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Managing Screen Time: How much is okay and how much is too much.

I wanted to share something that was given to me recently about a parent’s actions concerning the increasing usage of screens in our lives and the lives of our children.

Many of you will recognize the challenges and battles you have with yourself, your peers, and your children over use of screens. It appears to invade places we never could have imagined before. We are constantly inundated with information and ‘connection’ with others. However, if you are viewing a screen the connection can be a false connection, a way to feel like we are in touch with others when in fact we are isolated in our own space. Even if we are visiting with friends our screens call to us to attend to them and our friends, the real live people sitting across from us, are exiled to the periphery while we ‘talk’ to others, or check our status, or tweet. 
Following is the story of a parent who took the initiative to actively disconnect from the intensity of screen connections and reactivate the relational quality of her family life.

Turning off the Screens

Background:

We have 2 children in our household, a 10 year old boy and a 6 year old girl. They each have their own ipad and we also have a laptop computer and 3 TVs (in the living room, the studio, and the man cave.) During the school year our children's screen time schedule is as follows:
No TV Sunday 6:00 pm through Friday 3:00 PM
Free access to TV Friday 3:00 PM through Sunday 6:00PM
1 hour computer ipad time Monday - Thursday with homework exceptions
Free access to the computer ipad Friday 3:00 PM through Sunday 6:00PM
During the summer the schedule is loosened up but we try to make sure they exercise or play or think an hour for every hour of screen time.

Turning off the screens:

Six weeks after school began this year I began noticing the children fighting over what they were going to watch, and begging for more screen time as well as being more argumentative and whiny and I decided I had had enough. We were going to ban the TV and the ipads. The laptop could be used for homework only. As a child my parents had put the TV in the attic for a year so I knew this was possible. We were going on a long trip in a little more than 2 weeks so we would carry out the ban until the trip.

The first 2 days were hard because it was the beginning of the weekend. I spent a lot of time saying no and making suggestions of what to do but by Saturday night it had calmed down. We talked about how listening to something is different than watching something because you have to imagine the scene in your head so we listened to Prairie Home Companion and the children played games together on the floor of the kitchen while I cooked. It was so much better than everyone doing their own thing. My son had a much easier time with the ban than my daughter did. He can read and likes to walk, and think of new ideas. My daughter does not read well yet, and does not like to play alone so it was more difficult for her, but soon she was coloring more and organizing her room, or going to see if friends could play.

I am an introvert and having my kids around all the time talking my ear off (which is what they did since they weren't watching a screen) was difficult and by the end of the day I was ready for my own quiet time, but even I got used to it and it got easier as the days went on. Some days were harder than others and we would go to the grocery store or run errands to get away from screen temptation.

We broke the ban a day or so early but because we were leaving on a 12 day trip we were able to continue to minimize the screen time for the next 2 weeks.

Results:
We are back to our regular schedule but it is different. Both children watch less TV on the weekends than they were. My son is reading more and my daughter is complaining less about TV choices and in general. While we still have bouts of arguments and whining I believe they are less frequent. And though the ban only applied to my husband and myself when the kids were home and awake I find myself watching less and reading more at night which has helped my sleep.

Turning off the screens was a very good move for our family. It helped us reset and focus. I am considering doing it periodically for the health of our family.         Contributor 11/7/2013

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Parents have to be the final judge of their child’s needs and behaviors. So do an experiment; ask your child about their latest or favorite video game. Think about the knowledge they are gaining, they are learning about all the intricacies of the game. Think about the time and energy they use to get this information. Ask yourself what this means. To many of us it suggests the child’s capacity for learning. How incredible! Now ask yourself if the video games values and intricacies are what you want your child’s focus to be? Do you want him to know how many lives are left for the hero or villain in the video game or would you like him to know how to make electricity?  Would you like her to know the characteristics of the avatar she created or would you like her to know your values and her own character?

I enjoy my screens, maybe less than some, but I see the entertainment value and the necessity for information distribution. As a therapist I understand the need for personal interaction and relational activities. This part of our development is vital especially in the early years when brain is developing and attachment to adults through physical interaction is vital.

According to the research from the American Academy of Pediatrics and the website: 
www.commercialfreechildhood.org

“Screen time can be habit-forming: the more time children engage with screens, the harder time they have turning them off as they become older children. Including when they’re multitasking, 8- to 18-year-olds consume an average of 7 hours and 11 minutes of screen media per day…. For older children and adolescents, excessive screen time is linked to increased psychological difficulties that include hyperactivity, emotional and conduct problems, difficulties with peers and poor school performance.”

“SCREEN TIME IS AN IDENTIFIED FACTOR IN CHILDHOOD OBESITY.”

And contrary to popular belief:

“The more time preschool children spend with screens, the less time they spend engaged in creative play (the foundation of learning), constructive problem solving, and creativity.”

“PARENTS ARE RECEIVING CONFUSING AND INACCURATE INFORMATION ABOUT THE EDUCATIONAL BENEFITS OF SCREEN MEDIA FOR YOUNG CHILDREN.”

“There is no credible evidence that any type of screen time is beneficial to babies and toddlers and some evidence that it may be harmful.”

And from the Mayo Clinic website: 

Behavioral problems: Elementary students who spend more than two hours a day watching TV or using a computer are more likely to have emotional, social and attention problems. Exposure to video games is also linked with an increased risk of attention problems in children. Watching excessive amounts of TV at age 4 is linked with bullying at ages 6 through 11.”

 “Violence: Too much exposure to violence through media — especially on TV — can desensitize children to violence. As a result, children might learn to accept violent behavior as a normal way to solve problems.”

“Less time for play: Excessive screen time leaves less time for active, creative play.”

http://www.mayoclinic.com/health/children-and-tv/MY00522
More helpful websites:

http://www.aap.org/en-us/advocacy-and-policy/aap-health-initiatives/pages/media-and-children.aspx

www.naeyc.org/content/technology-and-young-children

 



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