Why Gen Z Kids Prefer TV and Games over Social Media and Smartphones & How to Teach Kids about the Importance of Digital Wellbeing
“Digital Natives” AKA Gen Z kids prefer TV and games over social media and smartphones, according to a new survey from eMarketer. While Instagram and Snapchat are on the decline among kids, streaming services and online gaming are on the rise, which means they are still at risk to be exposed to dangerous content and excessive screen time use. Teaching digital wellness strategies even at a young age is important for helping children navigate an increasingly digital world, and grow into adults with healthy online habits.In their analysis of children 11 years and younger, eMarketer found that tablets and television are the most commonly used electronic devices. While teens tend to be more engaged with smartphones and social media, kids in this younger age group spend the majority of their screen time playing games and watching program and videos. This makes sense, as children at these stages of development are more drawn to stories, music, and games, as opposed to the kinds of content presented in social media and other kinds of apps.
Research continues to highlight the many mental health and brain development risks associated with excessive screen time for children and teens. These include increased likelihood of depression, anxiety, ADHD, communication problems, and learning challenges. There are also significant concerns about exposure to online predators, many of whom prey on younger children who lack the judgement and understanding to avoid these potentially dangerous situations. Parents are also right to be concerned about their children being exposed to inappropriate content including pornography and violence.
Technology is here to stay, and is integrated into virtually every part of our lives. This means we need to find ways to create healthy balance with digital device use so mental and physical health doesn’t suffer. Given the many risks of excessive exposure to digital technology, parents should make it a priority to cultivate digital wellness for their children and family. Digital wellness simply means using technology in ways that support physical and mental health, rather than damaging them. This includes limiting the amount of time children spend on devices each day, making age-appropriate choices about the content they are allowed to consume, and monitoring for any potentially unsafe online activity.
One simple way to increase family digital wellness is to create device-free times and spaces in the home. Examples include putting devices away during mealtimes and when engaged in activities together, and keeping them out of the bedroom at night. Parents also need to be aware of their own device use habits and the model they are providing. We can’t expect our kids to develop healthy habits if we are consumed with screens constantly! Some important habits to model include putting devices down and looking at people when communicating, regularly engaging in physical activity, and spending time on activities that don’t involve devices.
Consistent communication about safe and healthy online behavior is also important so kids can learn how to spot and avoid unsafe situations. This means talking with them about content that is appropriate and inappropriate, and who to tell if they encounter unsafe things online. Parents also need to explicitly teach children safe online behavior, such as not giving out personal information, not posting or sending photos of themselves, and not communicating with strangers.
While some parents may feel overwhelmed at the idea of managing their child’s devices and teaching online safety, the good news is that there are ways to make this easier. Parental control apps, such as Qustodio, allow parents to set limits on the content and amount of time children spend online, and can help with monitoring social media activity and the child’s location as well. Qustodio and other apps like it allow parents to manage their child’s device use from their own phone or computer. This gives parents more control when children are young or struggling with healthy device use, but also the flexibility to hand the child more freedom as they grow older and demonstrate increased responsibility. Technology contracts are another way to support digital wellbeing for children, as they establish clear expectations about device use and the consequences of managing them inappropriately. It’s never too early or too late to create a contract with your children so everyone in the family is clear on the what, when, where, and how of device and digital media use.
Gen Z kids are growing up in a digital world, and this brings many benefits as well as concerns. Understanding how children are using devices allows parents to cultivate increased digital wellness so that children can grow and develop in healthy ways alongside technology.
Nicole Beurkens, PhD is a licensed Clinical Psychologist and Board Certified Nutritionist specializing in evaluation and treatment of children with serious developmental and mental health conditions.