Parenting Today's Children and Screens...I mean Teens!
For the very first time young children and adolescents are being raised on and, in some cases, by Smartphones, digital devices and social media. Entire families are directed by streaks and notifications. As The Atlantic pointed out, Alexa, Google Assistant and Siri have become the pseudo teacher, parent and confidant to youth and families. The article noted that by the year 2021, there will be almost as many personal-assistant bots as people living on the planet!
Digital Crack Cocaine
The struggle to limit screen time in the home is often met with great resistance, and it’s no wonder as tech experts and leaders have likened Smartphones, IPADs and screen time to that of digital crack cocaine. Former editor of Wired, Chris Anderson, explains in the New York Times, “We thought we could control it. And this is beyond our power to control. This is going straight to the pleasure centers of the developing brain. This is beyond our capacity as regular parents to understand.” Guttman and Guttman have made a clear connection between screen time and the child’s brain and sensory processing ability. Night exposure to LED-illuminated devices, which now make up today’s screens, suppresses melatonin and disrupts the sleep cycle. This disruption is, “A significant contributor to ADHD and other mood and behavioral issues.” Many parents can identify the moment their child has experienced sensory overload. This, says Guttman and Guttman is because of the rapid-fire changes happening on most screens, “The faster the changes in sensory information you're taking in, the faster your brain needs to process it in order to keep you up.” Once the child is disengaged from screen time they can become very unfocused, “The brain is still in super-fast, ‘hyper’ mode. Until it readjusts to real life and a normal pace, your child will be bouncing off the walls in an unconscious attempt to find stimuli moving at the artificial fast pace of his brain.” This can leave the child feeling the effects of mood swings with crashes and meltdowns. To support the developing child, it’s best in these moments to help the child engage in physical activity outdoors, running or jumping to help readjust the system.
Many parents have come to the conclusion that life is simply easier when their child is engaged on a device. From the doctor’s office to the restaurant to the car ride around town, children are given access to disengage freely on their devices. In her article, “Have Smartphones Destroyed a Generation?” Jean M. Twenge, professor of psychology at San Diego State University, states directly of her 25 years of research, “The more time teens spend looking at screens, the more likely they are to report symptoms of depression.” Twenge goes on to reveal, “Recent research suggests that screen time, in particular social-media use, does indeed cause unhappiness.” Increased use of social media has also been linked to a rise in bullying, eating disorders and anxiety. What advice does Twenge give today’s kids, teens and families? “Put down the phone, turn off the laptop and do something - anything - that does not involve a screen.”
Considering the leading tech giants such as Tim Cook, C.E.O. of Apple, Bill and Melinda Gates, and Steve Jobs completely banned or strongly restricted the use of IPADs and Smartphones with their family members maybe we should do the same? The first step begins with taking an inventory and assessing the home. Identify where your televisions, Smartphones and tablets are located and when they are allowed to be used. Many experts agree that no child should be given a Smartphone or tablet without restrictions. As children get older the solution is not to overly insulate and keep them from using devices at all. Keep in mind that in some schools children are given a Chromebook by the age of 8 and the average age that a child receives a Smartphone is 10. I encourage families to educate their children and create a family plan regarding appropriate use of devices. I recommend the Smartphone family plan that Axis has created. Because this is your home, identifying your family values is a great first step toward protecting family time. Putting phones away at night can help your child develop a healthy sense of detachment from the device and ensure the rest needed for their body and mind. Families can also restrict usage of phones in specific areas of the house. Consider using phones and tablets in common areas of the house only and not in bedrooms. This can also mean no phones during meals, in the kitchen or the car. For children it should not be a given that they will get daily screen time. This is a powerful privilege that can be given and taken away. I encourage parents to lead by example and avoid your child needing to ask, “Will you put your phone down and play with me?”
Josh Neuer is a Licensed Professional Counselor who speaks worldwide about how individuals, families, and businesses can rewrite their story and ignite tangible and lasting results. Josh is passionate about empowering change in communities. He is the founder of Joshua Neuer, LLC, a counseling and consulting business; a certified educator, husband, father, and is absolutely crazy about relationships. To learn more or see a list of services provided visit JoshNeuer.com.