Screen Time Rules

My Letter to the Editor at The New York Times

Delaney Ruston, MD
February 3, 2020
New york times newspaper

On Friday, The New York Times published a Letter to the Editor from me regarding my response to a recent article that builds a case of why parents don’t need to worry about their kids’ and teens’ phone use. It is not the first article to give that message.

Meanwhile, there are headlines about screen time that go way too far to the other side, saying things like how phones are destroying our kid’s mental health.

These types of claims are not only incorrect, but they work against the key thing we need to be doing—fostering calm and constructive conversations with our youth.

If you find my letter below helpful, please consider sharing it with others by forwarding this email or clicking here to share it on FB. Thank you for working with me to debunk harmful myths.

Here is the letter below. If you prefer, you can read it online at The New York Times here at (https://nyti.ms/3aXYx76).

To the Editor:

Re “The Menace of Screen Time Could Be More of a Mirage” (Business Day, Jan. 18):

Some headlines imply that smartphones are destroying a generation, while others say there is little to worry about. This debate does not help with the pressing question, What is a parent to do?

Excessive screen time can be a red flag that a teenager is having emotional struggles. Teenagers often go on screens to escape hard feelings. But short amounts of time can pose risks, too. It takes only a minute to experience online cruelty. Still, much of the time that teenagers are on screens, they do not experience negative things.

If we are overly scared, we put teenagers on the defensive, alienating them. If parents take the opposite approach and are hands-off, teenagers are also likely to disengage.

There are a few simple actions all parents can take to help their teenagers. Foster open conversations and stave off defensiveness by first acknowledging the important role that their phones play in their lives and then ask about the hard stuff.

Encourage them to be mindful of how their digital experiences make them feel. Address irrefutable problems like inadequate sleep by requiring phones out of their rooms at bedtime.

Simple steps like these can help guide parents away from paralysis from the academic debate to a path of better parenting.

Delaney Ruston

Seattle

The writer is a primary-care doctor and documentary filmmaker. Her latest film is “Screenagers: Next Chapter,” about raising emotionally healthy young people in the digital age.

Here are a few questions to open the conversation with your kids this week:

  1. If possible read my letter out loud and discuss all of your reactions to it
  2. What are the main messages you feel the press is conveying about the impact of screen time on youth mental health?
  3. What are the problems with extreme headlines or titles?
  4. Do any of you know someone who is on screens a lot and you are concerned that their use may be a red flag that they are not doing well emotionally?
  5. Are there times when just being on screens a short time can lead to feeling bad?

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*We would love for you to share this TTT any way that works for you, whether that’s on social media or via a newsletter. If you want to send it out in your newsletter we just ask that you credit us and link to our website, and let us know at lisa@screenagersmovie.com.

Stay in touch with the Screenagers community on Facebook, Twitter and leave comments below.

February 3, 2020


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