Special report: "Screen time, your kids & violence" - Fox 28: South Bend, Elkhart IN News, Weather, Sports

Special report: "Screen time, your kids & violence"

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Lindsay Helman is a mom of three and a 3rd grade teacher.  "I have 3rd graders who have their own cell phones who have Facebook already,"  she says.  "I see kids who are very tired when they come in in the morning."  She has a unique perspective on screen time, seeing it as an incredible educational tool, but one that can be downright dangerous. Her family computer sits out in the open in the living room. Her 13-year-old son, Dawson, isn't allowed to have a Facebook account yet. "We check his history. We check what he's been watching on YouTube. We have discussions with him."

Her son Dawson says he's on board. "I am willing to work with them because I know it's in my best interest," he says.

And the Helman's are smart to set clear boundaries in this day and age, as we see stories of kids and violence so bizarre you can't help but be taken aback.

Stories like the "Slenderman case" highlight a big danger --"Too much Screen Time." Young people are exposed to more screens than ever before. Its not just television and violent video games. They also include tablets and smartphones.

"I believe what we see, Traci, is we have the perfect storm, sometimes in different periods of history. And we're just learning even more lately, about what the internet is having in terms of an effect on children," says St. Mary's Chairman of Social Work, Dr. Fran Kominkiewicz.  She says on the surface, the statistics regarding young people and violence have gone down. But most of the published statistics only date back to 2012. The age ranges and crimes included really vary from source to source. Even still she says about 10 percent of the serious crime is being committed by a juvenile offender.  Kominkiewicz says it's a complex problem involving many risk factors, but all the experts we talked to point to uncensored screen time.

"The brain is the first virtual reality machine," says Samaritan Counseling Center Director, Anthony Garascia.  He says he sees kids who's sense of reality is distorted from excess online time, especially between the ages of 12 to 17. The culprit? Screen time only involves one of your senses. "A child reading a novel- the brain fills in a lot of details," he says.  "I think what happens is you need all 5 senses involved for reality testing as your brain starts developing and that's what parents are for."

Penn Harris Madison's Director of Guidance, Don Cronk agrees.  He says there's a dangerous window when kids are very impressionable. "There are times in our development, in our tween years, where kids aren't able to delineate the difference between what is real and what is not real," he says. 

Experts say to be that reality check your child needs, use an 80-20 rule. Allow only 20 percent of their time for screen time.  That includes all of their devices.  Also make sure 80 percent is everything else, including being involved with your family and the community.

Cronk says there are other things you can do.  He says don't buy into a teen's "right to privacy."  He says that's a trap that many parents fall into. "Even though they are footing the bill every single month, they allow their children to have this private digital life and that is probably a huge mistake," he says.

Helman and her husband created a two page contract Dawson had to sign when they gave him a cell phone.  "It outlined the guidelines that we had," Helman says.  "It talked about what we expect, how it is a privilege, how we can take it away at any point, how we always know his password."

Cronk says that's a good plan.  He adds, you should check it regularly.  He says look at texts, web history and social media frequently. He also says it's important to be present and model good digital citizenship yourself. "The time you spend on your device, updating your own social media, is time away from your children that you can actually be present and actually be observant of what they're doing," he says.  

Finally, having a discussion about screen time and the repercussions, is something Dr. Kominkiewicz says is important. "In terms of the media, it's brought attention to this, and I think, in some ways, we look at what is happening," she says.  "It has helped educate all of us, parents, educators, social workers, physicians, teachers who work with children, as well."

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