Yes, indeed you are once more finding yourself reading yet another blog…or maybe you are new at this and you are just looking for some good advice because you have concerns over how much time your child is spending in front of a screen. Be assured, advice you will get! But before we move on to that let me introduce this very first blog article, the first of what I hope will be many to come. You can skip the intro and go straight to the screen time… I chose to use this platform because, like so many of you, I have concerns and questions, so many questions, regarding the world we live in. However, I also have the urge to find answers to so many of those questions. Not just any answer, many answers. Because in the information age, you know the one we are in right now, there is no such thing as the answer. I am never going to pretend to be an expert on any one topic. I have never been on a singular path devoting all my attention to one question in order to become an authority on it. Thankfully, others have. My mission here is to read enough of those people in order to be able to come up with the closest thing to an answer. How do we do that? By finding what is common in their findings. What is common seems to be the truth and the rest seems to be perspective. So this is what this is. Hours of research, curated into short articles. So here goes…
Managing your child’s screen time This is the first topic because during this confinement period it was real cause for concern in our family. First off what is screen time? Well it comes in many forms, tablets, video games, surfing the net, mobile phones and television. While experts will agree that they are not all made equally they all need to be controlled. Let’s be honest, we all know that too much screen time is no good. But how much is too much? Obviously, age will play a role. For kids younger than 3, there should not be any. If you are a parent that has accomplished that, I applaud you! If you are like most of us, you are probably saying oops! Don’t worry chances are you have not completely destroyed your child’s future. Children’s brains are very malleable and if you make significant changes today they should be ok. If you are a parent of an infant and you still have a chance to make this happen, take this seriously and good luck! For younger kids the estimated appropriate time is about 1 to 2 hours a day. For older kids it should be 2 to 3 hours. Again, I say estimated because all screen time is not made equal. If, for example, your 10-year-old is watching a documentary on something he or she is passionate about, then 3 hours is ok. If, however, he or she is playing videogames or is on a social media platform, 1 hour may be too much. Vague, right? So how do you know when too much is really too much? I think we all know but we brush it off making excuses. We say things like “there is not much else for them to do”, or “it is a way for them to be social”, or saying “all their friends are doing the same thing”, “it’s a generational thing”, “ we all watched tv growing up and we turned out ok”. Here are some signs that tell you, you need to take action. Your child’s life is revolving around the screen: They are skipping meals because they are too busy. They are sleeping less, not socializing with real live people. They are not interacting with family, avoiding to go out and as a result are getting little to no exercise. If you notice any of these signs in your child then you need to take action in order to control their screen time. Let’s begin with all the things you should NOT do.
1) Do not request that your child stop, at this point, it is not up to them.
2) Do not test their will power, i.e. give them a time limit and expect that they respect it. The behavior is too rewarding to their brains for them to stop on their own. They are sure to fail and you are sure to be upset, leading you to take other actions that will have your child feeling even more frustrated and thinking that things are unjust.
3) Do not nag or shout. They are the negative cousins of requesting. When you nag “I can’t believe you are still doing that!!!” “Aren’t you tired of looking at that screen!!” What you’re doing is attacking behaviors that are part of their deeper interests. They are having fun, they need to do very little thinking, and they think they are relaxing. You are criticizing things that they do not perceive as negative in any way. Their behavior is a symptom of the problem and not the problem it’s self. The problem is the addiction that is being formed by over exposure.
Screen time needs to be treated like an appliance, there’s an on/off switch and nothing in between.
So what SHOULD you do?
1) The most important of all is PREVENTION. You need to establish clear rules of how much screen time you are ok with your child having. Of course you do this by taking into consideration their age and what kind of screen time it will be. Remember a child that is watching documentaries can have more time than a child playing video games. Write it down and leave it where your child can see it. Remind your child of the limit before he or she starts.
2) Do not break the rule. Do not ever let them go over their time. Do not let them think that different circumstances merit more time. Use clean policing like a customs officer. “I am sorry but your time is up, I will be taking your phone, turning of the tablet, etc. You will have it again tomorrow”. This has to be the same regardless of your child’s reaction.
3) Rational and consistent communication is key. Remind them that you are controlling their screen time because you are preventing addiction, protecting their eyes, avoiding a sedentary lifestyle and that it is important to engage with people other than through a screen.
4) Help them replace screen time with better activities. Be prepared to put in the time yourself. Do not expect that a child will easily transition from a video game to a board game. Do what you can to make it fun for them. A teen who is spending their time on social media will need their parent’s help to find stimulating alternatives. These can be books, music or sports but they may need a parent’s involvement. You may need to find music classes or enroll them in team sports. Play your part.
On the flip side, there is scientific evidence that some screen time can be beneficial. Gaming, for example, is said to improve visual motor coordination, boost social skills because of online conversation and allow for some kids to blow off steam providing tantrum relief. Allow me to be biased and just add that all of these benefits can be achieved in sports and in arts as well, but we are talking about something else and both those alternatives might have been absent during this period of confinement. So, screen time did get some bonus points recently. To recap, remember that everything in moderation can be okay. However, it is the parent’s responsibility to set guidelines and limitations. After all you would not tell your child “there is an infinite amount of ice cream in the freezer go ahead and have as much as you like whenever you want”, right? So I leave you with a quote from Dr. Victoria Dunkley, child psychologist, who says: “The kids that have the least amount of screen time have the highest grades, they read more and sleep better”. Set those limits, please!