Parents, please take a moment to answer the following four questions true or false.
1. You gave your child the latest video game for the holidays and ever since you’ve had virtually no conversation with him, and when you do his eyes glaze over in a haze of boredom.
2. She wants to sit for hours on end alone in front of her computer screen. Homework, chores, eating dinner – anything except the computer game -- is deemed “boring”.
3. He ignores your pleas to go outside and play with his friends, preferring to sit alone trying to reach level 19 in his latest computer game.
4. She sulks and cries when you even suggest taking a break from her screen.
If you’ve answered true to all of the above, the screens in your home have taken over and it’s time to take some action. Like it or not, technology is definitely here to stay and the challenge of computer games, Wii consoles, Ipad’s, dsx, and smart phones are the new frontiers that we must all learn to navigate. Unfortunately, new gadgets are being invented far faster than we can cope.
Essentially, the challenge is to put technology in its rightful place in our homes. All the latest studies show screen time is becoming one of the most time-consuming activities in children’s lives. Providing limits within an agreed upon schedule is the key. Here are just a few excellent reasons to work on establishing limits for screen time.
Children develop self-esteem by doing and creating.
Technology allows your child to be too passive -- it’s instant gratification. Just turn on a switch and an amazing screen world emerges that you are instantly drawn into. Compare this to an activity like building a tower out of Lego blocks. The latter requires your child to imagine the finished product and create it himself. He must use his hands to work with the building blocks, fine-tuning his motor control and coordination. It is much more challenging to create something out of nothing, solving the engineering problems as he goes. Too much passive entertainment can sap your child’s motivation to work at something that isn’t instantly gratifying.
Children need plenty of physical activity to stay healthy.
Children need to run and climb and kick a ball. Their young bodies require exercise to develop strong muscles, a healthy heart, and maintain an ideal weight. Physical activity is also fun and helps them burn off some of their youthful energy. Screen time, on the other hand is a sedentary activity. Doctors are increasingly alarmed at the role of sedentary screen time in childhood obesity.
Children need to spend time with other children to develop good social skills.
Children need social interaction to feel a sense of belonging and to make friends. Games that are played together with others help them learn the essentials of give and take, sharing, and cooperation. Screen time is usually spent alone, depriving them of time to socialize with other kids.
So what’s a parent to do?
Put screen time in its place. Together with your child, create a daily routine that takes into account everything that’s important in your family – chores, homework, play time, reading, and extra- curricular activities. Discuss why you believe there should be limits on screen time but be sure to get your child’s input too. Listen to their ideas. Go online with your child and research what the experts recommend. Have a debate, present your arguments, and listen carefully to their feelings and ideas until you come up with a time limit that you both feel is acceptable. Stress the idea of why these limits are important. Getting your child’s agreement on how much screen time there should be – and when, will increase the degree of cooperation you can expect. Also, it’s up to you to provide the toys, arts and craft materials, as well as opportunities to be with friends to replace those long hours in front of the screen. Weekly family meetings to touch base on how it’s going will help you stay on track. If agreements are broken, take it back to the family meeting and negotiate what kinds of logical consequences should take place. Unplugging for a day or two is a reasonable consequence.