Harker Heights: Expert offers tips for reducing kids’ screen time

(Photo by Chelsea Edwards)

HARKER HEIGHTS, Texas (KWTX) A social activist is making his way across the country teaching parents how to cut their children’s screen time to have happier homes.

TEDx speaker Collin Kartchner met with a group of parents and students at Harker Heights High School Monday for Parent Awareness Night.

The event was put on by Mrs. Bell County 2019 Lauren Brown who says she discovered Kartchner’s “Save the Kids” movement after wanting to build better connections with her own children.

“What I was finding was that how much time I was spending on my device really was affecting how I was parenting my kids,” says Brown.

“Now that I've woken up a little bit, I want to give that same opportunity to other parents.”

In 2017, Kartchner started parodying social media trends on Instagram, and after gaining thousands of followers, he started using the account to raise funds for causes and educate parents and students on the importance of limiting device usage.

He shares tips parents can follow that he says can even save their children’s lives.

“Different social media apps and games seem like they're harmless, but if kids get into them too much, they can get really depressed,” he says.

“They can get a lot of anxiety. We have seen rises in teen suicide because of stuff like this, so we just want to help parents and empower them to know how you can go on and stop fighting kids on how much time they’re on the phone and work with them and have a better digital plan."

He says if your child is spending too much time online, you have to first evaluate your own usage.

It's tough to get a teen to put down their phone if your face is buried in it majority of the time.

Also, decide what your kid needs a phone for. If the goal is to be able to reach them and know their location, you may be able to dumb down their device.

There are watches, other gadgets and even flip phones that serve those purposes. Students may not need the latest Samsung or iPhone that gives them access to dangerous apps.

If kids already have access to apps, he says to keep in mind the age recommendations aren't always accurate.

Although Instagram is approved for children, adult material has appeared in kids’ explorer pages that can’t be disabled.

“We have to get into our kid's world, and their world is on their phone, so let's be a part of that and not just give it to them and say ‘good luck’,” Kartchner adds.

“It's like giving the keys to a car without any driver's ed, and if you do that, they'll crash all day.”

He also recommends families start with having one day a week that everyone has to put their phones away for a few hours, preferably around dinnertime, like from 5 p.m. to 9 p.m. Eventually, one day may become several.

He also says parents should schedule family activities where no devices are allowed and create a family technology contract that lays out the rules for device usage.

Kartchner stresses that one of those rules should include a central charging station where kids have to turn in their phones at night instead of taking them to their bedrooms.

Late night scrolling can result in lack of sleep and also add to social media-related anxiety.

“We're exposing our kids to a lot of pressure when we give them social media. It is just constant access to peer culture, cyberbullying, comparison of my life versus everything I see on my phone, and it's almost too much for a lot of these kids,” he says.

His final recommendation is for kids and adults to use Marie Kondo's popular KonMari method of tidying homes and apply it to social feeds.