How to manage screens in a digital world

This is a common question I hear in my practice...

“How long should I let my child watch screens?”

To date there is little research that is able to draw conclusions about the impact of screens on the brain. 

This is not for a lack of trying. The data is still in its infancy and we just don’t know what the longitudinal (long-term) results will be. 

Do You Remember When The iPhone Was Introduced?

2007!

Feels like much longer than that doesn't it?

Widespread usage of smartphones by young people didn’t occur until 2012.    

For years, the American Academy of Pediatrics had suggested a limit of two hours a day of TV for children and teens.  But when screen time started to include smartphones and tablets, these guidelines needed an update. So, the American Academy of Pediatrics changed its recommendations to no more than one hour of screen time for children ages 2 to 5

For older children and teens, they caution against too much screen time, but there’s no specific time limit.  

The American Heart Association announced similar guidelines.  In December 2018 preliminary results of a study conducted by National Institutes of Health (NIH) came out. 

NIH followed children and adolescents for 10 years and then performed an MRI of their brains while they were using screens.  In the first wave of 4,500 participants, researchers noted significant changes in children’s brain development if they have more than seven hours of screen time a day. 

Screen Time Leads To Lower Scores?

​The data also suggested that kids spending more than two hours a day on any type of screen received lower scores on language and thinking tests. 

“Scientists believe screen time stimulates the release of the brain chemical dopamine, which has a pivotal role in cravings and desire.” 

There have been several articles in popular media stating that tech moguls impose far stricter rules on their children’s use of screens than a typical parent does.  This is because they know how addictive these screens are designed to be.  

Screens tap into the pleasure centers of the brain, and they do so in a way that’s hard to replicate in the non-digital world.

When a child gets accustomed to the kind of rapid-fire reward system of gaming, YouTubes, and social media they may be less likely to: read a book, which requires considerable patience and offers no bells and whistles; go outside and explore nature; do something creative; and seek out social interaction.  

What’s Scary About Screens Is... It’s Possible They Are Re-wiring The Brain!

​As children develop from birth to adulthood an important process called synaptic pruning is happening. Infants are born with huge numbers of synapses (points of contact) between brain cells.

This is inefficient, so the brain prunes the connections it doesn’t need and reinforces (through myelination) the ones it does. This process is all driven by experience – by exposure to the environment.

Repeated experiences strengthen connections. Connections that aren’t used are pruned away. This means that how children spend their time can have important, lifelong ramifications.

Repeated behaviors can become biologically compelled habits. 

Parents need to be a “media mentor”​

Without adult guidance, most teenagers would spend almost all their waking hours behind a screen. Whether they're texting on their smartphones, or they're watching videos on their laptops, their electronics use can easily get out of control. 

A 2010 study by the Kaiser Family Foundation found that 8- to 18-year-old children devote an average of 7 hours and 38 minutes to entertainment media each day.

That totals more than 53 hours per week or 2770 hours each year!   

Screens don’t have to be the enemy!  

They were designed to be useful and efficient modes of information (maps and directions, quickly finding out the weather, etc.).  As said by Jean Twenge, screens should be a tool to use, not a tool that uses you. 

Let's look at strategies you can use to limit your child’s screen time. 

  1. First and foremost, the same parenting rules apply to screen time as to anything else — set a good example, establish limits, and talk with your child about it.  Adults are sometimes the worst examples!  I see more adults driving and texting than teens.  Don’t be the adult on their phone while at your child’s sporting event or extracurricular activities.   
  2. Most kids, especially younger ones, aren’t mature enough to handle free reign with their electronics.  Establish Rules: 
    • Have a set time when screens need to be turned off (at the dinner table, when getting ready for school, etc.). 
    • No screens allowed in the bedroom (including TV’s).  Do we really think that a device can charge in their room without them sneaking a peak?! 
    • Limit their use. 
  3. Treat screen time as a privilege not a right.  Maybe it's by completing chores or homework.   
  4. Consider not allowing social media until the age of 13.   
  5. Use screening tools on TV, computers and tablets to block access to inappropriate material.  You can also set timers for certain apps (You Tube).   
  6. Quality matters!   
  7. Provide alternatives to screens (card games, board games, etc.).  Encourage outdoor activities or ones that require imagination.  Let them spend time with friends.   
  8. Safety is always important.  It’s always a good idea to preview what you child is seeing or playing on the internet or screen. Talk to your child about internet safety.   

