Screen Time: Too Much? Probably!

Kaarin Anderson Ryan

It seems like many people have been lamenting the rise in dependence and time spent on screens, both for adults and for kids. However, we all have a hard time keeping it limited. In this post and in the upcoming series of articles, I will highlight some of the problems with screens as well as possible solutions for kids, teens and adults.

General Issues

Generally speaking, spending a lot of time on screens is not ideal, regardless of what you are doing on the device. Understandably, many of us are required to spend a significant amount of time on devices for work. These effects are exacerbated my additional time on devices before and after work. There are ways to minimize negative effects and these will be discussed in upcoming posts.

Physical problems

The way we hold our posture can be damaging, whether we are hunched over a keyboard or leaning our necks down to look at a phone or a tablet. Numerous studies over the past decade have shown differences in neck and spine alignment that is related to looking down at devices. In addition, physicians are reporting an increase in the number of teens and young adults who come in for office visits to address issues with neck pain.

Social problems

Spending a lot of time on screens may inhibit personal social interaction. Using devices for texting and/or social media can be a very easy and effective way to communicate and stay in touch with others. It can be great for planning events and get-togethers. But, using devices in place of real human contact can be detrimental. I have heard numerous people say that after being isolated during the pandemic, they felt that they had lost social skills and confidence about being with others.

Cognitive Problems

Does anyone feel like they have had a more difficult time with sustained attention in recent years? Not remembering things as well? Recent studies are showing that over-use of devices can have a negative impact on your brain. Using your phone for everything reduces your need to remember things yourself: Our phones can have our schedules and give us reminders, our phones have all our contacts at the tip of our fingers; we don’t need to memorize phone numbers to call people anymore; our phones have the internet so we can look up anything, anywhere, anytime; our phones have maps so we don’t need to pay as much attention to our location or how we got there; our phones literally have an app for everything. One study in The Journal of the Association for Consumer Research entitled “Brain Drain: The Mere Presence of One’s Own Smartphone Reduces Available Cognitive Capacity” found that even when people were able to refrain from looking at their phones, they had reduced cognitive capacity when the phone was present.

Social Media

There is so much to say about social media, including the benefits and harms of using these platforms. While there are certainly benefits to social media, there are also a tremendous number of problems associated with using social media. A report by Common Sense Media in 2019 shows that teens between 13-18 spend an average of 9 hours per day on social media. This in and of itself should be alarming to all of us. In addition to taking time away from family, engaging in real interpersonal conversation, and doing physical and outdoor activities, spending this much time using platforms like Instagram allow for one of the primary influences on teens to be an online world where truth and fiction are blurred. Some of the additional problems with social media include:

  1. Social media can be addicting. Getting likes and positive responses provides a bit of a dopamine rush, and social media sites are designed to target consumers to keep them connected.
  2. Fear of Missing Out. Social media sites emphasize all the fun and exciting things everyone is doing, encouraging people to keep checking to make sure they don’t miss out on anything.
  3. Bullying. Social media sites have been known to be a magnet for cyberbullying, which can lead to depression, anxiety, and in some cases to self harm or even suicide.
  4. Problems with self-image. Social media users tend to post the most flattering view of their physical appearance. Many platforms have filters that help people look unrealistically beautiful or fit. Seeing this all day can lead to low self-esteem when what someone sees in an actual mirror can’t compare to what is showing up on their feed from others.


Gaming can be fun and can be a good tool for socialization, if done in moderation. Nevertheless, excessive gaming can lead to serious problems. There are physical problems, including “gamer’s thumb”, carpal tunnel syndrome, trigger finger, eye strain and visual problems, and seizures. Excessive gaming may also be a factor in obesity. Gaming for some people may become an addiction that requires rehabilitation at a facility that removes access to games. Finally, gaming may include participation in excessively violent games. In some cases, it is possible that this may influence people to engage in violent behavior as the lines between gaming and reality can become blurred.

Internet Safety

The internet is kind of a wild west when it comes to oversight and safety. It is pretty easy to find off-limit sites or to connect with people who may not be safe. Some of the risks of using the internet, especially for children and teens, include access to violent images or videos, access to sexually explicit content, or interaction with online “friends” who may actually be predators or people with bad intentions. Not only does the internet pose these risks to children and teens, there are also constant safety concerns about hacking, phishing, and identity theft.

Family Time

Constant use of screens has had a negative impact on family time. As parents, we typically want to be the ones to help teach and guide our children, to share our values and interests, and to establish strong and healthy relationships with them. With screens and devices, we are effectively relinquishing much of this over to other influences. In the developmental psychology literature, it is commonly found that parental influence is primary in the earlier years of childhood, but that when children approach middle school the peer influence starts to become more powerful than the parental influence. This is why it is critical for parents to help their children learn values, respect and responsibility at an early age, with the expectation that these underlying characteristics will help them navigate the teen years in the most healthy way. By giving over so much of the childhood time to a screen, parents are reducing their opportunity to develop strong and healthy relationships with their child or instilling positive character and values.

Role Modeling

Parenting can be exhausting and stressful. Parents often find that they are as dependent on their screens as their children. We often hear children complaining about their parents being on their phones all the time. In order to teach healthy screen habits, as parents and adults we must model healthy screen habits. This will not only benefit families, but it will also benefit parents by reducing many of the risks noted above that are correlated with using screens a little too much.

Stay tuned for some strategies to help overcome the challenges with screens!

Building Positive Behaviors: Tip of the Week #3

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD

With Christmas right around the corner, it is tempting sometimes to respond to negative behaviors by threatening to cancel presents, or to remind that Santa is watching – so kids better behave. While these types of threats can help with immediate reductions in behavior problems, remember that these are only temporary fixes. For long-term positive behaviors, focus on consistency when it comes to noticing and responding to good behavior.

