Oh ooh! Let's talk about screen time.
I hope that everyone’s been keeping warm and cozy these past few weeks. I, honestly, can’t remember the last time that I’ve been THIS cold. Even worse, I really don’t fancy myself a big fan of cold, wet and dreary weather. It’s great for about two days but then I start becoming frustrated and somewhat depressed. It’s almost as if my mood starts to adapt according to the weather.
So, these last few weeks I’ve found myself in full on hibernation mode. I’ve allowed myself and our little guy to skip out on our almost religious morning walks, with the excuse being that neither of us could possibly risk getting sick right now. Leaving my poor husband to brave the cold by himself. I’ve also convinced myself that it just makes more sense to work under the warm covers in my comfy bed, instead of working in my office. GASP! And the worst of all - I’ve even found myself loosening the reigns on the somewhat strict screen time rules within our household. Lazing away in front of the tv has just seemed so much easier and way more comfortable than having to be actively out and about in this cold weather, right?? Uh, think again…
I’ve recently completed an online lecture presented by a Child Psychiatrist, Dr Brendan Belsham, on screen culture and screen addiction. The lecture actually shook me to my core. Although I already knew much of what he discussed on a professional level and have also had many conversations with some of my clients on the topic, I’ve also somehow found myself justifying more regular use of screens in my own life, especially throughout the course of lockdown. At times it’s served as an escape for myself or even just entertainment for my little one whilst I needed to get some housework or ‘work-work’ done. Not that it’s kept Troy occupied for too long, since he’s not really a tv kid. Thank goodness for that.
On that note, whether you’re a parent or any professional working with children or adolescents, do yourself a favour and sign up for the lecture. You can visit (https://www.impactlearning.co.za/) for more information.
It was quite an extensive lecture that covered allot of different aspects regarding screen time, I just thought I’d share some of the aspects that I’ve applied to my own life, in today’s blog post.
Here are some interesting and also shocking facts about excessive screen use:
According to an American study, children ranging between the ages of 8 and 10 years spend approximately 6 hours of their day participating in recreational screen time and children between the ages of 11 and 14 years, 8 to 10 hours. Now when I say recreational screen time, I’m referring to things like gaming, tv programs, social media etc. (i.e. this would exclude the time youngsters have to spend on laptops or computers for school-related work).
Which begs the question? If our next generation is spending this much time behind screens, when do they actually get to develop their physical, emotional and social skills out in the real world? And what does this mean for the collective future of our world?
Screen use can become addictive. Electronic gaming for instance activates the same area of the brain as cocaine. For our older children, pornography serves an even greater risk of addiction because it serves as a ‘poly drug’ effect, which means that it has the same effects as both cocaine (which is activated by dopamine) as well as heroine (which is activated by endorphins) in one go. Scary right? Well, it get’s even worse. There’s an actual diagnosis known as Nomophobia, which is a type of separation anxiety related to being away from one’s phone; as well as a disorder known as Problematic Interactive Media Use (PIMU), which in some cases have resulted in the need for detox bootcamps or rehabilitation.
If we ever wondered why it’s so important to have open access to our children’s online activity, this should be reason enough. Although we won’t be able to check their activity every second of every day, it might be a good idea to include having open access to their phones and computers, at any given time and at your request, as part of the agreement of being able to own these devices in the first place. Remind them that owning said devices is a privilege and not a right.
Along with open access to their electronic devices it is also advised that we control the time and location of screen use, as far as possible. I love the way that Dr B Belsham put it – Allocate no screen zones within your home. The best part? This is not just for the kids but also the parents. Our phones should not be the boss of us, as Glennon Doyle put it in her book, Untamed. We’ve agreed to the following terms in our household:
- We only have a tv in the tv room – Where it’s supposed to go. No tv’s in any of the bedrooms, ever. This includes Netflix / working on the laptop in bed – Not allowed. The bed is for sleeping, reading and for the parent’s… Well… Other stuff (wink) ONLY.
