Current research indicates the use of screens and an investment in social media my be impacting children's ability to regulate emotion and the things kids are missing out on are worth taking a second look at as we establish the patterns around media in the home. Dopamine, oxytocin and seratonin levels are impacted by screen use and in turn, other areas of the child and family are being impacted. The argument that we live in a time that its impossible (or even difficult) to escape the use of technology is worth considering. But does it have to be all or nothing? Like all parenting decisions, we recommend mindfulness in creating structure around your family's approach to technology in the home.
Bottom line, we all have a lot to learn about the advantages versus the disadvantages of screen time and we are a new generation of parents, paving the way. The best way to navigate such circumstances is to stick together, share our successes, and keep trying. Inevitably, we will make mistakes but here's to creating balance and growing healthy, happy and creative kids!
Below is a quick guide for your reference:
Risks of overuse or early use of screens:
Infant, Toddler and Early Childhood aged children:
- Language delay (acquisition and use)
- Behavior concerns
- Low threshold for frustration
- Short attention span
- Lack of interest
- Sleep and self-soothing issues
- Sedentary lifestyle
- Cognitive delay
- Memory issues
- Delayed social development.
Elementary and Adolescent aged children:
- Increased attentional difficulties
- Reduced engagement between parent and child
- Reduced face-to-face interactions, outdoor play (with benefits of problem solving, creativity and exercise), reading, homework completion, participation in chores, and sleep
- Earlier sexual debut and sexual risk taking behavior (by those who view sexualized media content) due to accelerating the normal rise in sensation seeking seen in adolescence
- Sleep disturbance (most significantly those with increased daytime and nighttime screen use, especially for those with a television/electronic devices in their bedroom)
- Sleep deprivation is in turn linked with higher rates of obesity, diabetes, academic underachievement and behavior problems including hyperactivity
- Increased verbal and physical aggression and propensity for later violence (for those viewing violent content), misinterpretation of others’ behavior as negative or hostile, decreased empathy, less pro-social behavior, increase in violent reactions to confrontation
- Increased exposure to foodstuff based advertisements (average is 1 public service announcement on health/nutrition for every 26 food commercials; young children have been shown to select items they have seen advertised over those not)
- Increased rigidity of gender roles and stereotypes (depending on content viewed)
- Decreased satisfaction with appearance/body image, unrealistic/stereotyped/unhealthy views of beauty and health, focus on thinness and sexualized appearances as being preferred
- Increased fear, sadness, anger and/or depression in response to viewing news media
- Difficulty telling real from fake news viewed through media; ⅓ of children admit not questioning the source of their news and ⅓ take no action to verify the truth of news they suspect may be inaccurate
- Activation of sexist beliefs about sexual harassment, dating violence and sexual assault myths
Positive uses/benefits of the use of screens:
- Using technology as a way to review and master information taught FIRST by a teacher or parent (i.e. teaching a math concept first, explaining the steps, allowing the child to practice using pen and paper, manipulatives etc. THEN practicing said math concept using a quality math program or application that is designed to aid in the retention of this concept).
- Television, games, etc. can be a great way to reinforce themes of relationships, managing emotions, problem solving and resolving conflict if they are offered age-appropriately.
Structuring screen time in the home:
- Co-watch/co-play with your child whenever possible
- Choose media that supports your family’s values
- Ask questions about your child’s understanding of what they are seeing. Assess their understanding of reality vs fantasy. Explain advertising and other concepts that may influence your child’s belief systems
- Set limits on all media access (tv, video games, cell phones, social media, apps, etc)
- Understand the rating system of video games (and tv/movies). IMDB Parent Guide is great for movies/tv explaining every instance of violence/gore, profanity, substance use, suspense, and sexual content. Appreciate that sexualized content/pornography is embedded into higher rated video games
- Do not allow children to play video games with unknown users on the internet
- Create screen free times and screen free zones within your home (bedroom and dinner table are 2 spaces highly recommended to be screen free for ALL family members)
- Activate a network of trusted adults (extended family, family friends, coaches etc) who can engage your children through social media and support them when they need help
- Have ongoing communication about digital citizenship and online safety
- Create a family media plan based on...
- open communication
- clearly defined rules and consequences
- parental modeling of good digital behavior and media access
- clear expectations, with consideration of exceptions (e.g. do the rules change when family is visiting, when on vacation, when sick, when behind in schoolwork, when friends are over or when at a friend’s house, summer break/holidays, when there is a babysitter). Ensure that all adults responsible for caring for your children are up to speed on the media plan
- Time limits
- Age-appropriate application of parental controls/content filters and monitoring of digital access
- Understanding that supervision and honesty is a component of the plan
Signs that indicate you may need to change your child's screen use:
- Social and relational skills seem off to you.
- Your child exhibits some these symptoms:
- Excessive tantrums, mood swings
- Low frustration tolerance
- Trouble sleeping
- Disorganized behavior
- Learning difficulties
- Poor short-term memory
- Your child’s symptoms are causing major problems in school, at home or with peers.
- Your child’s symptoms improve after 3-4 weeks of strict removal of electronics.
- Symptoms return with the re-introduction of the electronics.
- Less Reading
- Less Brain Downtime=fatigue
- Less Sleep
Jean M. Twenge- IGen- Why Today’s Super Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood