Screen time and kids: Parents need to worry less about hours logged

(CNN)When it comes to screen time, parents should start worrying less about the amount of time their teenagers are online and instead focus on the quality of the content.

In the age of online classes and Zoom friends and family meetups, the quality of teen content is more important than ever, according to a report by Common Sense Media released on Wednesday.
"All screen use is not equal, especially at a time when other avenues of connection and learning are shut off," said Michael Robb, an author of the report and senior director of research at Common Sense Media.
    Digital media should be used as a "social safety net" for adolescents to interact with friends and bond with family members who they can't see in person, he said.
      It's still important to balance the screen time with other activities and ensure that your child is sleeping enough and finishing schoolwork, Robb added.
        Many parents are rigid in the amount of time they allow their children to stare at a screen, Robb said, and they commonly quote older American Academy of Pediatrics guidelines of no more than two hours of screen time daily.
        Those guidelines, dating back to the early 1990s before mass market smartphones and tablets, are outdated and do not apply to all screen time, according to Dr. Nusheen Ameenuddin, a chair on the AAP council of communications and media.
          The 2016 guidelines are much more fluid in the amount of screen time a child should receive, and they apply specifically to recreational screen time specifically, said Ameenuddin.
          With many schools going online, Ameenuddin said it's important to note that schoolwork does not count toward screen time limits. However, it's necessary to balance school with activities offline, too.
          "You're sitting in front of a screen for several hours," she said."That's not good or healthy for anyone."

          The digital divide continues

          It's not all good news. A child's socioeconomic status also plays a role in their mental health and ability to interact with technology, the Common Sense Media report also found. Children in families with a lower socioeconomic status had less support from their parents when it came to navigating the online world.
          "Our most vulnerable adolescents, specifically those who are Black and that come from lower-income households, are unable to reliably access and receive support," Robb said.
          These same teens are at a higher risk for mental health problems, which could carry over into online spaces, according to the report.
          Young girls are also facing similar outcomes in the digital world. There is a correlation between a rise in depression and suicide among young girls along with a rise in technology use, although causation is uncertain, according to the report.
          Robb said there is not any established link that technology worsens or causes mental health issues.
          Teens with anxiety or body image issues are more likely to report more negative online experiences, he said. However, adolescents who are a part of a marginalized community often report benefits of having an online community for support that they might not receive elsewhere.

          What parents can do

          Parents should begin to learn about the online content their child is engaging in rather than counting the minutes on the clock, according to Sonia Livingstone, a professor of social psychology at the London School of Economics and commentator on the report.
          She suggested that parents look out for three C's when monitoring their children's online activities: content, connections and context.
          For content, children should be engaging in educational content as well as content that stimulates their imagination. Livingstone also encourages children to connect with friends and family online and to not view that as strictly screen time. Lastly is context, which is where she encouraged parents to look at how their child is interacting on the internet and what else they've done with their day.
          Social media use may harm teens' mental health by disrupting positive activities, study says