Screen Time and Tech Addiction


with Stephen Balkam of the Family Online Safety Institute


Dec 31, 2018

Experts say excessive tech use is a growing social issue. As a result, Internet Addiction Disorder (“IAD”) is instigating neurological, psychological and social problems among children and adults.

Stephen Balkam, founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute, discusses the impact of innovative tools used to track and manage screen time.

Hosted by: Ellee Pai Hong Produced by: National Newsmakers Team

Hong: Surveys in the United States and Europe suggest that up to 8% of the population may suffer from Internet Addiction Disorder, or IAD. With leading tech companies now offering tools to track and manage screen time, what will be the impact? Hello, and welcome to "Comcast Newsmakers." I´m Ellee Pai Hong. Joining me to discuss efforts to boost awareness and prevention of overuse of Internet is Stephen Balkam. He is founder and CEO of the Family Online Safety Institute. Stephen, thank you so much for being here.

Balkam: Well, thanks for having me.

Hong: Now, there´s a lot of debate within the medical community about that term "addiction," but what there´s no debate about is a concern over the overuse of Internet and technology.

Balkam: For sure. And that term has not been settled yet, but what we do know, obviously -- and, in fact, it´s the number one issue that parents raise with us -- is how much screen time their kids -- how often they´re on their screens.

Hong: And oftentimes, you know, I was guilty of this. I´d take my toddler out to a meal at a restaurant, and I would plop her in front of the iPhone so she could see an educational show, but it was still screen time. And guidelines for that have changed over the years.

Balkam: Yeah, so, the American Academy of Pediatricians used to say, no screen time for under twos at all and very limited for, you know, even above two-year-olds. But they´re starting to make a distinction between screen time and screen use. So, if an 18-month-old is Skyping with Grandma, that´s perfectly good -- they´re building communication skills, and so on. But if they´re just sitting in front of YouTube videos, not really.

Hong: Yeah. In that vein, what you´re saying is that all screen time is not created equal...

Balkam: Correct.

Hong: ...because a lot of schools use technology in terms of learning. And I´ve sometimes heard, you know, you´re limited to two hours of screen time a day. But you get that at school and you come home. What do you do?

Balkam: Well, a lot of schools have moved their curricula online, and, yeah, kids will then still be on their screens to do their homework. The challenge for parents is actually making sure, though, that they´re not also then going onto social media or playing games or just watching videos. So there are a lot of parental controls now that are available to curtail that and to keep them focused on their work.

Hong: Let´s talk about some of the parental-control technologies out there because there are a lot. There are a lot of technologies out there to help parents.

Balkam: Yeah. Virtually every cellphone comes with some parental controls, the cable companies also provide it, and there are third-party apps that you can use. Whatever you use, have a conversation with your children. Sit down, create the rules, and have sanctions, too, if they overstep the mark, and then set the controls according to your family values.

Hong: Those are some of the tips that you offer in terms of "good digital parenting." One of the ones that I love is, "Friend and follow, but don´t stalk."

Balkam: Yeah.

Hong: I don´t know how I´m gonna stop myself from doing that.

Balkam: Yeah.

Hong: ´Cause that´s difficult.

Balkam: So, yes, when my daughter turned 13, I said, "Yes, you can go on Facebook now, but I´ll be your first friend. And at the same time, I´m not gonna stalk you -- I´m not going to like every photo you put up, I´m not gonna comment on everything that you say." So don´t be that parent, but do keep an eye.

Hong: I think I might be that parent, I´m sorry to say. Going back to the technological aspect of all this, in terms of the tools that are available out there, for maybe some folks who don´t know what´s available in terms of app tracking and Internet usage, where should folks turn to, what can you use, what´s out there?

Balkam: Quite frankly, there really is no excuse now not to know something. If you don´t und-- If you have a phone, or if you have a TV, or whatever the screen is, you can just Google it. Or there´ll probably be several YouTube videos literally showing you how to set these things up. We have tips and tools at our own site at, but just Google it and search for it.

Hong: The scary part of all of this is that research is limited in terms of the long-term use -- long-term effects of overuse.

Balkam: Yeah. No, we´re very much in the infancy, and it may take a generation or two. But I think we´re starting to see kind of a pendulum swing back, even amongst young people, who, by the way, now -- with the kids we work with, they complain that they can´t get their parents´ attention. "Mom´s always on Facebook when I went to cuddle her on the couch." "Dad´s always ´just checking´ when we go out for dinner." So we parents have to be good digital role models ourselves.

Hong: And you really want parents to communicate to their children. If you´re checking your phone for work, let them know, "This is for work."

Balkam: Yeah, I mean, literally so much is on our phones now, and we could actually say, "I´m just looking up the recipe for dinner," or, "I´m just checking the directions to get you to soccer." If you verbalize it, then they can see that, actually, what you´re doing makes sense, not that you just are distracted and looking at maybe, I don´t know, the sports or the weather.

Hong: Right. All right, final question for you -- is TV considered screen time? Sometimes, I feel like...

Balkam: Yes.

Hong: get a break, I let them watch a show on TV.

Balkam: And that´s okay, too. I mean, we shouldn´t have a generation of guilty parents. Just try to create some kind of balance in your tech usage and in theirs.

Hong: All right, some great tips. Stephen Balkam, thank you so much.

Balkam: Thanks for having me.

Hong: And thank you for watching. For more great conversations with leaders in your community and across the nation, visit I´m Ellee Pai Hong.

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