Just what is your kid seeing and hearing on that cellphone?

Johnson City Press • Oct 30, 2019 at 8:00 AM

YouTube is babysitting our kids — often right by our sides while we drive, chat with friends, shop or have dinner.

Maybe babysitting isn’t the right word in some cases. Raising kids might be a more apt description.

OK, so families are busy. Distracting kids while we go about our adult business always has been a thing.

But a recent report from Common Sense Media, a nonprofit organization that analyzes consumer habits, should be a wakeup call for some parents. According to the Associated Press, the report says young people are glued to online videos an hour per day on average.

The survey found that more than half of children between ages 8 and 12 watch videos every day. Among ages 13-18, the figure rose to two-thirds. Both numbers have doubled since the last analysis was conducted four years ago.

Maybe an hour doesn’t seem so bad, but taking sleep and school into account, it’s clear that a large percentage of the average young person’s free time is spent watching video, usually on a cellphone or tablet with earbuds. And that doesn’t take into account the amount of time a kid spends on Instagram, Snapchat and other sites.

Some might say this is no different than TV, especially since the survey found that overall screen time didn’t change much in four years. Only a third of teens said they watched traditional television programming “a lot,” compared with nearly half in 2015.

But consider this: It’s infinitely easier for a parent to monitor television viewing habits than use of mobile devices. Short of constantly peering over their shoulders, do we really know what they’re watching?

Probably not.

Common Sense Media’s survey showed that adolescents are watching YouTube and other services supposedly off limits to children younger than age 13. And they love it so — YouTube was their No. 1 choice for video. Age verification processes, parental controls and filters take nothing to get around for the technologically savvy generations behind us.

It’s understandable that parents would purchase smart devices for their children. Cellular technology has made it easier than ever to keep track of and communicate with them. Plus, mobile technology is revolutionizing both education and business.

Technological advances these days, though, seem to be happening faster than society’s ability to adapt to the new norms. The result is increasingly sedentary lifestyles and an ironic disconnection within families. Devices designed for communication actually are isolating us. More disconcertingly, they are facilitating access to material children are too young to process.

So what to do? Michael Robb, senior director of research at Common Sense, told the AP families should protect homework time, family time, dinner time and bedtime with device-free times and zones.

Many families probably have tried such strategies, only to find themselves with sullen, even angry adolescents. Acquiescence becomes the path of least resistance.

We also are modeling this behavior. How common is to see an entire family seated at a restaurant with all noses planted in their cellphones? “Do as I say, not as I do” just won’t hold water.

Unplug, tune out and tune into the kids.