Daily Archives: March 7, 2019

Screen time, brain damage, and other uplifting thoughts about parenting

You don’t have to look far to find literature warning of the dangers of excessive screen time on humans, and especially developing children.  This blog in Psychology Today reviews some of the literature around addiction to screen time and the impact on a developing brain. The term ‘electronic screen syndrome’ is described by the blogger as children who suffer from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep and a hyperaroused nervous system resulting in children who are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention.  I have certainly seen this in varying degrees in all my children! 

Recently my mom shared a facebook post from another mom of a young boy who was addicted to screen time – specifically video games.  The child had video games taken away as a punishment for some undesirable behaviour, and the resulting temper tantrum and disrespectful behaviour in response to that consequence allowed the mom to realize just how addicted her son was and so she took video games away permanently.  In the post she was only about 8 days into the new world order in her house, but the outcomes were beyond positive.  Her child’s ability to pay attention, play on his own, sleep etc. were all vastly improved.  She was having conversations with her child again and getting to know him – after a long time of missed opportunities due to ‘face attached to screen’ syndrome (I made up that syndrome).  This resonated with me.

All of my kids enjoy their screen time. And I have limited it as much as I can using the screen time app that exists on apple products.  That has been largely successful, especially with the teen girls.  Their access to apps on their phones ends at 9:30pm and turns back on in the morning, and additionally they have a set amount of time that they can use social media and entertainment apps during the day – and at the end of that time, those apps are no longer available. img_2076Interestingly, my snapchat addicted teen is now not even coming close to using up the allotted time per day.  I’ve noticed with both of the girls that they talk to me more, spend more time outside of their bedrooms, interact with their siblings more, and even interactions with their friends are more often over FaceTime or on the phone, which in my opinion is a vast improvement over snapchat.  My younger daughter has not had access to social media apps (she did briefly but it didn’t work out for her) and so for the past 2+ years we just haven’t gone there again, and she’s mostly ok with it as it allows her to stay out of the constant swirl of teen drama that is going on at her school, and every other middle school in the world.  Without all the screen time she is back to reading a lot – actual paper books.  It didn’t solve the messy room issue though so it’s not a full miracle ;-).

About a week ago I decided that my son needed further limits as he was using his ‘phone’ under the allotted time per day, but then was still finding a way to play computer games and then his Nintendo switch.  The result was way too much screen time.  So we cut it out almost completely.  One hour of screen time total per day, and only in the  one hour after dinner each day (easier to manage how long he’s been using a screen if it’s a set time of day where one of us parents is typically home).  Day one he was not happy about it and let me know about it all day.  Day two he moved to total acceptance, and started playing again – and headed outside even though it was still quite cold out.  What I find the most interesting is that from day 2 on, he has not used his hour of screen time.  He has played Mario Kart for 15 minutes with his dad and sister one night.  Last night he used his 1 hour to watch Riverdale with his obsessed sister – and the two of them made fruit smoothies together as their treat to share while watching the show.   In the mornings where he used to wake up and after doing his morning ‘tasks’ would head directly to the computer to play some games before school, he now has a bath and then chats with me while he makes and eats his breakfast.

This morning he showed me (once again) just how insightful he is.  He told me that when he is allowed to have video games all the time he wants it more and more.  He went on to talk about how not having video games all the time allows him to enjoy other activities that he forgot he liked.  It was a fascinating conversation.  He can’t always express himself the way he intends to, but this morning he was incredibly articulate and pretty much summed up the exact reasons why too much screen time is a detriment.  I told him I was proud of him and so happy that he was enjoying spending his time doing other things.  And then he said, “I have a funny feeling we are going to do this forever now, right?”  And I laughed and said, “You got it Mister.”  He kind of rolled his eyes and then asked if we could build his new lego set tonight after school together and then finish reading his book about ‘Hello Neighbour’.

Now, this all sounds like sunshine and roses.  It’s not.  It’s been hard.  Setting boundaries for the kids is a constant challenge.  Sometimes I get home from work and I’m tired and I don’t want to build lego or listen to the stories of the day that can go on for an hour.  Sometimes I lose patience or ask for a timeout so I can go sit by myself in my room for 15 minutes.  Many times I have called my mom nearly in tears because the kids are mad at me for the boundaries I have set.  I often hear “But mom, the other kids are allowed…” and other similar reasons why I should allow for more screen time, or be less strict with other boundaries.   The irony is that while they complain from time to time, overall they seem happier, more grounded, and more engaged in life.  So, I’m sticking with it.  Surely they will thank me some day.   Until then Berrik and I are going to build this lego set.  He says we can put this together in about 3 hours.  Um….  what? Hoping this is at least a 2 day project.  Wish me luck.  While he is focusing on this project, I’ll be thinking about his frontal lobe continuing to develop normally….