Vivian is a parent who shares advice stemming from experience and wisdom that can help you with issues every family faces.
We equate advances in technology with progress. Many innovative products were introduced in the 1970’s—Atari’s, VCR’s, computers, Walkman’s—yet, only a fraction of our time was spent on these novel inventions. While some of us may have watched too much TV in the 70’s, thanks to such fun programs like Mork & Mindy, Laverne & Shirley, Little House on the Prairie, Happy Days, or Sonny & Cher, we still spent more time outside and socializing face-to-face than kids do today. Since then, there has been a technological explosion, but in many ways, it is fueling a digression.
Why aren’t more parents concerned about their kids’ excessive consumption of screen time?
First, they assume screens are a natural part of our modern age. They contend kids text and face time much like we hung on rotary phones with the mile-long cords. They stream movies to their iPad the way we watched VHS tapes. Instead of joysticks and Atari’s, kids engage in online gaming or more realistic amusements on the Xbox or Wii Switch.
Parents, stop fooling yourselves. Screen time today has no equivalent to technologies of the past.
Second, parents rely on screen time to occupy, amuse, and babysit their kids. Let’s face it—when kids are engrossed in screens, parents enjoy the break from parenting. Moms and dads can do their own thing without interruption. Handing kids devices is like hitting a mute button. It’s lazy parenting.
The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends the following guidelines for screen time:
- 2 years and under: avoid screen time almost entirely
- 3-5 years: one hour per day
- 6-18 years: two hours per day
Are your kids staying within those perimeters? If not, here are five reasons you need to set limits and stick to them.
1. Screens Are Addictive
Whether your child is clicking, swiping, or touching a screen, they experience immediate gratification. Every touch elicits an instant response. If your kids are old enough to be on social media, every “like” or comment they receive on a post triggers the release of dopamine—the brain’s pleasure chemical. Much like a drug addict, kids keep wanting another hit
Facebook is one of the biggest culprits in deliberately designing their platform to be addictive. Sean Parker, an early investor in the company, revealed Facebook created a “social validation feedback loop” to exploit a “vulnerability in human psychology.” Parker admits Facebook was intentionally constructed to consume people instead of the other way around. Parker, Mark Zuckerberg, and Instagram founder, Kevin Systrom, consciously understood they were creating a monster, but they did it anyway.
What do your kids ask for as soon as they come home from school, on summer break, during car rides, or while waiting for a sibling during a sports event? Screens! When kids are bored, too many parents feel responsible for providing entertainment.
At basketball practice, one mom shared, “I’m glad I got my girls to try a sport. All they want to do all day long is play on screens.” She said this helplessly, as if curtailing the unhealthy addiction was beyond her control. Parents, just because “everyone is doing it” doesn’t mean it’s a good thing.
Technology isn’t inherently bad. It has many positive applications. We all use it, but we need not be enslaved by it.
We live in a microwave culture, and kids are not learning delayed gratification, which is essential in developing self-control and patience. Imagine if they had to wait for an Internet dial-up connection or sit through TV commercials because there were no DVRs with fast-forward buttons? Imagine if they had to wait for a phone call instead of receiving an instant response through text messaging. Heaven forbid they comb the library to research a paper topic instead of finding quick answers through a Google search.
“Stop saying we are addicted to screen! It’s annoying!” my 10-year old asserted when I refused to cave to her request for screen time. “We only had an hour of screen, and we’re allowed to have two!”
“You’re allowed up to two, and nothing makes me happier than when you do less,” I replied unmoved.
“Most kids spend hours and hours every day on screens, but we don’t, so even if we have a little more today, we’re still doing better than most,” she pleaded.
‘The fact that you are getting angry and frustrated because you want another hit so badly just proves my point that screen is addictive. Ask me one more time for screen, and I’m pulling the plug indefinitely.”
This exchange birthed a new rule in our house: Ask for screen time, and you lose it for the entire day. I get to be the screen Nazi–no screen for you!
It’s such a relief not hearing, “Can we have screen? When do we get to have screen?” Imposing this rule means you have to follow through and enforce the consequence when your kids relapse. They will catch on quickly that you mean business.
To soften the sting, try to communicate when screen will be available so your kids won’t get too uptight. “You will get to have screen today while I make dinner,” or “After you do some reading, finish your chores, and play for a two hours, you can have screen time while I mow the lawn.” Advance notice diffuses the power struggle.
