MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Studies have shown most people greatly underestimate how much time they spend on their smartphones each day.

WCCO put Frank and Amelia’s family to the test, using a free app called “Moment – Screen Time Tracker.”

The Vascellaros — including 14-year-old twins Frankie and Joe, and 17-year-old Sam — all said they were surprised to learn how much time they were really spending on their phones each day.

“It made me really conscious of how much time I spend on my phone and how much time my friends spend on the phone,” Frankie Vascellaro said.

“Honestly, I don’t feel like I’m on my phone a lot,” Amelia said.

Amelia was on her phone far less often than Frank, according to the app. While Amelia spent about an hour per day on the phone, Frank spent closer to four hours on his phone.

“I was very surprised,” Frank said.

The children varied in times but often spent more than a couple of hours on the phone as well. While the parents spent time on email or coordinating plans for the kids, the children reported they were often spending time texting or on social media.

Minneapolis-based Dr. Kirsten Lind Seal sees phone usage come up a lot among families in her therapy practice. Lind Seal said there is a difference between “heavy” phone use and “problematic” phone use.

“If we hear more than once, ‘Do you have to be your phone right now? Can you please put your phone down? Did you hear what I said,’ which is a big question among couples anyway, smart phone or not, it may be a sign it is impacting our relationships and ability to focus on our daily lives,” Lind Seal said.

Lind Seal said actually paying attention to how much time one spends on the phone is a good first step in deciding when to put it down.

She asks parents to encourage more face-to-face communication for teens and young adults as they continue developing their social skills and emotional intelligence.

“What we find is that we are really losing out on empathy when we spend a lot of time on our smartphones to communicate with other people,” Lind Seal said.

“You don’t really notice how much time you’re spending on your phone,” Joe Vascellaro said.

The exercise taught each member of the family something about how they spend their time.

“I think self-awareness is a good place to start,” Frank said. “I’m really happy to hear [the kids] say they’re cognizant and they’re more aware of how much they’re using it and I hope they will take that and put it into practice.”

Lind Seal recommends a good start for families is what’s called a “family contract” which allows a family to decide what is appropriate for everyone in the family when it comes to using phones. It accounts for safety concerns as well as time management.

There are many versions of these contracts readily available online and parents can also consult with their doctors about any concerns, Lind Seal said.


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