Ever since schools closed due to social-distancing requirements, a lot of kids have been spending most of their time online. Is all that screen time harmful?
Ever since schools closed due to social-distancing requirements, a lot of kids have been spending most of their time online. Today we'll find out whether all that screen time is harmful—and we'll get some drawing lessons from author and illustrator Jarrett J. Krosoczka and some weird parenting wins from the Longest Shortest Time podcast's Hillary Frank.
After the show:
And we want to hear your tips and suggestions! What questions do you have right now? How are you getting through this? Send your questions and tips—especially the strange ones—to firstname.lastname@example.org, and we might invite you on the show.
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Ann Marie Baldonado: Did you sleep last night? Is anyone sleeping? Well I know I'm not. And if you'd look at my phone, you'd know why. There are days when I wake up, go to the web browser, and it tells me that I can’t open any more tabs, because I already have 500 open. Literally – 500. Just article after article of tips on how to help your kids with their online classes, how to be productive while you're working at home, how to clean your doorknobs, how long it’ll take to get a COVID-19 vaccine, how to sleep at night. It’s 500 tabs of worry. I sit there in bed, scrolling through the articles, trying to get it together before my 8-year-old or 12-year-old barges in. No. It will definitely be the 8-year-old.
[1:07] CHILD: Do we have any snacks, mom?
AMB: And once those kids are up, it’s time for… whatever school is now.
AMB: From Common Sense Media, I’m Ann Marie Baldonado, and this is Parent Trapped.
AMB: We want this show to be a lifeline for you during the pandemic. A place for you to tune in and feel more connected to other parents and caregivers. Each week, we’ll bring you solutions to the questions you’re facing. We’ll give you ideas on shows to watch and activities to do with your kids, and we’ll give you coping tips – so you can finally close some of those open tabs.
AMB: Today on the show: screen time.
JJK: Despite the pandemic, we are limiting our kids' screen time to just 60 minutes per hour right now.
AMB: Right. Exactly.
AMB: Children’s book author Jarrett Krososcka joins us. He’s created a show that’ll make you feel good about your kids spending all those minutes online. Plus, we’ll get some answers about how bad screen time actually IS for kids, and we’ll get some tips on other ways to keep your kids occupied while you work – or if you just need a moment of silence.
[2:34] AMB: If quality is what matters when it comes to screen time, we owe a lot to the many children’s book authors who have really been coming through for their fans, providing classes, readings, and drawing activities. In the middle of March, when lockdowns started, Jarrett Krosoczka launched a how-to show for kids on YouTube. Jarrett’s the author and illustrator behind the Lunch Lady series, the recent Star Wars Jedi Academy Books, as well as picture books for younger kids. His YouTube show is called Draw Every Day with JJK – those are his initials. Each weekday, Jarrett teaches kids things like how to draw facial expressions:
JJK: What I'm going to do today – I'm just going to draw a circle...
AMB: … or word bubbles, or motion lines, or sound effects.
JJK: It's all about these symbols – these visual symbols.
[3:26] JJK: Well, I want to give young artists practical tools. And so what I figured was if I could just give a little bit of information at a time, then – then young artists if they're watching week after week now, month after month, they're going to have a collective group of knowledge. So the show is anywhere between 20 and 30 minutes long. But understanding that attention spans are short, each section is about 10 minutes.
AMB: After his main lesson of the day, Jarrett turns his camera on two very special members of his household: Ralph Macchio, and Frank.
JJK: It's time for the pug cam.
JJK: I have two pugs. We have this thing called Pug Cam, and I just put them in – either they're sleeping and I record them –
JJK: Oh, Ralph is sleeping, everybody! Shhh!
JJK: Or I'm dressing them up in Yoda ears and I'm recording them, or in a chicken costume.
[4:18] AMB: Then Jarrett turns to a rotary phone on his wall and pretends to dial up one of his illustrator friends, and have them magically appear on those phone lines and land on his screen.
JJK: The old pay phone that's controlled by a rotary connects to the internet through a wire that connects through the internet through a phone line –
[music and dial-up noises]
AMB: The technology he’s talking about is a joke, of course, but the guests are real.
MH: Hi Jarrett! Hi everyone! I'm Matt Holm.
AMB: Jarrett’s invited people like Cece Bell, Raul the Third, and Jeff Kinney to teach kids how to draw characters from their books.
JJK: And then I end just about every single show with a family draw time. And I have three kids that are aged 11, 8 and 3. And for instance, we play the scribble game where one person draws a scribble and then the other person has to take that scribble and turn it into something.
[kids laughing] JJK: Very cool. That's great! That's okay, that's okay. We're learning! Awesome!
[5:20] JJK: And now my kids are trying to dream up and think about new games we could play 'cause you know, the show keeps going and going.
AMB: Yeah, I know my kids love when your kids come on.
