Screen Time and Aging Parent Lessons from China

If you are like me, then you visit your parents far too little. This is an epidemic in the United States. Young people frequently follow economic opportunity, leaving the land of their upbringing, and their parents, behind. If the distance from your hometown to the place where you now live is far, then you probably visit your parents less than they would like; and if they are aging, you visit them less than they probably need you to.

China has a solution for this. In 2013, the Chinese government passed a law mandating that children visit their parents “often.” Done. Problem solved.

If you are like me, then you struggle with the boundaries you set – if you set any at all – around screen time for your children. A 2013 Kaiser Foundation study found that the average American eight to eighteen year old spends more than six hours per day behind a screen. With the ubiquity and incredible utility of connected devices in our lives today it is often difficult to draw lines around screen time use. However, given the growing strength of the associations between excessive screen time and illnesses such as childhood obesity and youth onset bipolar disorder, we should probably be diligent about structuring the screen time exposure of our kids.

Taiwan, part of the Republic of China, has a solution for this too. In 2015, the Taiwanese government adapted their Protection of Children and Youths Welfare and Rights Act to include laws for parents around the screen time of their children. Specifically, the law states that children under eighteen should not be allowed to “constantly use electronic products for a period of time that is not reasonable.” Simple. Problem solved.

If you are like me, then you search broadly for intelligent solutions to local problems, but most of the time your larger family culture is what actually sets your norms. The law in our extended family is set by the practices established by my oldest sister. She visits home often and her children always put away the devices at meal times. Now the rest of us just need to follow that code. Easy. Problem solved.

photo credit: Cory M. Grenier cc 2.0

About Jack West

Teacher, team member, father, neighbor.