Unplug this summer

It is always fascinating — as well as disappointing — how much time we adults spend with our technology versus with each other. This is so apparent to me as I travel frequently and have the opportunity to people watch on a regular basis. We text. We tweet. We email. We post. We have our heads not in the clouds but in our laptops and iPads. It is even true among families.

Despite attempts to get away from it all, their media habits are just as all-consuming. I thought it was just me noticing how children mimic their parents’ media behaviors, but now a new study confirms my observation.

The report was conducted by the Annenberg Public Policy Center at the University of Pennsylvania and published in the July issue of Pediatrics.

In a July 15 interview with HealthDay, study author Amy Bleakley said it may be challenging for parents to realize, but their own actions regarding media usage speak louder than words. Even when parents have established guidelines for viewing, their example is what really counts.

“The best predictor of children’s TV time is their parents. If Mom and Dad automatically turn on the TV when they have free time, it is likely that their kids will learn to do the same,” said Bleakley.

I don’t know too many parents who wish their children spent more time watching TV or using more technology. I doubt even those moms and dads I see on the road are aware of just how much time they’re in front of a screen and how much influence their own media usage has on their children. And if they’re trying to raise children with Christian values, they would most likely admit that one of the worst places kids could be — given the amount of toxic content on the airwaves and online — is planted in front of a screen. No doubt the constant balancing act of teaching children how much is too much media time can get tiring and frustrating. But apparently the answer is simpler than you might think: Start with your own habits.

Researchers closely examined the connection between parents’ viewing habits and those of their children. The online survey of more than 1,500 parents from across the country collected data from parents regarding their weekday and weekend TV viewing habits. TV for this particular survey included time spent viewing movies, DVDs, as well as time in front of the home computer or laptop. The study found that parents watch about four hours of TV per day, while their children watched three hours a day and each hour of TV viewed by parents could then be connected to at least an additional 30 minutes of viewing time for their kids.

“In general, we found that across children of all ages, the amount of time a parent spends watching TV is strongly associated with their child’s television time,” Bleakley added.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) says this latest report affirms their recommendations that parents really need to take the idea of a being a good media role model more seriously. For more than 10 years, the AAP has also been recommending a maximum of two hours a day of TV for most children and no TV for children under the age of 2.

And that’s just concerning TV viewing. They also suggest keeping TVs and computers out of the bedrooms and in a central area of the home, so media usage can be monitored and incorporated as a family activity.

Family activity; there’s a concept. Sounds like an activity or even a summer vacation away from the media might be just what the doctor — or shall I say researchers — ordered. 

Teresa Tomeo is the host of “Catholic Connection,” produced by Ave Maria Radio and heard daily on EWTN Global Catholic Radio and Sirius Channel 130.