The world is moving at a fast pace, and as it moves we seem to be plugged in, not to the wonders of the world, but to smartphones, tablets, computers and video games. Children know how to swipe a smart phone before they can even put two words together. They may be able to look at a computer screen for hours, but may not be able to look you in the eye, and may be touching their electronic device more than they touch you!
Children need nurturing touch, movement, interaction with nature and others, to thrive. Excessive use of tablets, smart phones, computers, and video games, cause the brain to change. Parents have noticed the differences in their children’s behavior after using an electronic device for an excessive amount of time. Jen noticed that when she told her 8-year old daughter, Courtney, “It’s time to stop and disconnect from your tablet”, after being on the tablet for a long period, Courtney became moody and “bad mouthed” her mom. Jen knew it was really time to stop her daughter’s electronic use, for sure, after the outburst. In time, Courtney calmed down and returned to her loveable self. Maria noticed how her 6-year old and 3-year old sons, Sergio and Hector, would go into their own rooms and play with their tablets, rather than playing with one another. When she would go into their individual rooms to ask them to disconnect, they protested, became aggressive and would try to hit her.
Playing with video games and apps, may flood pleasure centers of the brain, with dopamine, and give a temporary rush. When the game is taken away, the child can get withdrawal symptoms and become aggressive, as did Sergio and Hector. Sometimes the child shows a different side that is not typical behavior, as did Courtney.
With school starting again, many parents are concerned that their children are so attached to their electronics that they will not be able to focus on their school work. “7 Strategies for Raising Calm, Inspired, & Successful Children” (www.askdrelaine.com) explains ways to assist your child achieve success, amidst the distractions of everyday life.
Common sense parenting is always good. I remember hearing my mother say, “Finish your homework, then you can go outside to play!” Children nowadays need to learn to “Finish your homework, (using the computer for schoolwork as necessary), and then you can get screen time!” Your family, can decide, together, on how much electronics time will be allowed. (See Table 1: 8 Tips to Get your Kids to Disconnect from Electronics!).
Like everything in life, balance and moderation is key to living a healthy life. So it is in using electronics. Some children are physically engaged throughout the day, and have their electronic time as a small part of their day, even if it is at dinner time. While other children are plugged in 24/7 without any other form of interaction with humans, or getting any physical activity. As the parent it is up to you to see what works best in your family, for your children, and adapt as needed. I remember my mother saying, “I am doing it for your good” and now you can say that too!
TABLE 1: 8 Tips to Get Your Kids to Disconnect from Electronics!
Limit the amount of time your child can spend on an electronic device and be consistent in enforcing those rules. This way your child knows that when you say he or she only has two minutes left, then there really is only two minutes left, not three or four hours.
2.Use a timer
A timer does not “lie” and can take the blame away from you when you’re limiting your child’s time on the device. Use the timer that measures down the time You can even have your child select a tone on the smartphone that he or she likes. In my case, I have a cricket chirping sound, which delights my grandchildren.
Be ready with another activity. Plan an alternative way of engaging your child so when the device is turned off, some other interest can be provided and take his or her mind off the electronic device.
3.Use these tips in your home at first
As with everything, at first there’s a learning curve, so there may be tantrums, tears, melt downs and even depression. Don’t try disconnecting out in public right away since you wouldn’t want to endure the wrath or glances of diners or shoppers as they hear your child protest. In time, though, your child will know what is expected.
4.Inform home visitors about your electronic viewing schedule
Grandparents, baby sitters, daycare providers, and others, can follow your electronic guidelines whenever your children are in their care.
5.Create “no screen zones.”
Make places where electronics are off-limits. Remove electronics at meal times, and from your child’s bedroom. So many times meal times are just another time to look at a screen, instead of people. Bedrooms need to be a place for quiet and calm, where sleeping is easy, rather than a time for fighting the covers, or fighting dragons of the mind.
6.Take “electronic free vacations”
Specifically take the time to be with your children, without electronics. (Both theirs and yours!) Engage in physical activities, i.e., riding bicycles, bowling, going for a walk outdoors and talking about what you see. Engage in face to face interaction, i.e., playing board games, or having a conversation. Experience the fun of being together, including laughter.
Children need to learn how to remove themselves from their devices without mood changes, disrespect, or the “glassy over look”. They need to know how to self-regulate themselves, and how to interact with other people. Balance the amount of time spent with screens so that your child does not feel deprived or like an outsider, since surely screens are here to stay.