How to stop teens 'screen stacking'

A problem shared…GP and mother-of-four Clare Bailey gives her indispensable advice: How to stop teens ‘screen stacking’

  • Anonymous woman, who lives in the UK, is worried about daughter’s screen use
  • Says her 13-year-old daughter is often on two or even three screens at a time  
  • Clare Bailey advises reader to create a Wi-Fi curfew and set a good example  

Q In the midst of the summer holidays, I’m worried about my 13-year-old daughter’s screen use — not just how long she spends glued to one, but the fact she’s often on two or even three screens at a time. I know I sometimes multi-task, but surely looking at so many screens can’t be good for her? How can I convince her to dial it down?

A Using several screen-based devices at the same time is known as ‘screen stacking’ and it’s become increasingly common.

According to researchers from the University of Leicester, as many as two thirds of teenagers now use at least two screens at the same time. Although, as digital natives, teenagers may be better attuned to seamlessly switching their attention, you are probably right to wonder about the effect on their developing brains and bodies.

An anonymous woman, who lives in the UK, asked Clare Bailey for advice on how to stop her 13-year-old daughter using multiple screens at a time (file image)

You’re probably aware that multi-tasking can affect attention span, but you may not know that increased use can also lead to greater weight gain and reduced sleep.

The main issue is that when kids sit in front of a number of screens, they become far too sedentary. In fact, recent studies show time sitting in front of screens is one of the reasons the number of young people with type 2 diabetes has increased by 50 per cent in just five years.

The study also found girls who went in for extensive screen stacking got less sleep and we know that insufficient sleep has a knock-on effect on mood, attention and schoolwork.

So here are my tips to tackle the problem . . .

1. Review screen time

If your child is anxious when separated from their phone, it may be time to review screen use. When doing homework, have the phone on ‘do not disturb’ and close unrelated screens. Agree a plan, such as no TV until homework is done, and reward them for sticking with it. Give consequences if not.

Clare (pictured) advised the mother to set a good example by prioritising family time, as well as creating a wi-fi curfew

2. Set a good example

Prioritise family time and eating together without screens. Set a good example. If you wander around with your eyes fixed on your screen, your kids will expect to do the same.

3. Watch out for snacking

Is your child surrounded by chocolate bar wrappers? It is all too easy to lose track of snacking while on screens. And more often than not it will involve unhealthy food.

4. Create a Wi-fi curfew

Set a time to turn off Wi-fi or have a bedtime screen curfew. Encourage them to regulate time spent on their devices themselves, then set prompts and reminders.

5. Avoid bribery

Avoid using screen time as a reward or punishment. Research shows that controlling their screen access may actually end up with children spending 20 minutes more a day.

It’s an ongoing challenge to get a healthy balance. Try to have a positive attitude to screens, while helping to preserve space for other activities.

Why dancing is just as good as HIIT

When time permits, my husband Michael and I plan to learn to waltz (or shuffle) into our dotage. Dancing is known to keep dementia at bay, but it can also halt the progression of Parkinson’s. This brain disorder affects movement causing stiffness and poor balance. Dance sessions work like high-intensity interval training (HIIT), producing a protein that protects the brain. Time to dust off the Frank Sinatra… 

You can write to Clare at [email protected] or Daily Mail, Northcliffe House, 2 Derry Street, London W8 5TT.

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