I'm a psychiatrist who keeps my kids laptops in a closet and has restricted smartphones. Here's my advice for other parents about healthy screen use.
- Dr. Richard Wadsworth is a psychiatrist and a dad to seven kids.
- He's minimized their screen time and restricted their social-media access.
This as-told-to essay is based on a transcribed conversation with Dr. Richard Wadsworth, a psychiatrist, about raising his children while minimizing their screen time. The following has been edited for length and clarity.
Being a dad to seven kids — between 1 and 13 — is really, really wonderful. My kids and my wife are everything to me.
As parents, we're tasked with the health of our children, and that goes beyond just physical health.
I restrict and moderate my kids' access to social media and the internet because, based on experiences I've had with patients as a psychiatrist as well as research articles, I'm convinced that there's a correlation and causal relationship between the amount of time that a kid spends on the internet or social media and an increase in depression and anxiety.
I keep my kids' laptops in a closet and limit their access to them. I've also banned traditional smartphones. Instead, my two oldest kids have phones that allow them to only call and text. None of them have accounts on Facebook, TikTok, or Instagram.
I haven't outright banned social media, but I've restricted and moderated it.
At first, the kids weren't thrilled about restricted screen time
During COVID-19 lockdowns, my oldest three had access to laptops because we were homeschooling them for a year.
The kids did their learning on electronic devices, and they sought out their entertainment on electronic devices in the form of videos on YouTube Kids.
I found that they started spending a lot of time watching YouTube. My wife and I were super busy at the time — we had new babies and I was working full time in residency. It initially felt like the kids were babysitting themselves by watching YouTube, but we eventually realized that this was practically all they were doing.
We live next to this beautiful forest, and they weren't going out in the woods or playing in the dirt. They were just sitting there on YouTube.
I sat down and had a discussion with them about how spending a lot of time on a laptop or screen could be bad for their mental health and that I wanted them to have a happy and good life.
I asked them, "What do you guys think if we played outside together, and we went down to the stream by our house, and we got rid of these screens?"
At first, the kids weren't thrilled because they liked the screens, so they gave a little bit of resistance. I explained it was an important thing for us to do and asked them to support me, which they did — I think a lot of that was because we have a good relationship.
I haven't completely restricted them from using the laptops. Once in a while, on a weekend or something, we might get our laptops out and sit around in the living room as a family and play a game together.
If they want to use their laptops, they can also ask me for permission, and once they're done, I'll take the laptop and put it back in the closet. My oldest three kids have been given laptops from school to take home for schoolwork, and I also try to help them regulate the time they're spending on those.
As my kids have gotten older, their friends have all gotten cellphones. If you go around to any sort of public place with schools, you see all the kids are just staring at their phones all the time.
This is why we've purchased Gabb phones, which allow for just calls and texts, for my oldest son and oldest daughter. That way, I can get hold of them and they can get hold of me and call their friends.
Sometimes, adjusting has been a challenge for the kids. They'll sometimes ask to go on my wife's phone when we're in the car, and they'll lose track of time. The younger ones will sometimes get a bit upset when we ask them to get off the phone, but the older ones are usually pretty supportive.
One of my kids has gone on my wife's TikTok account when she leaves her phone on the table, and we've had to ask them to please not use her phone without permission. This hasn't been that bad of a problem, though.
Overall, my kids are kind of proud of the fact that they don't spend tons of time on social media. I feel like because they're not on many platforms, they're spending more time playing outside, reading books, and doing many kinds of things that are healthier for them.
As a parent, you need to be consistent if you want to minimize your kids' screen time
I do think that as my kids get older, they're more likely to want social-media accounts.
Ideally, they wouldn't get social media at all, but if one of my kids did really want an account, that would be a discussion we could have after the age of 13. That said, I would strongly discourage it.
My advice for other parents is to first try and establish a good relationship with your kids. Spend time with them; play with them. Then you can start having conversations about things that are important. You can pick a good time to talk to them about the time they're spending on cellphones and suggest spending time together instead.
I'd suggest coming up with some rules. Every kid is an individual, so find rules that your kid is likely to follow.
As a parent, you need to be consistent. If you and your child set a rule, you need to stick to it. That consistency helps them to have some security in their life emotionally, and it helps them to be happier and to be able to make decisions knowing what the outcomes will likely be.
Not everyone is in a position where it makes sense to pull away all screens, so remember not to create rules that you're not going to have the capacity to enforce.
I know how hard it can be when parents restrict their kids' access to social media and the internet. But, I would say, if they stick with it, the kids will start to recover after some time, and they'll start to use their imaginations again. They'll begin doing other things again, play again.
It does get better. It gets really hard for a little while, but it does get better. So I would say, don't give up.
- Artificial Intelligence in Marketing
- Souvenirs from Hampi: 8 must-buy treasures to remember your journey
- International air travel penetration remains low in India: CAPA
- "Meeting friends is always a delight": PM Modi reacts to 'Melodi' selfie shared by Italian counterpart Georgia Meloni
- WhatsApp testing new feature that lets you search users by their username