A+ Advice for Parents

Q: My grandkids are coming for a week and my daughter has asked me to keep them "off the grid," except for emergencies. The kids (11 and 13) are glued to their phones and she feels their health is at risk. (She wasn't concerned last summer when they arrived with their noses buried in tablets!) Is she overreacting?

A: Many experts don't think so. Educators, athletic coaches, children's counselors and doctors are beginning to link decreased attention spans, inability to stay focused, and irritability when devices are shelved with kids being unable to put the things down.

Ophthalmologists are concerned about increased eyestrain in young people who overuse screens. Viewing a digital screen often makes the eyes work harder.

You daughter isn't the only parent worried. One Texas mother emailed me, "When I was a kid, I'd ask friends to come over to play. When my daughter invites friends, it's like she's said, 'Come over so we can silently look at our phones together.' It's just crazy."

A recent poll from Common Sense Media reveals that half of teenagers surveyed "feel addicted" to their mobile devices. Fifty-nine percent of their parents said they agree.

The results suggest that parents and kids are concerned about the impact mobile devices have on day-to-day life. Seventy-two percent of teens and 48 percent of parents feel the need to immediately respond to texts and other notifications; 69 percent of parents and 78 percent of teens check their devices at least hourly.

One-half of parents and one-third of kids polled said they very often or occasionally try to reduce the amount of time they spend on devices. Approximately one-third of both parents and teens said they argue about mobile device use daily. Sixty-six percent of parents and teens said mobile devices are not allowed at the dinner table.

"Mobile devices are fundamentally changing how families go about their day-to-day lives, be it doing homework, driving or having dinner together," said James Steyer, founder and CEO of Common Sense. Usage "is causing daily conflict in homes," while "families are concerned about the consequences. We also know that problematic media use can negatively affect children's development and that multitasking can harm learning and performance."

Common Sense has issued a white paper with survey results and recommendations. "Technology Addiction: Concern, Controversy and Finding Balance" discusses -- among other things -- how multitasking and toggling between multiple screens can impair children's ability to lay down memories, learn, focus and work effectively.

It also addresses technology's impact on conversations. Michael Robb, Common Sense's director of research, said that this is "really important for social and emotional development. We need better long-term measures of how device use is impacting people's ability to empathize."

Instead of relying on devices, enjoy going off the grid with your grandkids. Get outside; go camping; have conversations; try a new sport; cook up a storm; engage in painting or sculpture; volunteer where you're needed (would a preschool like a mural repainted?); visit local attractions; take the kids to lunch with interesting people. Stuck at home on a rainy day? Teach them a challenging card game or chess. Catch a movie at the multiplex. Your daughter won't mind; the screen is big and the movie is sure to start some interesting conversations afterward!

(Do you have a question about your child's education? Email it to Leanna@aplusadvice.com. Leanna Landsmann is an education writer who began her career as a classroom teacher. She has served on education commissions, visited classrooms in 49 states to observe best practices, and founded Principal for a Day in New York City.)

More like A+ Advice for Parents