JJK: That's very sweet.
AMB: It just, you know, they're just – it's very – they're very delighted by it. Yeah, I think that's a really great part of the show – when you and one of your kids does an interactive game and it really does give parents and kids – something concrete to do. You just gave an example of one. Can you give us an example of another one – something that people can can try at home?
JJK: Yeah, okay. One that we invented specifically for the show, because we ran out of all of the ideas that we typically around the house. It's called the Mirror Game where two artists each have a sketch pad and you take turns drawing, but you have to try to make the marks at the exact same time. So you're just watching and slowly trying to mirror what the other person is doing. Then they stop and then it's the other artist's chance to be the lead and make marks. And there's – there's something just beautiful about making something out of nothing.
[6:28] AMB: Yeah. I think one of the great things about this show – sorry to say this. But one of the great things about the show is it's something that your child can do by themselves and get super into. But then there's, you know, it works both ways. There's also a way for you and your child to do something together and then bring it into the rest of your day. It works both ways.
JJK: It works both ways. No, absolutely. And I totally get that as a parent, you know? And part of the reason why I wanted to start doing more webcasting and jump more into YouTube is that my kids consume a lot of content on YouTube and it ranges in quality, it ranges in something that I even want them to be watching in the first place. And I totally understand the need to put your kid on a device or a screen for a moment of peace. I mean, we're trying to figure out like – am I making a difference? I'll never get the feeling that I had when I – when I logged onto YouTube and I could see that my videos had collectively accrued two million minutes worth of viewing time. So if I could give two million minutes worth of sanity out there for parents who are quarantining with kids, I – I just feel – something I feel good about, you know, contributing something positive to all of this.
[7:47] AMB: Now your wonderful book, Hey, Kiddo, which is geared more towards older kids, young adults, is about your upbringing. I was wondering if you could describe it because it's such a wonderful book.
JJK: You know, I'd be – I'd be so happy to. Hey, Kiddo is a graphic memoir about my upbringing. I was raised by my maternal grandparents, Joseph and Shirley, because their daughter, my mother Leslie, was addicted to heroin. And my grandparents took me in just before I turned three years old. And they were very loving and very kind people. And so Hey, Kiddo is about my maturation as an artist, and my coming of age, and my grappling with family trauma. So it's about – it's about finding your family. And sometimes that means a literal search. And that sometimes – it just means turning around and seeing that the family's been there the whole time. And it's – something that I'm very proud of that I was able to do with this book is, I was able to utilize a lot of the materials that my grandfather empowered me to save. So it was – he was always giving me a storage bin to say, save the artwork that's important to you. And then we'll do some spring cleaning and throw everything else away. And because he did that, I have this archive of artwork that I made throughout my life, and letters my mother had written to me while she was in prison.
[9:05] AMB: Yeah, I know. It's – it's lovely, as you look through the book, that you have these artifacts from your life. It just –
JJK: Thank you. Thank you.
AMB: It's just like such a lovely layer to this story. Now, I think one of the things that you probably dealt with as a child was uncertainty.
AMB: And I was thinking about that a lot in relation to like what kids are going through now. They're dealing with this level of uncertainty. Like an ongoing fear, not knowing what's going to happen. And I don't know, I was just wondering if you had thoughts on that.
JJK: Well, yeah. I mean, there are a lot of parallels there, right? Because a big part of Hey, Kiddo – is my showing how I would take the – the demons that I had on the inside and release them through my sketchbooks. So I was pouring my feelings down through images. I wasn't able to control the world around me, but I was able to control the world that I created in the pages of my comics. And – and that's the beautiful thing about art. Whether it's something that becomes your vocation or not, art is something that helps you process and understand a sketchbook could be an escape pod to a world that you create on your own. And, you know, if you get lost in a sketchbook, time will - just flies by. And as any parent knows, sometimes when your kid is on a screen for too long, they come out the other end really, really difficult. You know, the screen zombie effect is – is a real thing and and you don't have that negative repercussions when the kid has spent so much time with – with drawing materials.
[10:45] AMB: Now, you said that you try to surround your children with inspiration in many forms. How do you do that? I'm thinking particularly now, a lot of us want to encourage creativity in our kids, but we don't know how to do that.
JJK: There's something about boredom that's really important and beautiful. To be bored with a sketchbook and just to use your imagination. So it's not even so much about having things around you that inspire you, but we still have to – make a conscious effort to be bored, and just to – just to sit alone with a sketchbook and see what you might come up with.
AMB: You can find all of Jarrett Krosocska’s great work, and his show, Draw Every Day with JJK, at his website – StudioJJK-dot-com.
[11:40] AMB: Coming up after a quick break: what about all the rest of the time kids spend on screens? Is that okay? Plus some weird parenting hacks we want to share with you. Back in a few.
[12:30] AMB: We’re back.
