Saul Rosenthal, PhD

Saul Rosenthal, Boston Area Health Psychologist

A recent article published in the academic journal Psychological Science questions the generally held belief that lots of screen time, especially around bedtime, is bad for adolescents. The article, Screens, Teens, and Psychological Well-Being: Evidence From Three Time-Use-Diary Studies followed over 17,000 teens in three countries. 

This is an important study for a number of reasons. First, it includes a very large number of participants. Second, rather than relying on retrospective measures of technology use, the study uses a technique in which adolescents’ use is recorded throughout the day. Third, well-being is measured by caregivers as well as the adolescents. Finally, statistical analysis was designed before data collection. In other words, it’s not a fishing expedition. This is a really nicely designed study, strengthening confidence in its conclusions.

The results in general find very small or non-existant links between screen use time and well-being. Using screens within 30-60 minutes of bedtime show even smaller links. In other words, the study’s findings suggest that screen use does not harm general well-being.

Even though I see all sorts of poor health consequences related to technology misuse, I am confident that the study’s results are valid. The large sample size, procedure for measuring screen time, and pre-designed approach to data analysis make one of the best designed studies we have on the topic. It is a study for others to emulate.

In fact, even before the study, I believed that, in general, screen use does not lead to negative outcomes. Unfortunately, there is an almost universally-accepted assumption that screen time is inherently problematic. It’s poorly tested, but concern about screen time drives legislation, regulations, and plenty of articles and books. So much so that while it is still mostly an assumption, we tend to accept it as Truth. One of the points of the Psychological Science study is to take a systematic look at the assumption. The authors do a great job, and find the assumption doesn’t hold up.

However…

(more…)

June 2nd, 2019

Posted In: Parenting, Tech

With the end-of-year holidays at hand, you might be thinking about gifting your child a phone or tablet. I’ve previously written about helping your child develop appropriate online skills, and now I want to share some tips about setting your child up for success with their new device.

Many parents (myself included!) feel ambivalent about giving their child a smart phone or tablet. On the one hand, it’s convenient, you can keep tabs on your child, it’s the way of the world, and, of course, “everybody else has one!.” On the other hand, devices and subscription plans are expensive, many apps are a waste of time, social media is a jungle, and, of course, “I didn’t have one when I was your age and I grew up just fine!

It’s true that most children over 10 years old have a cell phone. However, that doesn’t mean it’s simply a matter of buying something and tossing it over to them. You would never do that with your car keys, would you? 

With a little thought and planning, you can help your child develop more responsibility in the online world. Be involved, especially when they first start out, and then slowly let them have more independence. Digital devices have a powerful impact on every aspect of your child’s life. They should enhance your child’s life, not control it.

(more…)

December 7th, 2018

Posted In: Parenting, Tech

In a recent piece written for the New York Times, Perri Klass, MD lays out ideas for 5 device-free spaces for families. The article does not directly focus on getting our children off of the devices. Rather, parental media use is the focal point.

He starts with Common Sense Media’s 2016 survey indicating that parents spend over 9 hours per day consuming media. About an hour-and-a-half of that time is work-related. The vast majority of time parents spend consuming media is personal. 

What sort of model does that provide to our children? 

Children, whether we believe it or not, do follow our leads. The setting they grow up in becomes the normal and expected way the world works. If it is normal for parents to spend huge amounts of time behind a screen, then that’s what children will also do.

(more…)

January 25th, 2018

Posted In: Parenting, Tech

One of the issues that almost always comes up when parents find out I specialize in Internet addiction is whether parental controls and monitoring apps work. I’ve come to realize that what many parents are really saying to me is, “I don’t know how to make sure my child only accesses safe Internet material and I’m pretty sure my kid will get around any control I set up anyway but I don’t know what else to do. Help!” 

Even though I’m a developmental and clinical psychologist specializing in technology use, I realized I don’t really know if parental controls work. I use them for my own child, but I hadn’t given it much thought. I just turned on what I thought was appropriate in the operating system. 

In fact, even though parental controls are ubiquitous — built into operating systems, provided by Internet service providers and developed by a number of third parties — there’s very little in the way of information out there about whether they work or not.

And then I realized the question was more complicated than I thought. What does it even mean to say parental controls “work?” That a child cannot access the Internet at all, at least during particular times? That the child only encounters material the parent deems appropriate? 

To me, the question of effectiveness misses the point, at least in terms of the type of thoughtful parenting which I promote and to which I aspire.

(more…)

April 25th, 2016

Posted In: Parenting, Tech