Positive tools for thriving families.

Parents often worry about the amount of time their child is spending on electronics and how it is affecting their social skills, motivation, attention, emotional regulation, and neurological functioning. Given the easy access to multiple modes of media (TV, ipads, computers, phones, etc.), electronics have become the “go to” in quiet moments. Screen time has also become the primary source of information and entertainment for children. Hence, these concerns are valid, particularly in light of the American Pediatric Association’s estimate that children in the U.S. spend an average of 7 hours a day on media devices.

A critical question to ask is does screen time effect neurological functioning (which can effect psychological and behavioral functioning), and if so what is the impact?  There has been a significant amount of research conducted on this topic in recent years that shows the following evidence:

The Social and Emotional Effects:

  • Increase in stress.
  • Increase in time to complete tasks.
  • Increase in off-task time.
  • Increase in anxiety with no access to electronics.
  • Increase in frustration and decrease in commitment to deeper, more challenging tasks and problem solving.
  • Increase in impulsivity.
  • Decrease in emotional regulation.
  • Decrease in ability to recognize facial emotions and non-verbal cues.

The Neurobiological Effects on the Developing Brain:

  • Repeated release of dopamine, increasing pleasure and addiction.
  • Chronic need for stimulation and instant gratification.
  • Decrease in focus and attention span.
  • Increase in arousal.
  • Blue light – Shut down off the pineal gland that releases melatonin (a natural hormone to induce sleep).
  • Sleep deprivation: poor sleep and less sleep.
  • Sensory overload.

Screen Addiction can also lead to:

  • Grey matter shrinkage (where processing occurs).
  • Frontal lobe shrinkage (where executive functioning occurs, such as planning and organizing).
  • Striatum shrinkage (where reward pathways and impulse control of socially unacceptable behaviors occur).
  • Insula damage (where our capacity to develop empathy and compassion occurs).
  • Loss of integrity of white matter (these are the connective pathways for communication within the brain).
  • Impaired cognitive functioning.
  • Reduced number of dopamine receptors, which is linked to depression.

The research strongly suggests that human to human, hands on interaction is the most beneficial for a child’s socio-emotional development, as screen time could impair empathy, communication, cognitive functioning, emotional regulation, sleep, attention, and brain development.  Perhaps the next important step is for parents, teachers, and professionals to be better informed on how to manage screen time for their children from infancy to young adulthood. Many parents continue to struggle with managing electronics with their children which often leads to:

Impact on Parenting:

  • Power struggles: Parents can experience significant power struggles with children regarding time usage and content of screen time. Power struggles create an impasse, and are debilitating to the family system.
  • Family conflict: Parents can experience significant conflict, including arguments, yelling, rule-breaking, manipulation, and defiance around screen time.
  • Marital/Co-Parenting conflict: Sometimes parents disagree on the rules, boundaries, limits, and consequences related to screen time, which can lend itself to marital and/or co-parenting conflicts. This also sends mixed messages to the children, thereby fostering further child push-back.
  • Feelings: Parents and children can experience an increase in helplessness, anger, anxiety, and frustration. This can amplify the need for power and control by both parties, thereby increasing the debilitating power struggles.
  • Trust and Communication: The power struggles, conflicts, and need for control can decrease trust and positive communication between parents and children.
  • Disengagement: Many parents and children may withdraw and disengage from each other, creating a tense or even hostile home environment.

There are ways to decrease power struggles, family conflicts, and helplessness by restricting your child’s screen time in healthy ways. Here are some possibilities:

Tips and Tools:

Sleep:

  • The National Sleep Foundation recommends 9 hours of sleep a night.
  • Enforce lights and electronics off for a sufficient 8-9 hours of sleep.

Time:

  • The American Medical Association recommends only 1-2 hours of screen time a day.
  • Create electronic free zones: meals, car rides, bed time, HW (media free), school, etc.
  • Create 10-15 minute breaks for your child when working for thirty minutes to one hour at a stretch on the computer (brain re-set).

Parenting:

  • Disengage from power struggles.
  • Set clear and consistent rules and expectations (inconsistency leads to intermittent reinforcement, which is a powerful phenomenon for maintaining and increasing unwanted behavior).
  • Co-parent Agreements: If there are 2 or more parents, they should agree about the rules, limits, and consequences, and enforce them equally.
  • Use positive reinforcement in conjunction with appropriate consequences for compliance and non-compliance.
  • Provide the research articles and facts to your child to read, so that they are informed and educated.
  • Encourage your child to participate in conversations about pros and cons of electronics.
  • Organize and facilitate extracurricular activities, sports, hobbies, and social get-togethers as much as possible.
  • Family Time: 30-60 minutes of electronic free, FUN, family time daily.

