Your Kid’s Brain and Screen Time
It’s been a slow descent, but my 7-year-old now binge-watches enough television that his eyes no longer blink. When quarantine became our new normal, so did screen time. Television shows, talking with friends, online learning, and video games are my kid’s lifeline to everything. Is it possible to set normal screen time limits during a time that’s not so normal?
Laurel Sims-Stewart, a licensed professional clinical counselor working with children and adults at Bridge Counseling and Wellness, says when talking to your kids about setting healthy screen time boundaries, use language they understand. “We talk about taking care of our body and how it needs different things like sleep and exercise,” she says. “So, when we take care of our brain, we have to give it a variety of different things, too.” It’s all about helping kids understand balance, she says.
When I became pregnant, I read all the research that said if I could lessen screen time for my child, I’d be doing his developing brain a favor. We focused on making screen time less of a thing so self-confidence-building activities like unstructured outdoor play, reading, and hands-on pastimes could be more of a thing. I put this advice into my parenting bag o’ tricks, and then the pandemic rendered my bag useless.
While I’m working, doing household tasks, or juggling 13 other things, my kid’s entertainment is a screen. I finally noticed how much time he was investing when his other interests fell by the wayside. I stepped in to take control of the remote control, but when I did he uncharacteristically flew into hysterics or was so heartbroken he couldn’t speak. I knew we needed to change the channel, but my classic moves to redirect his attention failed.
My parenting guilt rose because I didn’t know how to help my son through this. Had I missed my window for guiding him? Laurel says, “Everybody is struggling and doing their best. So it’s OK to give yourself grace.” I took a breath and reassessed.
Laurel says that creative and active activities that involve connection are “the best replacements for screen time.” I wanted my son to remember his old loves like talking to his parents and building Legos. Now I knew what to encourage, but I also understood it was impractical to return to all restrictions. But when I made any move that brought me near the remote, his “Spidey-sense” alerted him that something was afoot and arguments ensued.
Laurel says to expect a kind of “detox period” when shifting screen time expectations. “We might notice our kids are irritable or having a lot of emotion,” she says. This is when empathy can bridge the gap. Laurel says use phrases like, “I know that it’s really difficult to make that switch. I love you, and your brain is really important to me, so we’re gonna choose something else right now.”
During a time when life’s perceptions are changing, my family’s are, too. We’re learning the value that balanced screen time can bring. “I don’t think screen time is all negative,” Laurel says. “Like with anything, there are pros and cons to it.” I definitely knew the cons, but now I’m seeing the benefits. For example, my son enjoys video chatting and playing his favorite game with his friend all while staying safe at home. We’re using the screen as an active tool of connecting instead of a passive tool of disconnecting. And we’re still practicing how to turn it off.