Did you know that Silicon Valley parents are raising their kids tech-free? That should set off an alarm for the rest of us.
It almost seems counter-culture to put such strict limits on screen consumption, but your kids will be healthier, happier, smarter, and more social.
2. Screens Damage Health
Screen Time and Eye Problems
The impact screens have on our eyes is flagrantly disregarded, and it’s one of the most harmful effects from frequent exposure.
Macular degeneration is an age-related condition leading to blindness that typically affects those over age 65. Based on the amount of blue light emitted from screens, compounded by the number of hours the average youth spends on them, ophthalmologists predict the next generation will struggle with macular degeneration by their mid-40’s!
Digital eyestrain results from too much blue light, and this can lead to sore and irritated eyes.
In addition to limiting your kids’ exposure to screens, you can also purchase filters for your devices. If you kids wear glasses, a standard coating is applied to new glasses to filter the blue light.
Sometimes, your kids are more receptive to taking correction from someone other than you. At your child’s next annual eye exam, ask the optometrist to explain the effects of excessive screen to the eye to heighten their awareness and get them on board. Don’t underestimate the voices of other authority figures.
Screen Time and Sleep Problems
We receive more blue light from the sun than we do screens, and exposure to it during the day time regulates our circadian rhythms to help us sleep well at night. When screens are consumed in the evenings, the blue light throws off this rhythm, leading to sleepless nights, tiredness during the day, and lower performance at school.
Discontinue media usage two hours or more before bed time.
Screen Time and Obesity
According to the American Heart Association, kids are spending an average of seven hours each day in front of screens. The physical inactivity, increased snacking, exposure to food advertisements, and interrupted sleep cycles all slow down the metabolic rate, leading to obesity.
Reduce your child’s chances of developing heart disease, asthma, and diabetes by rationing screen time. Enroll them in a club or sport, spend time outdoors together, ride bikes, and keep your kids moving.
Screen Time and Mental Health
A study published in Preventative Medicine Reports finds kids who spend seven or more hours a day on digital devices are twice as likely to be diagnosed with anxiety and depression than those who spend only an hour each day.
Another study by the National Institute of Health has proven that kids who spend seven hours a day consuming media develop a thinning cortex, which is the part of the brain that processes information pertaining to the five senses. In other words, too much screen turns kids into brain-craving zombies.
Even worse, your kids might develop a devil horn out of their necks. Yes, the poor posture kids slump into, particularly when they are absorbed into smartphones, can eventually create a bone spur on their neck that protrudes like a misplaced unicorn horn. There’s no chance of this having a positive impact on their mental health. It’s a far worse phenomenon than man boobs, so make sure junior sits up straight and keeps up his chin.
Don’t be a lazy parent and allow your kids to have seven hours of screen.
Screen Time and Death
The number one cause of death in pediatric patients over the age of one is related to cell phone usage. The new leading statistic for accidental death in this age group is caused by people driving while using their smartphones, and kids texting as they cross streets without looking.
It is still being debated whether the radiation from cell phones contribute to brain tumors and cancer.
When you get in your car, forget you have a cell phone until you reach your destination. Encourage your kids to go hands-free as much as possible to keep cell phones away from their heads until more definitive research becomes available.
3. Screens Kill the Imagination
Parents, how much do your kids play with the toys they’ve amassed? Are they dusty from sitting on the shelf, or are they incorporated into daily adventures?
Kids today enjoy excesses we never dreamed of as minors. The modest amount of toys we owned were loved until they were unusable. Our swing sets were make-believe ships on the high seas. The giant, exposed tree roots of a mature maple formed our play houses. Bare spots in the middle of corn fields were our secret hide outs. We pretended to pull our bikes into gas stations to give them a refill, and for those who grew up on farms or in rural areas, our imaginative play had no limits.
Today, an alarming number of kids quickly grow bored with new toys. They run out of ideas for things to do or masterpieces to build with their Legos. They have books, but they don’t want to read. They own board games they are too listless to play. Outdoors, their minds can’t visualize the endless play possibilities.
They are bored easily. They just want screen. Screens provide perpetual excitement and entertainment, and it’s all mindless. Kids never have to create their own fun—it’s already been done for them.
