'ScreenTime: Diane Sawyer Reporting,' 2-hour ABC News special, challenges families to rethink technology consumption

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Thursday, May 2, 2019
ABC special challenges families to rethink screentime
In this sneak peek of the special ''ScreenTime: Diane Sawyer Reporting,'' researchers recreate a study about ignoring your kids for your phones, and parents were surprised by their kids' recreations.

How much time do you spend looking at your phone? If you're like the average American, it adds up to about 49 days out of the year.

ABC News' Diane Sawyer spent six months traveling the country and talking to families, teachers, doctors and even tech insiders to put together a two-hour special about how screen time is affecting us and what we can do about it.

As part of the special, researchers helped Sawyer's team recreate a study in which parents scroll through their phones without looking up for two minutes straight while their children play nearby.

In the footage, 2-year-old Jensen begs his mom to pay attention to him no less than 7 times in that short span. Another child, Hunter, seems to just give up.

"She's sitting down and she's waiting," one of the researchers, Tracy Dennis-Tiwary, observed. "She knows her mother is not available right now."

Hunter's mom, Monica, said it was a wake-up call.

"I think you don't realize when you're at home in your own environment," she said. "I'll think I'll pay attention more now to not pick my phone up."

Dennis-Tiwary, a professor of psychology at New York's Hunter College and the Graduate Center of the City University of New York, expressed a similar sentiment about the study as a whole. It's not about guilt-tripping parents but about reminding them of what's important, she said.

"Face-to-face time we have with our children is not just the icing on the cake, it is the cake," she said. "It is the place that children learn the most about the world -- and about themselves."

#ScreenTime Challenge

This study was just a small illustration of the larger issue Sawyer and her team investigated. Ahead of the special, ABC News is challenging viewers to participate in the #ScreenTime challenge by checking how much time you spend on your phone and reflecting on your habits. Here's how to participate in the challenge.

ABC News

1. Discover and screenshot your screen time. If you need help finding where to see your screen time on your device, review the below 'how to' guide.

2. What's your reaction to your screen time habits? Is the time you're spending on your smartphone more or less than what you thought? Are you surprised at which apps you're using the most? Be sure to let us know!

3. Think about what you might do for an hour away from your screen.

4. Share your screenshot along with your reaction and an idea how you could alternatively be spending your time on social media by tagging @abc2020 on Twitter and using #ScreenTime.

5. Don't forget to tag a friend to challenge them to participate in the #ScreenTime Challenge!

ScreenTime: Diane Sawyer Reporting airs Friday, May 3, at 8 p.m. ET | 7 p.m. CT on ABC.