Building Positive Behaviors: Tip of the Week #2

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD

When you think about building positive behaviors, it is important to have some specifics in mind. What behaviors would you like to see more often? Pick a couple behaviors, such as using a nice tone of voice, being helpful, or completing tasks, and make sure to offer obvious rewards whenever you see those behaviors. Rewards may include something as simple as attention from you, or they may include things that are more tangible such as small tokens or treats, or privileges such as screen time or staying up late. The most important thing is to recognize and emphasize the behaviors you want to see more often.

Parenting Tip of the Week: The Teenage Years

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD

As kids grow into their teens, they start to show signs of increasing independence in many areas of life. It is tempting at this time to pull back from a parenting role if you see your teens showing a lot of independence and responsibility. But, try not to let yourself become too complacent – teens still need parenting support and guidance. One major barrier to this can be our dependence on screens and devices. To help maintain close relationships during the teen years, try taking time regularly to put all the devices away (yours also!) and do something with your teen. This may include a game, going out for coffee, having dinner together with no phones at the table, watching a movie or a series together, going for walks … there are endless possibilities of ways to spend time together without the interference of phones or tablets. By setting aside this time daily (if possible) or at least weekly, you will help foster opportunities for conversation while demonstrating that we can all get by without a device for a period of time to do other things without distraction.

Parenting Tip of The Week: The School Years

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD

The school years can feel overwhelming: Getting kids out of the door in the morning, keeping up with homework, juggling after school activities and sports, and basically helping your kids get everywhere they need to be. To help manage this time in a healthy and balanced way, one very important tip is to prioritize a little bit of time every day to spend with your child. This can be anything that gives you time together: Reading together at night, playing a quick game, or just taking some time to chat about the day. When interacting with your child, remember to ask questions that spark conversation, going beyond the generic “How was your day?” or “What happened at school?”. Focus on specific topics that you know have meaning for your child. Showing your child consistent interest in his or her life, and prioritizing daily shared time together, will help provide consistency and lay the groundwork for positive interaction in the years to come.

Parenting Tip of the Week: The early years

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD 8.31.22

The early years of parenting bring such joy but also can be exhausting, as parents strive to balance the demands of life and parenting, while keeping up with the boundless energy of young children. To help with balance when your kids are little, consider these two tips:

  1. Bedtime routine. After a busy day, it is important for children to feel grounded in the evening so they can get a restful sleep. Incorporating a routine can help children get their minds and bodies ready for rest. Some good bedtime routine ideas include keeping a regular bedtime; personal care such as taking a bath, washing up, brushing teeth, etc.; having some quiet time with one or both parents (reading together at night is a wonderful thing to do); and tucking your child into bed with a lullaby or some quiet music.
  2. Taking a moment for yourself. While managing your schedule with daily demands and parenting, it is also important to make sure your own needs are met. One such need is a bit of time for yourself, every day. You can take a few minutes to yourself for a cup of tea, a mindfulness exercise, reading, listening to music, going for a short walk. Anything that helps you recharge will be beneficial for you, and ultimately will also help your child as incorporating self care can have a positive impact on parenting.

5 ways to help your child stay socially-distanced-and-social.

Photo by Julia M Cameron on

Kaarin Anderson Ryan, PhD, BCBA, LBA

After several months of lighter restrictions, along with outdoor activity options that gave all of us more opportunities for safe socializing, now we are seeing tighter restrictions in many states and communities as the pandemic hits a second wave. In much of the country, it is getting colder outside, making it more difficult to find safe places to socialize outside the family home.

This is really challenging for all of us. We miss the easy get-togethers, being able to see friends and family without a second thought. Many of us have made changes to holiday plans and traditions to protect ourselves and our loved ones. As much as we are struggling with the new social normal, it is especially challenging for kids and teens, and even more challenging for kids and teens with autism and other different needs.

One of my biggest interests is and always has been to help kids, teens and adults who have different needs to find friendship and social inclusion at school and in the community. We have come a long way in the past 20 years with schools, colleges and communities establishing many resources and opportunities for people with different needs to be involved, and to find friends. Now, with the pandemic, many of these opportunities are not available. This leaves us searching for options to help kids and teens find ways to stay connected and social in a healthy and fulfilling way. These ideas and resources will be helpful for anyone who is looking for ways to help their children with positive and fun social interaction, safely.

The following ideas are just a few suggestions for possibilities to help with socialization – please make sure as a parent that you screen and monitor anything you allow your child participate in virtually. These ideas could be beneficial for kids and teens with and without different needs.

  1. Tik Tok. Just kidding! This will not help.


  1. Many of you already know about Kahoot, but if not, check it out. Not only does ot have educational activities, but it can also be used to set up interactive games online with friends or family.
  2. Interactive game apps. One good one that is free to use is Psych, which users download then play together using a code. The app can be found on Apple or Google Play. There are some paid in-app options as well for extra game decks.
  3. Watching movies together remotely. One way to do this is through Teleparty (previously called Netflix party). Users are able to watch a movie at the same time, with an option to chat while watching.
  4. Try some online extra-curricular activities with Outschool. This website has thousands of classes for students that focus primarily on health and wellness. If you type in the search bar for you will find quite a few classes with a focus on socialization. You can also search by age, day, format, length of class, etc. These classes will have a fee, and the prices vary depending on the class.
  5. Local resources. Our communities are scrambling to move things to virtual and online formats to accommodate a variety of needs. This ranges from curbside pickup for local boutiques who have updated websites to provide more shopping options, to expanded takeout food options, to virtual or parking lot church services, to a tremendous increase in the use of virtual meeting platforms for businesses. Within your own community, look to places like libraries, churches, parks and recreation departments, and community centers to see what social activities are available virtually.