Some counselors are finding that kids aren’t sure how to interact with toys during therapy sessions. To understand how the world works around them, it is essential for kids to learn how to entertain themselves. The inability to engage in constructive play can lead to a serious lack of social skills.
Insist on more green time for your kids. Buy a sandbox, visit a farm, take them to local parks, spend the day at the pool. Let the outdoors be their lump of clay to mold into fun activities by the power of their own imaginations.
Don’t spend rainy days in front of the screen. Give them paper, crayons, paint, or S.T.E.M. kits (Tinker Crate subscriptions are fabulous) to challenge their creativity. Look for Mindware’s online store for an array of brainy toys like KEVA sets, marble runs, chemistry bath bomb labs, snap circuits, and so much more to stimulate their ingenuity and inspire innovation.
Ask them to create games to mark the holidays, seasons, or special events. Our family works together to invent crafts and games to celebrate Christmas in July, back-to-school, and a Welcome Fall party each year.
4. Screens Are Over-Stimulating
Screens present a unique challenge to educators. Since kids are accustomed to the fast-paced action of video games and other over-stimulating media, keeping their attention in class isn’t easy.
Teachers corroborate what researchers have already discovered—kids expect to be entertained. It’s taxing for teachers to capture and hold their attention as students struggle with the ability to focus. Even the written work of advanced students is lagging in depth and analysis. Reality for these students becomes uninteresting. Teachers testify that the more parents allow unhindered access to media, the more sharply their child’s academic performance declines.
Many schools keep students in this harmful tech loop by incorporating more screens into daily classroom activities rather than less. Schools feel pressured to stay on the cutting edge of technology, claiming this is better preparing students to compete globally in a digital era.
In many schools, Chromebooks are assigned to each student. Teachers rely on Raz-Kids, Teach Your Monster to Read, i-Ready, Prodigy, and other digital curricular aides to accomplish educational goals. Schools are helping to keep kids addicted to screens instead of taking a rehabilitative approach to break the cycle. When you consider how much time kids are on technology at school and combine that with all the time they have it at home, they are seriously overdosed and need to detox.
Consult your child’s teacher to see how much average screen time students are fed each day and adjust the screen time allowance at home accordingly to hit below the 2-hour per day mark.
Consider homeschooling to ensure your kids learn how to think and perform independently without relying on technology.
5. Social Media Is Isolating
Forty-one percent of teens admit they over-do it on social media, according to a Common Sense Media poll that found kids ages 13-17 are spending an average of nine hours per day online. The average age for kids to acquire cell phones is ten—totally ridiculous and unnecessary! Kids shouldn’t have cell phones until they have jobs to pay for them, and even then, you should limit their access as long as they live under your roof.
Even the term “social media” is an oxymoron because it is really “anti-social media.” The more kids interact virtually, the less they have face-to-face, intimate friendships with real people.
How often do you see someone on Facebook, Instagram, or Twitter talk about how lousy their lives are or how unhappy things are at home? Never! You might dress like a slob Monday through Saturday, but Sunday, you don fancy church attire. It’s Sunday every day on social media platforms. It’s a competitive arena where everyone puts their best foot forward to pretend their lives are amazing.
The false reality of social media causes teens to jump to unrealistic comparisons. Some are left out. Others are bullied. It’s no wonder teenage depression and suicide are on the rise. Emoticons simply cannot convey sentiment like one-on-one time with a bestie. God created us to be in relationships with others, and He commanded us to love our neighbors as ourselves. We aren’t designed to communicate through concise messages and symbols. We are hot-wired for personal connection.
Research shows that kids who are saturated with screen time, such as social media, are less able to decode emotional cues. Digital communication lacks depth. Authentic human interaction is the place where kids learn to interpret nonverbal cues, assess voice tones and facial expressions, and develop empathy.
Start Enforcing Screen Limits With Your Kids
You are not a helpless bystander. You are the parent, and it’s your responsibility to set screen limits and enforce them. Your kids will resist, but do it for their own good. Remind them that screen time is a privilege, not a right, no matter how many of their friends overload on it.
Set the right example. If you’re going to unplug your kids during meal times, while in the car, limit screen usage to under two hours per day, and forbid devices in bedrooms, then you need to follow your own rules.
Screens have a place in this era, but you shouldn’t let them hijack your kids’ childhoods.
This content is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge and is not meant to substitute for formal and individualized advice from a qualified professional.