How Much is Too Much Time Online?

I grew up in an era when there were only a few things that people did each day. And I’m not THAT old. You got up and read the paper while you ate breakfast. Then you went to work, then you came home. You had dinner, talked as a family – maybe watched a TV program or the news together and then went to bed. The next day, you did the same damn thing.

There were very few ways to digest content. You didn’t have that many choices. If you didn’t like what was on the TV or radio, you picked up this grouping of papers that was held together with a strip of glue – they were referred to as books.

It wasn’t until I was in middle school that AOL pushed email into the mainstream and after that, the tech and social media boom just began to explode. Things have certainly evolved over the last twenty-five years and this week, I found myself living in a reality that offers me so many choices that it’s honestly overwhelming.

As I sat in the living room after dinner with my wife and a few of our four kids, I jumped around from Facebook to Instagram, LinkedIn to Twitter while bouncing between 5 different email accounts while Alexa played music in the background and someone was watching Netflix in the other room. I could also hear one of my sons playing Xbox Live upstairs and absolutely no one was talking with one another.

A notification popped up on my phone and ironically, it was an online usage report. I hadn’t seen that before or at least, didn’t care to open it up. Why would I be concerned about how much I was using my phone?

Really?

The answer was right in front of me. How could we consider ourselves a family if we didn’t occasionally take the time to interact with one another? We were all so buried in our devices that we could barely come up for air. We are living in a time where family viewing no longer means that we’re watching Must See TV in one room… it means we are all streaming the same content from different devices somewhere within our home.

We had resorted to texting one another from different parts of the house instead of getting up, the old-fashioned way and yelling up the stairs – just like we did in the old days.

As I took a deeper look into this ‘usage report’, it said that I was online for 54 hours that week.

Ummm. Hi.

I hate texting. But I spent over 6 hours doing it?!? I hate talking to people even more, so I felt like I was actually pushing it with 37 minutes.

11 hours on Instagram? I guess…

Now, I’m well aware that I work in the entertainment industry with deep necessary ties into the social media space, and being a blogger as well, some of this can’t be helped. But the bottom line is that this was a wake up call. If I’m spending that amount of time online and not even the least bit concerned in holding myself accountable – what kind of role model am I playing for my kids?

If you read my post last month about my visit to the Southern California Google Headquarters (you can find it HERE), you won’t be surprised that they gave me the download on some really startling facts.

Most of them are centered around the fact that kids are getting devices earlier than ever before.

My concerns are the same as many other parents out there when it comes to their children and screen time.

  • 76% of parents are concerned about their kids getting into inappropriate content
  • 76% are worried about companies tracking online activity for marketing purposes
  • 69% talking to strangers (I thought this would be higher)
  • 67% spending too much time (MY REASON FOR WRITING THIS!)
  • 55% child being bullied
  • 49% developing poor communication skills

But alas, there are solutions to these problems!

Google has introduced a program called Family Link. This app allows you to create and manage a Google account for your child.

It requires basic information, such as age and gender and then asks to link the account to a parent. From there, you can…

  • Manage the content that your children see
  • Set screen time limits and lock a child’s device if necessary
  • See your child’s location when they have their device

Any time that they want to add downloads or purchases, you are the final defense and can decide whether or not to approve or decline.

You’ll be able to see how much time is spent in apps OR hide the ones you don’t want them to use.

One of the things that my wife and I truly love is the ability to set awake times and device bedtimes. And if they’ve completed their homework or addressed certain chores – we have the ability to reward them with a bonus!

Family Link has been one of the key factors for us in getting back on track with some sense of a family ‘digital wellbeing’. Think of it as an annual physical for your digital footprint. From the survey that I referenced earlier, it doesn’t surprise me that 84% of parents are concerned about kids’ use of tech in general – and that’s how we all landed here.

At the end of the day, we’re all trying to find a balance between tech being productive, but at the same time having the ability to distract us in the midst of a productive task. While it’s incredibly important in our daily lives and can help immensely with problem-solving, education and research, it can also lead to non-productive activities. It can enhance intellectual development and empowerment, but stunt social and communication skills.

Above all – it can bring families together – so long as we don’t allow it to cause tension or discord that comes with overuse.

I’ve made a commitment to pay more attention to my own personal use, especially when we’re all together at home or spending time together as a family; Jen and I have sworn off of devices at the dinner table or at meals out, at least as much as we can. My hope is that it eventually translates to my kids’ own practices and behaviors.

If the middle-school Adrian could see me now, he would think I was living in Jetsonian times, complete with the robot – not making dinner, but at least vacuuming. Just imagine what the future holds for our kids. This is an incredible opportunity, so long as we learn to harness it now.

EDITOR’S NOTE: This is a sponsored post on behalf of Google and their #GoogleFamilyPartner and #BeInternetAwesome campaign. To learn more about Family Link, click HERE.

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How Much is Too Much Time Online?