Should Parents Be Fined if Their Kid Has Too Much Screen Time?

Taiwan's doling out hefty penalties to moms and dads who don't closely monitor phone use, gaming, and television watching.

(Photo: Cappi Thompson/Getty Images)

Jan 27, 2015· 1 MIN READ
Culture and education editor Liz Dwyer has written about race, parenting, and social justice for several national publications. She was previously education editor at Good.

Last Saturday my 14-year-old’s son’s three best friends spent the night. Sure, they did some vigorous basketball playing outside and a wild Wrestlemania re-enactment went down in my living room, but the bulk of their time was spent in front of screens: They watched television, played Madden 25, and used their smartphones to challenge each other on Trivia Crack and surf the Internet until nearly 2 a.m. And if I was a parent in Taiwan, I might have found myself slapped with a fine of as much as $1,595 for allowing a group of teenage boys to be exposed to so much screen time.

At least, that’s the gist of that nation’s new “Child and Youth Welfare and Protection Act.” The new legislation allows Taiwan’s government to dole out hefty fines to moms and dads who permit their children screen time beyond what the government deems to be appropriate.

How much time is that? Well, that’s still to be determined, reports ET Today, but Taiwanese doctors have recommended amounts similar to their peers here in the U.S.: no screen time for tots under 2 and no more than two hours per day for older kids.

My son and his friends definitely spent more than two hours staring at electronic devices on Saturday, and it turns out they aren’t the only ones in America doing so. According to a 2014 study published in the journal Pediatrics, American 8-year-olds spend the equivalent of a day’s work—eight hours—staring at screens. Once those kids turn into teenagers, the amount of time jumps to 11 hours per day.

Taiwanese officials liken exposing kids to excessive screen time to plying them with alcohol or drugs. While that might seem like a drastic comparison, there are plenty of studies out there showing that tech addiction is real. My personal favorite: A 2011 study from the University of Maryland in which researchers deprived 1,000 college students of their phones. “I was itching, like a crackhead, because I could not use my phone," one student infamously told the Maryland researchers.

Other studies have found a connection between screens and obesity. And last year researchers at UCLA determined that sixth graders who spent just five days without access to computers, tablets, televisions, or smartphones, were better at reading human emotions than their peers with unlimited access to those devices.

It turns out that tech addiction can also have fatal consequences. On New Year’s Day in New Taipei City, Taiwan, a man died in an Internet café after playing video games for five days in a row. Those kinds of marathon gaming sessions have become all the rage in Taiwan and in neighboring China, with several deaths over the past few years as a result.

Despite that, it still seems like parents should be the ones to determine how much screen time their kids get. After all, there’s no way for the Taiwanese government to be inside every household and see exactly how long a kid is on his or her phone or playing video games on an old school console. Then again, next time a kid whines about getting a device taken away, Taiwanese parents will have an easy out: the government made me do it.