In sum, the research suggests that excessive screen time has a direct and negative effect on frontal lobe structure and functioning, and can also be addictive given the changes in dopamine functioning and receptors.  Since this area of a child’s brain undergoes critical development until young adulthood, it makes sense that parents and professionals are concerned about the mass consumption of electronics by children. Parents, schools, pediatricians, professionals, and researchers need to continue to pay close attention to and intervene with screen time in structured and consistent ways across domains to foster the healthy bio-psycho-social development of our children.

References

1. Investigating the effects of screen time on children: Can screen time be addictive and is it really harmful to my child’s cognitive and socio-emotional development.

2.     www.kappanonline.org/rosen-distracted-student-mind-attention

3.     Book: iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us.


Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

1 − 1 =

  • Exceptional, impressive, thoroughly 'kid friendly' from beginning to end, "Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children" should be a part of every community library Parenting Studies collections. For families with young children who are having to deal with divorce, "Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children" will prove to be an invaluable and instructive aid.

    Editor in Chief - Midwest Book Review

  • Those of us parenting, working with, or caring for children experiencing divorce will welcome Family Changes as a unique, positive, and creative resource for helping children understand and cope with this complicated transition. The comprehensive note to adults effectively explains how children work through painful questions and feelings. The touching story—with the endearing Zoey and her attempt to understand a very grown up topic—ends with extremely helpful follow up questions that will be highly valued by parents, child advocates, therapists, and others who wish to better serve children during this difficult time. I highly recommend this book to parents and professionals.

    Sacha Coupet, Ph.D., J.D. Clinical Psychologist and Associate Professor of Family Law, Loyola University, Chicago, IL

  • Family Changes: Explaining Divorce to Children is an outstanding book that is gentle, positive, and validating for both children and adults. With an excellent and informative parent guide about the value of talking to children about their feelings, a highly sensitive and engaging story with exquisite illustrations, and an effective list of questions that children typically ask, this book is essential reading for divorcing families, and for therapists and advocates working with children of divorce.

    Sandra A. Graham-Bermann, Ph.D., Professor of Psychology and Psychiatry, University of Michigan

  • Family Changes is an inspiring and exceptional book on divorce. It explains divorce in a developmentally appropriate and comforting language that validates children's complex feelings about divorce. Dr. Maker's expertise and years of experience working with children who are coping with the grief and confusion that often accompany divorce shine through in every page. I highly recommend this book to divorcing parents, schools, libraries, and professionals working with children of divorce.

    Martha Crowe, M.A. Child Development, Institute for Public Health, San Diego State University, CA

  • Dr. Maker has brought us this excellent child-centric educational book about how to navigate the changes of a family undergoing divorce. Dr. Maker takes us through this experience from the child's point of view and shares the gift of positive transformation that can occur during this life-changing time. The illustrations are sublime and the topic is handled so gently and ingeniously. Of course, it is written by a child psychologist with the gift of creativity. It's a book that every child therapist, library, school, and families going through a divorce should have on their shelves.

    Krista Royabal, M.D., Psychiatrist, Executive Medical Director, True Life Center for Wellbeing, CA

  • Based on the typical emotional turbulence a child feels from separation or divorce, Family Changes receives high recommendation as the first title that adults should turn to in the effort to explain, explore, and support a child's feelings in the matter, concluding with a list of 'process questions' which adults can use to further enhance the story line's overall approach.

    CA Bookwatch/Donovan’s Literary Services/Recommended Reading

  • The story touches on several key issues that children worry about - will their parents still love them, will they have two homes now, did they somehow cause the divorce, etc. The book also opens with a straightforward Note to Adults and ends with a list of questions that adults can discuss with children. Often books that do a good job of explaining divorce and separation are so focused on the child's point-of-view, that they don't offer any advice for the parents, caregivers, and teachers that are trying to help the child makes sense of it all. Family Changes avoids that problem and gives good guidelines for adults. I would recommend this book to parents and other family members, educators, and counselors.

    NetGalley Reviews/The Fairview Review - Librarian

  • This story is filled with little moments that reflect the nature of children perfectly. If you need to explain what it means to be divorced or separated to your child then this is one of the best ways to do that. The book is filled with relatable emotions and questions that a lot of children will have if their family is going through a separation. Dr. Maker’s years of experience are evident in the story as she masterfully addresses many common concerns for children experiencing a divorce in their family.

    The Littlest Bookshelf