AMB: Ever since schools shut down, screens have been everything for kids. It’s how they learn. It’s how they play with friends. It's how they go to birthday parties. I know with my kids, at the end of the day, they come out of their rooms with their eyes glazed over. It's like they’re hackers pulling an all-nighter or something. Back in pre-pandemic times, though, I tried to monitor how much time they were using screens. Now, not so much. But I wonder – what is all this screen exposure doing to them?
MR: Don’t feel guilty about the time your kids are spending with media right now.
AMB: This is Michael Robb, father of two. He knows a lot about screen time. He's director of research at Common Sense Media, and he's studied children and media for over 20 years.
MR: I think technology is great for bonding. I think we underestimate the extent to which kids love to talk about, like, what video games are playing or what TV shows they’re watching, and the extent to which you can talk to your child and, you know, have a kind of like a warm moment with your child about – around their media experiences, the better. I have young kids. So, you know, I like to have them sit in my lap. And, you know, we can watch a show together. We can read an e-book together. And it’s like this warm, nice, comforting moment. We shouldn’t shy away from that.
[13:52] AMB: Now – well, sometimes I worry that some of my kids' watching is distracted. You know, my daughter can be FaceTiming with a friend, at the same time, she's playing a video game with that friend. And then she'll also be watching a show, kind of shrunk up in the corner of her screen, all at the same time. And that feels wrong to me. I feel like I should be stopping that. I don't know. Do you have any thoughts on that kind of stuff?
MR: You know, that's a really complicated question, because I think it really depends on what a kid is trying to do at any one point. So if you have a child who's trying to, you know, talk to friends and also checking a couple different tabs in Chrome while they're trying to do their virtual homework, right, it's going to make it difficult for them to learn effectively. It's going to make the work go much, much slower and maybe make it less accurate. Now, being on the phone, Zooming while you're watching a Netflix movie with a friend? I mean, that would not bother me, especially at this point when like it's not even impossible to sit next to a friend or watch a movie.
[14:52] AMB: Right.
MR: But the consequences for that are much lower than they are than if you're trying to actually be productive or get schoolwork done.
AMB: I don't know if this is anecdotal, but is there like any research about, you know, too much screen time taking a toll on our bodies?
MR: So probably not as much as you might expect. And if you are using them to such an extent that your body feels like it's hurting, or that you're straining your eyes – that's the cue to stop. There is some research that shows that there is a link between media use and, you know, being overweight or obese. But it has less to do with just being sedentary, which I think is what a lot of people think it is, and more to do with exposure to advertising. So for young kids, being exposed to like lots of junk food advertising or products with high caloric counts can affect what kinds of foods they request from their parents, and the kinds of foods that they desire to eat. And so you do end up seeing linkages there.
[15:55] AMB: Is there any research on the connection between too much screen time and attention span, just given how much screen time there is these days? I was just wondering if that's a concern.
MR: Yeah, there's – there is research that suggests there is a relationship between excessive screen time and attention problems in young children. And – the issue with the research is that it can't tell us what's causing what. So it's possible that, you know, if my kid's watching a lot of really fast paced action cartoons that, you know, maybe it's causing ADHD. But I know lots of families who have children with ADHD who say like – it's a lifesaver for them. You know, they use – basically media's become a tool to help focus your kid or engage them in things and otherwise – they would not otherwise be able to be engaged in. So I think it really depends, you know, family to family. I mean, who isn't having trouble focusing right now?
[16:52] MR: And so, you know, the more that we can harness media and technology to help kids be social and to be doing the things that we know are good for child development, I think the better off we're going to be. I still say this is not yet the time to worry about – ugh, my kids are still spending so much time online, or you know, watching TV or playing games.
AMB: Our big problem is going to be that they watch too much Netflix.
MR: No, I don't think that's going to be the problem and, you know, if two years from now, when this is all done, and you say, God, the worst part about that was my kids watched too much Netflix – like you probably did pretty well during this crisis. I think we have to recognize that – our relationships to screens have changed. You look at, like, teens and their relationship to others on social media, which has been the cause for a lot of concern over the last couple of years about, you know, our kids becoming more depressed and anxious and lonely because of social media use. And now we get to see like – kids crave and want to be talking to their friends. And this is the only way they can do it. So it's the only way we can allow them to kind of express who they are, you know, based on where they are developmentally. And that's – that's interesting. And that's different. It's a harder, different way to think about media and technology. And that there is going to be kind of like a new stasis or a new normal around, you know, what function screens play for us.
[18:16] AMB: Michael Robb is the senior director of research at Common Sense Media. You can find more of his thoughts on screen time at commonsensemedia-dot-org. Also, we know that the internet is a complicated place, and we’ll be talking more about keeping your kid safe online in a future episode.
