Examining these negative impacts of screens, it is time to make a plea for parents to reconsider screen time usage this summer. This is not because I am anti-screens. Nor do I believe that children should never be allowed to watch movies or play video games. As a parenting educator, former elementary school teacher, and mama of two, I see the benefits of screens and I don’t believe children need to be raised without screens entirely. However, screens too often take the role of babysitter, friend, and physical social interaction.
As parents try to balance screens with daily life for their child, this can be a tricky road to navigate for parents of children with disabilities. Having taught children with disabilities for many years, I understand the helpfulness of screens in a child’s life.
I fondly remember an autistic boy in my classroom that I had the pleasure of teaching for two years. Working with his one-on-one aide, we found that this student benefited greatly when I used a projector in the classroom to display classwork. The interaction with the screen kept this boy more engaged with the work we were doing. This is an example of the positive educational role screens can play in the life of a child.
Additionally, research shows that screens can bring calming effects for some children with disabilities and act as a buffer when environmental noises and social interactions are too intense.
And yet, screens can go beyond their intended benefits when they are overly used to suppress a child’s boredom, as the chief entertainer, and as a place for children and teens to escape to when they are feeling sad, rather than getting the parental connection they so desperately need.
An overuse of screens can get in the way of healthy sleep patterns and hinder a child who is learning how to better understand facial expressions, social cues and build connections with others.
Additionally, the bright lights of screens and addictiveness of video games release dopamine in a child’s brain. Dopamine is a neurotransmitter and hormone. One of its important roles in the brain is attached to pleasure and reward. In short, it makes us feel happy. There are good ways to get dopamine and not so good ways. Some good ways to get more dopamine into your body is through exercise, healthy foods, and in-person social interactions. Harmful ways to get dopamine is through drugs, alcohol abuse, and screens.
Kathryn Lorenz, MD says that “Prolonged use of watching TV, video games, scrolling through social media – all of that use acts like a digital drug for our brain.”
Lorenz goes on to add that “studies have shown screen time affects the frontal cortex of the brain, similar to the effect of cocaine.”
As summer approaches, many parents are overwhelmed with the high costs of summer camps, the fears of COVID in group settings, and the difficult balance between caring for children over the summer and work.
When parents feel stressed and overwhelmed, screens provide an immediate solution that temporarily seems to “fix” the problem. How can we go beyond the temporary “fix” though and stop the overuse of screens?
Let’s find a balance that is supportive for both parents and children!
The first step in decreasing screen time in your home is to reflect on your values as a family. Understanding what your values are as a family will help guide your decisions around when and where to use screens.
This reflection can also include goals that you are working on with your child. For example, if your child is working on learning social cues, you may decide that dinner should be screen-free so that your child can tune into the conversation.
In our home, a big family goal that we have is spending quality time together.
When we became aware that quality time together was high on our family value chart, then that value began to inform our daily actions.
Will we have our kids sit in front of screens for prolonged periods of time or make space in our schedule for play and connection?
The second choice makes more sense when we know what we are trying to accomplish as a family, right?
You can download a free Family Value Chart on my website, www.LauraLinnKnight.com/blog
Next, I encourage families to create a plan. This is a crucial step because nothing can change if there isn’t a plan for creating that change! It is like going to the gym. If you want to begin working out more, you will first make sure you have the proper clothing, sign up at your local gym, and then schedule your workouts on your calendar. Without a plan, action is hard to take.
Find a time when you can sit down alone if you are a single parent, or with your partner, and create a list of activities that your child can do rather than using screens. You can download a free printable list on my website as well.
Decide about how much screen time you will allow each day and in what context.
Once you decide, use a timer to track your child’s screen usage so that you can adhere to the plan the best you can (you don’t need to be ridgid, but rather aware of the overall goal).
During the times that a child feels bored and has used up all of their screen time, you can use your list of alternative activities. This is you and your child’s guide, and it will help your family keep moving towards your goals.
Lastly, make sure that you are carving out time for drawing, picnics at the park, making healthy treats in the kitchen, and anything else that will continue your bond as a family (and increase healthy dopamine levels).
Reducing screen time can feel challenging at first, but remember why you are making this choice. Think of the long-term benefits you are giving your child by saying yes to an engaged life where screens are used mindfully.
ABOUT THE AUTHOR:
Laura Linn Knight is a former elementary school teacher, a certified mindfulness and meditation teacher, author, and parenting educator who helps parents and families improve their home environment by offering practical tools for the entire family to implement and practice. Knight’s work is devoted to empowering parents, caregivers, and children with the tools they need to live a joyful, balanced life. As a mother of two, Knight will help you build confidence in your parenting and foster a calmer environment in your home. To learn more about Laura Linn Knight, visit her website at LauraLinnKnight.com today.
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