It’s like a drug, they can’t get enough. They’ll mysteriously forget about homework assignments just to get it. They’ll fight you tooth and nail not to lose it. It’s one of the biggest issues that reduces cooperation for many parents and if they could, they would pass up sleep and food just to have more of it. What I’m talking about is entertainment media for children, and it is highly addictive. It’s also referred to as SCREEN TIME and it exists in the form of video games, television shows, computer usage and the Internet, and it must be controlled, supervised and allowed in moderation. If parents would just understand and implement this, they would get a bonus of more cooperation from their children. Chores would be done as planned and homework would be completed as agreed.
I was hired as a parent coach by a family recently. At our first meeting, they listed the top five challenges they were experiencing with their oldest child. This 10-year-old was not coming to the table for dinner when called, not following through with her chores, and not doing her homework after school as she was instructed. My first question was, “So what is she doing instead?” The parents responded with, “She’s playing video games.”
I asked these well-meaning parents two questions: “how would their little girl know that it’s time to do these things?” and “ if you remind her when it’s time, how do you do that?” Their first responses were, “she should know enough to do it,” and “we keep reminding her of what she must do.” My first response to them was that you can’t expect a child to know when to do something when the addictive activities that call to her are not managed and limited. Nor can you expect yelling, reprimanding, and reminding to work either. All this does is send the little girl into “parent deafness” and drives her to continue to ignore her parents.
According to a recent article that appeared on numerous news Web sites, British research is warning parents that too much screen time in childhood will lead to a greater level of screen addiction as they mature. Watching something can have the same chemical effect in the same regions of the brain as substance abuse and gambling. These activities result in the release of the ‘feel good’ chemical Dopamine that acts as the reward for doing something you enjoy. This leads to the drive in the brain (addiction) to want to engage in the addictive behavior more often.
There is well-established literature showing the adverse effects of screen experience on the cognitive development of children under three and, as a result, the US Pediatric Association has recommended no screen time before this age. As children get older, screen time should be managed and allowed in moderation. Too much screen time can interfere with being physically active, reading, doing homework, spending time with family, and even playing with friends. Experts have even tied screen time to problems with attention span in children. It’s becoming such an issue that technology addiction centers are beginning to pop up around the country.
The sad realization is that parents are providing handheld devices more freely and at younger and younger ages. While out to dinner one evening, I noticed a family of four at a nearby table. The children appeared to be about six and eight years of age. Everyone was glued to an iPhone or some sort of handheld screen the entire time they were at the restaurant and hardly anyone spoke during that time together. This common incident is proof that families are losing the connection they need to bond and to develop healthy communication. When I’ve asked parents in the past why they provide these devices to their children, many have said to me that “it’s no big deal, all kids have them and besides, it keeps our kids busy and out of our hair.” It might seem like no big deal to many, but at what cost? Look at the effects of what it’s doing to the children and the family!
Divorce and separation continues to rise. Many of the parents in my parenting classes are raising their children part-time, on their own. When I bring up the importance of managing screen time, I’m usually met with resistance because the mom or dad does not want to upset the child. The parent is afraid of hearing the words, “Daddy (or Mommy) doesn’t have stupid rules about my cell phone (or the computer) like you do. I wish I could go live with him (or her)!” This fear of losing their child or their child’s love becomes the greater force to refrain from implementing limitations to the addiction.
If you’re a parent who is ready to step up and manage screen time for your children. Here are 10 things to begin implementing immediately to fight this dangerous addiction:
- Place computers that the child uses, in a common area for you to monitor
- Install monitoring software on the computer if your child is able to use it when home alone
- Establish a 30 – 60 minute daily limitation on screen time during the week
- Ban screen devices from bedrooms (TVs, computers, and handheld devices)
- Don’t allow games on the same electronic reader device that your child uses for books
- Secure your wireless router and put parent control on all your children’s’ devices
- Handheld devices should be “signed out” for use and then “signed back in”
- Smart phones aren’t for children or young teens and should be monitored
- Walk your talk and limit your own screen time to set a healthy example
- When you implement these changes, don’t get angry when your child objects