Many parents already know the screen time warnings from the American Academy of Pediatrics, or if they don't, they know the general formula — too much screen time = bad! But as summer approaches, the lead author of those guidelines advised parents not to overlook a benefit of media usage.
Visual media can help kick-start tricky conversations with teenagers. The academy's updated 2016 guidelines were the first to recommend that parents "co-view" with their teenagers and adolescents any visual media that could inspire meaningful discussions. The lead author of those guidelines blogged this week about watching the 1980s hit film "Pretty in Pink" with her daughter.
"Important conversations about mental health, sexual and reproductive health, and substance use can be hard for parents to work into every day conversation. There is no comfortable way to transition from 'how was school?' to 'let's talk about depression,'" said Dr. Megan Moreno, a member of the AAP's Council on Communication and Media. "This is where the simple act of co-viewing — sitting down with your teen and watching a movie or TV show together — can help."
Parent involvement is a general theme of the academy's guidelines, which scrapped an old limit of no more than two hours per day of screen time for school-aged children. Such limits are harder to enforce today, considering the ease with which teenagers can watch shows or play games on mobile phones instead of TVs. Not to mention screen the time they spend engaging in social media.
The academy instead recommends that families set up personalized plans that first protect time for sleep, exercise, one screen-free meal per a day, and other health needs.
The balance of research still points toward excessive screen time causing problems, including obesity and attention and sleep issues. But the guidelines also note that screen time can be productive. While social media can be a severe source of bullying, it can also provide opportunities for inclusion and support and expand awareness of the world.
"Co-viewing" fits into that context, according to the blog by Moreno, a pediatrician at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She said "Pretty in Pink" evoked a discussion with her daughter about drug use, popularity, romance, teen independence — and whether characters Andie and Ducky should have ended up together.
Even fictional movie exaggerations can be fruitful, she said.
"This opens an opportunity to correct misinformation and ask how the story relates to what he or she has seen at school or among friends. In this way, those tough conversations can become special discussions filled with opportunities to connect."