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Digital “Time Well Spent” Movement Spawns New App Features

YouTube is the latest of many digital platforms giving momentum to the industry-wide time well-spent movement, an initiative that aims to help people reduce the amount of time they spend looking at their phones and scrolling through their social media feeds. YouTube is rolling out more features designed to help users “take charge” of their digital well-being. The ‘Watch History’ screen within a YouTube profile’s account will show how much time the user has spent on the app that day, the previous day and over the past seven days. This latest feature comes after YouTube released the option for users to set a timer that would remind them to take a break from the app, a feature that was first introduced in the YouTube Kids app.

Similarly, Apple and Google both recently announced a range of functions designed to help users monitor the amount of time they spend on their iOS and Android devices, and Instagram just released a “You’re all caught up” message to notify users when they have seen every post in their feed from the last 48 hours. In August, Facebook announced it would be rolling out activity dashboards for both Facebook and Instagram where users could track the amount of time they spend on the apps.

The Myth of Multitasking

Ask any kid while they are using their cell phone if they are listening to you, chances are they will reply in the affirmative even though they will have trouble recounting what has been said. That’s what Arnold Glass, a psychology professor at Rutgers University at New Brunswick thought, but his students told him that using various digital devices in his class had no negative effect on their performance, so he decided to test it out. His study shows that digital multitasking can adversely affect students' long-term retention of material, a study you might want to tell your kids about.

A Parents Guide to Fortnite

With school out for most, digital gaming often becomes the first way kids seek to stay entertained. If you are finding that your children, like so many others, are spending inordinate amounts of time playing a game called Fortnite, you might want to look at A Non-Gamer’s Guide to Fortnite, the Game That Conquered All the Screens, from The New York Times Personal Tech page. The article does a great job of explaining the game and letting parents foresee issues that they might want to discuss with their children.

Looking for a Guide to Parental Controls?

Screen time is becoming more and more of a family issue and many tech companies are attempting to help parents by providing tools such as Apple’s Screen Time, Disney’s Circle and Amazon’s Freetime. How do you make sense of all the different options out there and figure out which one will fit your needs? National Public Radio recently released a great starting point called A Guide To Parental Controls For Kids' Tech Use that asks you questions that help you zero in on the help you may be needing.

New Apps Help Kids Unplug From Phones

New mobile applications from Apple and Google allow consumers and parents to limit how long their children use apps, including Netflix and social media. The Apple’s Screen Time app, for example, can restrict access to some apps and websites. From Google, an app called Family Link allows parents to see how often kids use certain apps, approve or block app downloads, set screen time limits, and even lock devices remotely.

Dumb Phone Versus Smart Phone

There is a resurgence of interest in "dumb" phones as many are believing that smartphones are causing both kids and adults to miss out on aspects of family life. From pared-down flip phones that offer a limited array of apps and services to truly basic (but stylish) new devices that allow only calling, texting and a few other basic functions, consumers have options if they want to take a break from smartphones. One such phone is the Light Phone, a stripped down cell phone that offers calling, texting, an alarm clock and driving directions. Look for other phones on the horizon. Also asking your kids what they think about a pared down phone can start a conversation about phubbing and being addicted to a smartphone.

Smartphones and This Generation

An article by Jean M. Twenge, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” summarizes many parents’ worries about allowing their children to have and use smart devices, and whether or not it is true that smartphones are making kids depressed. The truth is that we really don’t know, and there is not much research on the possible causes for why this generation seems to be more depressed – and more likely to self report their depression – than past generations.


In the end, it is all about mentoring. Parents – and other important people in kids’ lives– need to model thoughtful relationships with digital devices and recognize their actions set the path kids may follow. That means no distracted conversations with your child while you are texting or checking Instagram. That means no reading of derogatory tweets out loud to significant others even if you think the author is right on target. And no smartphones at the dinner table or long chats while you are supposed to be watching a kid’s sporting event or rehearsal. It is also very important to set clear boundaries for using devices and most importantly, stick to them even if it isn’t convenient for you as a parent. It also means teaching kids to use technology to make a positive difference in the world, rather than for navel-gazing, self-promotion or obsessing about other people.

Universal Depression Screening Recommended for Adolescents

There is a lot of blame put on technology for the increase in teen bullying and isolation.

Is FOMO the Real Cause of Teens’ Smartphone Addictions?

In a recent interview on CNBC, Ana Homayoun, the author of Social Media Wellness: Helping Tweens and Teens Thrive in an Unbalanced Digital World explains that social media companies “create this system where you always want to be online. And it can create this fear of missing out (FOMO) if we're not online.” But Homayoun argues there are some ways parents can curb addictive behavior including introducing access to mobile communication incrementally by starting kids off with a flip phone instead of just giving them a hand me down smartphone and establishing times and days when the phone is off-limits (especially at night). She also recommends not letting kids use the phone as an alarm clock because that only leads to it being in their room at night unsupervised and using apps like Circle or OurPact to monitor their usage.

Is Tech Addiction a Real Thing?

Are we truly addicted to technology? No matter what side of the debate you (and your kids) come out on, you have to admit that something is going on because no matter where you are, and what you are doing, you see people staring at their phones or other digital devices. Many people are seriously studying the tech addiction issue and say that we aren’t quite ready to admit that the addiction is real. They believe, instead, we need to be focusing on finding solutions rather than defining the addiction.

One of their ideas is to think of our attraction to technology as a habit rather than an addiction. Habits certainly are easier to change then addictions.  An example is labeling a teen, who is in the process of forming their own identity, as an addict can create a long term outlook, issues and excuses that are hard to overcome. Perhaps the question instead should be about “how can people, especially young people, forge healthier relationships with technology while continuing to use it every day?” Obviously you don’t need a formal diagnosis to work on putting your device down more often, or to encourage your kids to do so as well.