AMB: We’re gonna wrap up our show with some coping tips. Actually, we figured coping tips are so important right now, that this is how we’re gonna end EVERY show. And to get us started, we’re gonna talk to someone who’s been collecting tips from parents. She happens to also be the editor of this show, and a good friend of mine – Hillary Frank, writer, artist, and creator of the podcast Longest Shortest Time. And her most recent book is called Weird Parenting Wins. It’s this concept that Hillary came up with a few years ago, when parents would tell her these examples of weird parenting techniques. I like them because there are these odd strokes of genius that can help a parent get out of a bad situation or manage a difficult moment.
AMB: Like everyone these days, Hillary and I talked on video chat.
[19:28] AMB: Well, one of your popular parenting – weird parenting win is What's On My Butt. Can you tell us a little bit about What's On My Butt?
HF: Ann Marie! How dare you ask me that?
AMB: We have so much stuff on our butts these days.
HF: So, yeah. So this came from a mom who told me that one way that she recharges is that she lies face down on her couch or on the floor and tells her kid to go fetch some random object in the house and place it on her butt. And then the mom has to guess what's on her butt. And the longer it takes you to guess, the longer you get to relax.
AMB: I like how these are just ways to figure out how to remain laying down, while still playing
HF: Yes. How to check out for a little bit and pretend you're playing, yeah.
HF: Give the impression of playing.
AMB: That's really what it's all about. I'm sure – I don't know if people are reaching out to you with new ones, you know, that sort of relate to our current situation or if there are ones that you've collected over the years that feel like ready made for a pandemic.
[20:42] HF: There's a little bit of both. So, one of the things that really works all of the time, but is especially useful now, is that kids love being able to do things that they wouldn't normally be allowed to do. And so I think it's like a good time to play with boundaries and open them up a little bit. So like, if they sit and play independently for 20 minutes, they can put on as much lipstick as they want. This was something that came to me, for the book, through somebody who said they did this to get their toddler to go on hikes. Also, like having dinner in odd places. There's one dad who told me that he likes to have dinner on his roof with his kids. Another mom told me that they have dinner in the bathtub, and it makes for easy cleanup. We – in my house, we like to have Living Room Picnic. Actually, we just did a picnic in the back of our car. We went and drove and found the fanciest house we could in town, parked outside of it, and ate a picnic.
AMB: Yeah, I like that idea of sort of – like, allowed transgression or something.
[21:55] HF: Yes. And I think like another category of things that we need is like finding ways to keep our kids occupied and having fun, but that will allow you to connect with them later so that they don't feel abandoned, and you know, you feel less annoyed by them. You have a way of connecting with them. One thing that I do with my daughter – and I did this before coronavirus, I used to use this in restaurants back when we used to go to those. But it works for like if you have parents working at home. So I tell her to go spy on dad. And I give her a notebook and a pen and I say, go spy on him and write down every single thing you notice, everything you hear him say, but do not let him notice that you're there and then report back to me and we pick a time for her to report back to me.
AMB: I like that one. Is there any sort of tricks that anyone's given you, or one that you've used yourself to get out of those situations where – sometimes people are kind of anxious or just heightened? It's like – stressful.
[23:05] HF: So one mom told me they do in their family – they throw an un-birthday party for everyone. So now – this requires a bit of energy. It can't just be at the end of a long day where you're like – I've had it. But maybe on a weekend where you're like – we're all crabby and how do we fill the time? You bake a birthday cake, or an un-birthday cake, you make banners, you make un-birthday cards for everyone in the family, and then you like sing Happy Un-birthday to everybody in the family, and it's supposed to lift everybody's mood. But I also think, like, there's nothing wrong with a full on family scream. And this was something that one mom told me they do in their family. They all just like, get in a circle and they like, look at the sky – or you could do this in your home – and you just scream your head off and get it all out. And then everyone feels like a lot less tense.
AMB: Do you relate? Do you want to scream with your family? Record it, send it to us and we might include it in our show! That one you heard earlier? That was me with my family. And we don’t just want to hear you screaming. Do you have weird parenting wins or hacks you want to share with us? Do you or your kids have questions that you need answered? Write to us at parenttrapped-at-commonsense-dot-org.
[24:35] AMB: This episode was produced by me — Ann Marie Baldonado — with Dennis Funk. Our editor is Hillary Frank. We got production help from Natalie Price. Our engineer is Pete Karam, and our theme song was composed by Casey Holford. We get editorial support from Andrea Silenzi, Fred Graver, Kyra Reppen, and Jill Murphy.
Thanks again to our show’s founding sponsor, First Republic Bank. To learn more about their services, visit firstrepublic-dot-com today.
Common Sense Media is a nonprofit that rates media based on children’s developmental guidelines. Their age-based ratings and reviews are written by experts and trusted by families everywhere. Visit commonsensemedia-dot-org to learn more.
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