Our Chicago: How to manage kids' screen time and social media access

CHICAGO (WLS) -- Parents may have noticed this with their own children. A recent survey by the nonprofit research organization Common Sense Media found that screen use among teens and tweens rose 17% between 2019 and 2021.

Children 8 to 12 years old are in front of screens, on average, more than five-and-a-half hours each day. For children ages 13 to 18, screen time averages more than eight-and-a-half hours daily.

Not only is screen time up, so is social media usage for kids 8 to 12 years old, who really aren't supposed to be on most social media platforms.

Dr. Devorah Heitner is the author of "Helping Kids Thrive and Survive in their Digital World" and founder of Raising Digital Natives. She said the question of when a child should get his or her own tablet or cellphone really depends on what they need it for.

"A lot of kids are using school devices and parents think, 'Oh, I'm not getting them a phone that's a big milestone for the future,'" Heitner said. Meanwhile, a lot of things that you can do on a phone you can do on a shared family tablet or a school device so I think parents need to be thinking about these questions of 'Just how connected is my kid to the internet, and what sites and apps are they connected to versus what device do they personally own?'"

Heitner said the pandemic led many parents to give their children access to their own screens at an earlier age than they might have otherwise. So how do families roll back that screen time?

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Dr. Devorah Heitner shared her concerns over younger children who are on social media.

"I think it's less about restricting the amount of time but looking at both what they're doing with devices and also making sure their lives are balanced with other activities," said Heitner, "So, can you reinstitute some activities that you dropped as a family or can you substitute a new activity?"

Heitner also shared her concerns over younger children who are on social media.

"They're not supposed to be exposed to that kind scrutiny and surveillance. We know these apps are invading all of our privacy and know more about us than we like to think about and so the idea is kids under 13 are supposed to have more digital privacy that's why the law is the way it is," Heitner said. "It's not that developmentally anyone thinks 13-year-olds are necessarily great on Instagram or TikTok, it's just that these laws are there to protect kids under 13. So we need to do it assertively. We need to make sure kids aren't getting on these apps before they're supposed to and even if they are 13 and up we need to be in ongoing conversations with them about the kinds of interactions they're having. How it's going, how the content they see in these spaces is making them feel."
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