- 5:30pm to 07:30pm = no screen time. Our phones are actually placed on silent and put away in a cupboard. My husband usually takes Troy for his bath, while I cook dinner and then we all enjoy our meal together as a family. It’s during this time that we get to connect on a personal level, share our accounts of the day and model mindful and present behaviour to Troy. Once Troy goes down to sleep, we usually catch up on 1 or 2 of our favourite shows or sometimes my husband needs to get back to work.
- When ever I have Troy with me, I actually leave my cellphone in my bedroom under my pillow. Out of sight, out of mind for both myself and Troy. I’ll only run up to check it, if it rings or whilst he takes his nap.
- Troy is allowed to watch education based or interactive tv shows like Barney, Teletubbies, National Geographic (wild – since he loves animals) or nursery rhymes on YouTube (He loves Bounce Patrol) BUT only for 20 minutes at a time and when I have to attend to things like meal preparation etc. Because let’s be honest – Sometimes we just need to get something done without having to be the jungle gym for our 2-year old whilst doing it as well. This way, I also usually get to sing along, dance or interact with him whilst also busy with my own thing. Never more than 60 minutes in total, a day, is allowed. We do, however, loosen the reigns a bit over the weekends. Shake the routine up a little.
- The car = A no screen zone. Troy doesn’t have a tablet and probably won’t have one until he’s at least 13 (only time will tell). So, when we drive to places, he actually has to look out the window and really see the world that he lives in, converse with his parents or listen to music. I’ve made a collective playlist with some of his favourite songs as well as our favourite songs to keep us busy in the car. This one counts for us as parents too! NO TEXTING AND DRIVING. Remember our children do what we do and not what we say, so we need to be very careful about the behaviour that we’re modelling to them.
From an Occupational Therapists perspective, besides the immense impact that excessive screen use can have on our children and our own social, physical and emotional skills. It can also have a tremendous effect on our children's overall development and capacity to learn. Learning takes place in three phases - Kinaesthetic (which is learning through body movements), followed by learning on a 3 dimensional level (which is learning through the use of real life objects) and then only learning on a 2 dimensional level (which would be our pen to paper or screen learning). Should there be a hinderance in any of these phases of learning, children struggle at school, sensory processing problems occur and some studies have even found a strong correlation between excessive screen use and cognitive problems / ADHD (see the lecture by Dr Belsham for more information).
When we regard all of the above, I also feel that it's my duty to remind us as parents that TECHNOLOGY IS NOT GOING AWAY. We can’t avoid it. We can’t ignore it. And as much as it pains me to say it… Hating it, also isn’t going to fix anything. We also can’t wait around hoping and wishing that things would return to the way it once was, because that’s not how the world works. Just as we’ve had to learn to live in a symbiotic relationship with nature (although not even this has been mastered yet), so we have to learn to live in a symbiotic relationship with screens. We need to embrace that it’s probably going to continue forming an important part of our daily life, for the rest of our lives. We’ll just have to figure out how to incorporate it into our every day, without allowing it to consume us and our children. Moderation is key.
Having said that, excessive screen use can cause anhedonia, one of the symptoms related to depression and anxiety, which is a reduced capacity to experience enjoyment. This means that the more time we spend behind screens, the less joy we’ll find in the real world that we live in. Now I don’t know about you but to me, that would be such a pity because we live in such a beautiful world with so much to teach us. Maybe that's something to ponder on every time we find ourselves reaching for the tv remote, cellphone, tablet or laptop. Let’s remember that our children are watching us and learning from our behaviours. Again, Dr B Belsham put it wonderfully; It is up to us as parents to create the culture we desire in our homes. And that includes the use of technology. Lead by example.
I really hope this resonates as much with you as it did with me. This life was not meant to be figured out alone and so I want to urge us to keep reminding one another of the important things in life but also to keep, keeping one another accountable. It takes a village, so let’s lean on each other.