I think by now, most parents are aware of research suggesting that allowing young children to sit in front of screens has a negative impact on their developing brains. Here are a few of the articles that popped up when I did my own Google search:
Some articles even offer excellent suggestions to guide parents.
For example, here’s a list of questions to consider about your child’s screen use from psychcentral.com:
- Is your child continuing to show interest in other activities away from screens?
- How is your child using their screen? Is the content your child engages with creative or is it just pseudo-advertising?
- Is the content appropriate for their age?
- Is the content varied or do they obsessively engage with one format only?
- Do they routinely use their screens to avoid discomfort in social situations?
- Are they respectful to others online?
- Do they respect themselves online?
- Are they maintaining friendships and family relationships?
- Are they completing their homework and chores?
- Is their online experience positive or does it upset your child on a regular basis?
The question I’ve been pondering these last few days is…
…Why do parents allow their children and even encourage them to spend time in front of screens? What is the pull, incentive, reason?
- Maybe some parents think they are actually helping their children by allowing experiences with computers so they will be tech-savvy later on.
- Some may think it enriches children’s skills by allowing them to play some of the mentally-challenging games available these days.
- Others may think to let them watch Disney movies and other shows are soothing and encourage an appreciation for stories.
- Some may remember how much fun it was when they were a child to watch cartoons on Saturday mornings.
But maybe it’s because some find caring for children so time-consuming, at times frustrating, or even annoying.
When children engage with their screens, parents get a break from the intensity of parenting, especially when children are loud, argumentative, and demanding.
However, a problem is that kids get addicted to the neurochemicals released when they are in front of screens. Then when they are denied screen time, they can become even louder, more argumentative and demanding. They also often have not learned how to entertain themselves or to engage in socializing with others.
Suddenly, screen time becomes a slippery slope. Parents need a better rationale than to allow their children screen time and not think about the underlying motives they have been subtly seduced to believe.
More and more screen time becomes inevitable for the children while parents assuage their guilt by rationalizing their reasons for allowing it.
As a young parent, I remember hearing other parents talk about how often they gave their irritable, challenging children a few extra doses of Benadryl to calm them down. They sometimes laughed about trying to find some excuse for giving them regular doses that had nothing to do with the legitimate reasons to give a child medication.
While I could understand it, I could not condone it because it seemed so manipulative and unhealthy.
I encourage parents to think about the reasons they may be advocating screen time for their children.
It takes much more work to keep kids away from their screens. It is more work to spend time engaging them in interpersonal activities and in creatively dealing with their challenging behaviors without trying to subdue them.
But all the science is telling us that we really need to lessen screen time.
I hope you’ll take a few minutes to reflect on this. I do not write it to make parents feel guilty but rather to invite parents to consider why they might allow a lot of screen time for their kids.
Meanwhile, as the weather becomes warmer and spring begins to emerge, I encourage parents to think about all the fun ways they could engage with their children in outside activities—and leave those cell phones and other electronics safely stored at home.
Invitation to Reflect
- How would you assess the amount of screen time you allow or even encourage your children to take?
- Why might it be hard for you to limit that screen time?
- What are some things you might do with your children instead of allowing them to sit in front of screens?
Diane Wagenhals, Director of Lakeside Global Institute