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Ask Jules: I think my cousin’s kids spend too much time on screens

(María Alconada Brooks/The Washington Post; iStock)
3 min

Hi Jules: Is parenting “easier” in today’s age of devices, gaming systems, etc.? At what point does the exposure become detrimental?

My cousin has two boys (8 and 11) who are dependent on some kind of screen in front of them almost at all times. At the dinner table (in public or at home), at family gatherings, etc. I don't remember having that kind of dependency for entertainment at that age, but I know they have a lot more targeted content at their disposal whether that's games, YouTube videos, movies, etc.

Part of it, I think, is their parents enabling that behavior. It’s sad to watch, but it’s not anyone’s place to tell someone how to raise their kids. Although, there has to be some advocating for not sticking to one type of “electronic pacifier.” The only thing I can do is live and learn from it when I become a parent. I think keeping screens 100 percent away from young kids is impossible, but it has to come down to the parent’s moderation for what they want their kids exposed to, right?

— Jake

Jake: Neither of us come from a place of experience, so I want to make that clear upfront. But I don’t believe that parenting is “easier” in today’s age of devices. These devices provide kids with distraction and take pressure off parents for a moment in time, but there’s still a lot that we don’t know about the long-term effects of our increasingly indulgent relationship with them.

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For example: The rise of social media coincides with the rise in mental health issues among teens over the past decade. This certainly isn’t easy for parents.

You’re right that it isn’t realistic to keep this next generation away from screens completely. These are tools that have an increasing role in our social lives, education and careers. It’s not bizarre for your cousin to allow their kids to use them.

Simultaneously, there’s a strong possibility that these kids will remember nothing but an extreme relationship with these devices, which becomes very detrimental in helping them create a healthy balance between real-life and digital. Today’s platforms are wired to hold people’s attention for as long as possible, and in turn, get them hooked so that they’re itching to come back for more — no matter the age.

It’s important for parents to be intentional about this reality and create memorable experiences that are device-free for their kids. This can be for a certain amount of time before bed, during Saturday morning walks, or even throughout an annual vacation. These moments will become personal points of reference that allow their kids to evaluate how and why time separate from devices is valuable.

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You’re right that it’s not your place to tell your cousin how to raise their kids, but I do think that you play a role in modeling good behavior. Whether it be prompting conversation at the dinner table about the kids’ interests, or joining them in physical activity and traditional games at family gatherings — you hold responsibility as an adult figure in the family.

Pushing the kids out of their comfort zone might create a negative connotation toward you in the short term, but it will be something they learn to deeply appreciate in the long term.

There is only so much that you can do in this situation. It is not your fault if you’re putting in the effort and they’re just not receptive. As you stated, the only thing you can do is live and learn from it if you become a parent.

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