If you have questions or would like to discuss further please contact Dr. Kristin Rose at DrRose@RoseTherapyCenter.com 

The Henry J. Kaiser Family Foundation. Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8 to 18 Year Olds. 

When well intended parents make mistakes

Parenting is one of the most difficult
and rewarding jobs around.

The ultimate goal of parenting is (or at least should be) to raise children well so they are prepared to leave our houses and live on their own. 

However, a parenting trend that has become more common is stymieing their development. That is “helicopter parenting” or over parenting. Helicopter parenting is a form of over parenting in which parents apply overly involved and developmentally inappropriate tactics to their children who are otherwise able to assume adult responsibilities and autonomy.

A few examples include, following your children on the playground “in case” they get hurt or need help, making sure it’s “safe” to play outside in front of their house, and completing assignments or projects for them.

We have all seen the amazing Valentine boxes that begin in preschool; these elaborate boxes that likely took their parents hours to complete...and left no room for the child’s imagination or independence to take place.

"In short, a helicopter parent is one who hovers over their child's every move in an effort to protect them from pain, disappointment, and failure in the process of achieving success."

This type of parent is especially prevalent in western culture because...

...we are so preoccupied with building our children's self-esteem. In fact, it didn’t become a word in the dictionary until 2011. 

Over parenting has not only impacted young children but has found its way onto college campuses. The millennials that get a bad rap were likely victims of over parenting. Young adults who have been over parented are not prepared to take on the challenges that come with college (like knowing how to manage when they are “offended” or when a person has a different view or opinion than them).


Overly Focused on Self-Esteem?


Over parenting seems to have taken force as parents become concerned with children’s self-
esteem. To build their self-esteem, parents tell them how great and special they are, coddling
them from doing anything too difficult or potentially dangerous. Therefore, it’s important to
discuss briefly the development of self-esteem. 

Self-esteem develops from being loved and secure as well as developing competence. For children to develop self-esteem they must be able to make decisions and accomplish tasks on their own. One way to foster this would be to assign age appropriate chores, letting them make decisions (what to wear, what sport or instrument to play, etc.).

Encourage your child to say, “I’ll try” rather than “I can’t.” As your child meets new challenges, the more competent and confident he/she becomes.

Properly Developing The Mindset...


In addition to developing self-esteem, researcher Carol Dweck has found that helping children
(and adults) develop an ability coined growth mindset sets them up to be better achievers.

Mindset is essentially our beliefs about learning and intelligence. When children are taught that intelligence is malleable, they understand that effort makes them stronger. 

Also, teacher and parent feedback can either encourage a child to choose a challenge and increase achievement or look for an easier way out.

Studies on different kinds of praise have shown that telling children they are smart encourages a fixed mindset which often leads to avoidance of difficult or challenging tasks.

However, when children are praised for hard work and effort, they develop a growth mindset. With a growth mindset, children take on challenges and learn from them which increases their abilities and achievement.

How To Fix These 3 Issues...


The question becomes what we can do to create confident and high achieving children and later adults. Below are some tips to consider:

1. Let them experience risk

A skinned knee from falling off a bike or a fall off the monkey bars can actually help your child in the long run. Let them experience their abilities and then improve them.

Allow them to play outside and walk home from school without constant adult supervision. They may just surprise you in what they are willing and able to accomplish.


2. Let them fail:

Parents can be too quick to rescue their kids.

Let them fail now when they are children and learn how to recover from mistakes.

Don’t do their homework or projects for them, let them experience this small failure and learn how to recover from a mistake. Failing a class in school now is far better than not knowing how to cope when they lose a job or don’t get hired.


3. Give purposeful praise:

We have gotten to a place in society where we reward mediocrity and adopted an “everyone gets a trophy” mentality.

Instead, praise their hard work and effort. Be there to provide empathy when they lose or get rejected but let them feel their feelings. Loss is hard, but a very important part of development.


4. Consider slowing down:

Children’s schedules have become quite busy. It is not unusual to see a child participating in three different activities at once.

These over scheduled children have little time to decompress or play or heaven forbid get bored. Boredom is a wonderful thing...it allows for creativity (if we don’t interrupt it).


If you have questions or would like to discuss this topic further, you can contact Dr. Kristin Rose at DrRose@RoseTherapyCenter.com


Reading material and websites to consider:
Carol Dweck - https://www.mindsetworks.com/default
Authors of The Coddling of the American Mind book: https://www.thecoddling.com/

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