Battling Screen Time

Sometimes you have to disconnect to stay connected. Remember the old days when you had eye contact during a conversation? When everyone wasn’t looking down at a device in their hands? We’ve become so focused on that tiny screen that we forget the big picture, the people right in front of us.

Regina Brett

If you have been a parent for awhile, you have probably already found that one friend your child has that is addicted to screens. I have had several experiences with battling screen time throughout my parenting career.

One time, on a beautiful summer day, my youngest son had several friends over to play. They were running around the yard, using squirt guns, and making up a very strange squirt gun baseball game that I didn’t quite understand. I was in my usual spot watching them through the kitchen window. I suddenly realized one of the boys was missing from the game. I turned to walk outside, and came upon the missing boy sitting in the family room playing video games. “WOW!” I thought. How could this be more fun than a beautiful day outside with your friends? I sent him outside to play. A few months later, my youngest, at age 8, had a new friend stay overnight. I woke up at 1:00 AM to see the light on in the hallway. I opened my bedroom door and found this little boy sitting in the hallway playing on a portable gaming system. I sent him to bed.

Maybe your child is the one who is addicted to screen time. I have a nephew whose parents worked very hard to limit his time in front of a television screen as he seemed a obsessed with any show he could watch. When he was invited to the homes of his friend’s, he would spend all of his time watching television and would ignore his friends.

How do we as parents compete with screen time? Let’s face it! Screen time has most of us engaged more than we would like. Social media, streaming television shows, news venues, and lots of video games are at arms length waiting for us to join. Can we tell our children to limit their screen time if we are unwilling to do the same? You know the old saying, “Do as I say, not as I do.” Unfortunately, kids pay attention to what we show them. It’s time we limit our own screen time.

Children from birth to age 18 months are recommended to have NO screen time. Zero. Zip. Nada. Got it? None! At 18 months, parents can choose high quality programming and watch shows with their children to make sure they understand what they are seeing. From age two to age 5, children can have one hour of screen time per day, but, again, the programming should be high quality and parents should participate in the screen time. For children six and older, parents need to place consistent limits on screen time and must make sure screen time does not get in the way of sleep or physical activity.

Children playing video games are physically altering their bodies. The heart rate increases, blood pressure rises, dopamine is released, and quite often, the fight or flight response begins. Blood flows away from the gut, kidneys, liver, bladder, and toward the limbs and heart. Adrenaline is flowing throughout the body. The transition that must occur when you ask your child to stop playing is overwhelming. Children have a difficult time calming down and releasing the pent up adrenaline. Does this sound fun?

The rise of use and popularity of one to one tech devices for children provided by school districts adds another difficult dimension to the battle parents are facing. How do we limit screen time if our kids are saying they need to do homework?

The answer is to begin. How do you eat an elephant?….one bite at a time. With younger children who have not entered school, teach them all the ways children used to fill time. Play outside. Read them a book. Paint a picture. PLAY! Once your children are school age, be in communication with teachers as to how many minutes of homework has been assigned each day. Limit your children to the number of minutes required by the teacher. In addition, NEVER allow the technology to go into their bedrooms. Provide homework space in a common area of your home. This helps in several ways….. you will be available for help to them and you will be able to monitor what is happening on the device. Finally, all technology stays in the kitchen, family room, entry way, or somewhere other than the bedroom at night. Buy a $5.99 alarm clock and stick to no technology in the bedroom- ever.

Will it be easy? NO WAY! Not only do you have to help your children learn to develop limits on screens- you need to develop limits for yourself. We parents didn’t need to learn about self control with technology growing up, so it will definitely challenge us. I am confident we can win this battle. I believe we care enough about our children’s development and their future that we will battle until we win!

References: 1. “Screen Time may Harm Toddlers”. Michelle Roberts. BBC News. January 28, 2019. 2. “This is Your Child’s Brain on Video Games”. Victoria L. Dunckley M.D. Mental Wealth. September 25, 2016.

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