly.

Those who have studied the effects of screen time note that schools need to introduce technology strictly as a means for enhancing education, not as a way to simply keep up with technological advances. They stress “digital citizenship,” which teaches students how to responsibly and appropriately use social media and other online platforms.

We encourage further collaboration between schools and parents in monitoring and refraining from screen time. Online technology is addictive; one only need look around to see the numbers of people, young and old, glued to their cellphones anymore.

The stakes are high if we don’t regulate screen time. With online technology shaping Generation Z — those between the ages of 3 and 25 — “brains are being wired a little differently,” Jones pointed out. Time is of the essence for every parent and every school to consider the consequences if protective measures aren’t put in place.

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