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Time to Unplug Your Family

Dr. James Emery White | Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary | Thursday, June 21, 2018

Time to Unplug Your Family

My wife and I were in a restaurant having lunch with one of our sons and couldn’t help but notice a nearby family: a mom, a dad, two sons and a daughter.

The daughter was middle-school age and clearly in contemporary middle-school mode—ear buds securely in place, staring off into space. Every aspect of her demeanor made it clear: “I don’t want to be here and I don’t want to be with my family. So I am going to stay in my world of music and media. By plugging in, I’m tuning out.”

And her parents were letting her do it.

They’re not alone. 

Media use in children ages 8 to 18 is off the charts. Teens (age 13 to 18) consume an average of 9 hours of entertainment media per day, and tweens (age 8 to 12) use an average of 6 hours, not including time spent using media for school or homework, according to a 2015 census report from Common Sense Media, a child-advocacy group based in San Francisco. 

And 25% of teens say their parents know only “a little” or “nothing” about what they do or say online. As you’d imagine, mobile device use is on the rise as well, now accounting for 41% of all screen time among tweens and 46% among teens.

For the younger children? Overall, children 8 and younger spend an average of 2.25 hours per day with screen media, and 42% of these children have their own tablet device.

So no wonder the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) must be vigilant, continually releasing updated guidelines on children’s use of internet, TV, mobile devices and video games. They also have an online tool for parents to create a personalized “Family Media Use Plan.” Jenny Radesky, MD, of FAAP said, “Families should proactively think about their children’s media use and talk with children about it, because too much media use can mean that children don’t have enough time during the day to play, study, talk or sleep.”

The heart of the recommendations? 

Consistent limits need to be set on the amount of media time used for entertainment purposes, and it should never take the place of sleep, physical activity or other healthy behaviors. Children younger than 18 months should avoid use of all screen media other than video-chatting with family. And for children 18-24 months, if they have any screen interaction it should be high-quality, educational programming with parents watching alongside to help explain what they are seeing. Venturing dangerously into parenting territory, they also suggest having a no-device rule during meals and after bedtime, and keeping television and internet-accessible devices out of kids’ bedrooms. 

But that means Mom and Dad need to follow the same rules.

“If you go to any restaurant, Family 3.0 is Mom and Dad are on their devices and the kids are on theirs,” says Donald L. Shifrin, a pediatrician in Bellevue, Washington, and an AAP spokesman. “Who is talking to each other?”

Apparently, not many.

So let’s state the obvious, and shame on us for needing pediatricians to step in and tell us:

It’s time for families to unplug.

James Emery White


Michael Robb, “Tweens, Teens, and Screens: What Our New Research Uncovers,” Common Sense Media, November 2, 2015, read online.

“The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Tweens and Teens (2015),” read online.

“The Common Sense Census: Media Use by Kids Age Zero to Eight (2017),” read online.

“American Academy of Pediatrics Announces New Recommendations for Children’s Media Use,” AAP, October 21, 2016, read online.

 Andrea Petersen, “Pediatricians Set Limits on Screen Time,” The Wall Street Journal, October 28, 2013, read online

Create your own Family Media Use Plan HERE.

About the Author

James Emery White is the founding and senior pastor of Mecklenburg Community Church in Charlotte, NC, and the ranked adjunctive professor of theology and culture at Gordon-Conwell Theological Seminary, where he also served as their fourth president. His latest book, Meet Generation Z: Understanding and Reaching the New Post-Christian World, is available on Amazon. To enjoy a free subscription to the Church & Culture blog, visit, where you can view past blogs in our archive and read the latest church and culture news from around the world. Follow Dr. White on Twitter and Instagram @JamesEmeryWhite.

Time to Unplug Your Family