Ep. 52: Learn How to Avoid Dreaded Screen Time Addiction in Kids
Screen time addiction remains a topic that is near and dear to me because I feel that I have a front-row seat watching this epidemic occur. In several of my previous posts, I have shared the need to acknowledge that electronic device addiction is real and highlighted the negative impact on parent education during a physician office visit. More importantly, I have shared some severe, potentially catastrophic health risks and complications from excess screen time use.
Recently in one of my physician online networks, an article was shared that impacted us all a great deal. It has apparently been shared on social media for several years; however, the original website is no longer active. Why? Because keeping an online presence takes a lot of work. I love sharing information on blogs and podcasts but let me tell you, it is no joke! It is extremely time-consuming and my hat goes off to young physicians who are doing what I am doing while building their careers and families.
Increasing numbers of physicians and healthcare providers are sounding the alarm about the impact of excessive screen use on the developing bodies of young kids. A fellow pediatric physician shared his thoughts of the silent tragedy of excess screen time usage while referencing a mental health practitioner who apparently also highlighted the work of the original author. The original author, Dr. Marcos, is a psychiatrist who initially may have shared his concerns at a United Nations Educational event.
I am an empty nester in the final phase of my medical career so I am willing to continue to do this work, on my own schedule. But sadly, many physicians must stop maintaining websites and podcast hosting to focus on other aspects of their lives. Nevertheless, the content of this important article has been copied, saved and shared on numerous websites and blogs. And now, I will share it here for you because it continues to speak the truth:
A SILENT TRAGEDY
(Article written by Dr. Luis Rojas Marcos, Psychiatrist)
There is a silent tragedy that is unfolding today in our homes and concerns our most precious jewels: our children. Our children are in a devastating emotional state! In the last 15 years, researchers have given us increasingly alarming statistics on a sharp and steady increase in childhood mental illness that is now reaching epidemic proportions:
Statistics do not lie:
• 1 in 5 children have mental health problems
• A 43% increase in ADHD has been noted
• A 37% increase in adolescent depression has been noted
• There has been a 200% increase in the suicide rate in children aged 10 to 14
What is happening and what are we doing wrong?
Today’s children are being over-stimulated and over-gifted with material objects, but they are deprived of the fundamentals of a healthy childhood, such as:
• Emotionally available parents
• Clearly defined limits
• Balanced nutrition and adequate sleep
• Movement in general but especially outdoors
• Creative play, social interaction, unstructured game opportunities and boredom spaces
Instead, in recent years, children have been filled with:
• Digitally distracted parents
• Indulgent and permissive parents who let children “rule the world” and whoever sets the rules
• A sense of right, of deserving everything without earning it or being responsible for obtaining it
• Inadequate sleep and unbalanced nutrition
• A sedentary lifestyle
• Endless stimulation, technological nannies, instant gratification and absence of boring moments
What to do?
If we want our children to be happy and healthy individuals, we have to wake up and get back to basics. It is still possible! Many families see immediate improvements after weeks of implementing the following recommendations:
• Set limits and remember that you are the captain of the ship. Your children will feel more confident knowing that you have control of the helm.
• Offer children a balanced lifestyle full of what children NEED, not just what they WANT. Don’t be afraid to say “no” to your children if what they want is not what they need.
• Provide nutritious food and limit junk food.
• Spend at least one hour a day outdoors doing activities such as: cycling, walking, fishing, bird / insect watching
• Enjoy a daily family dinner without smartphones or distracting technology.
• Play board games as a family or if children are very small for board games, get carried away by their interests and allow them to rule in the game
• Involve your children in some homework or household chores according to their age (folding clothes, ordering toys, hanging clothes, unpacking food, setting the table, feeding the dog etc.)
• Implement a consistent sleep routine to ensure your child gets enough sleep. The schedules will be even more important for school-age children.
• Teach responsibility and independence. Do not overprotect them against all frustration or mistakes. Misunderstanding will help them build resilience and learn to overcome life’s challenges,
• Do not carry your children’s backpack, do not carry their backpacks, do not carry the homework they forgot, do not peel bananas or peel oranges if they can do it on their own (4-5 years). Instead of giving them the fish, teach them to fish.
• Teach them to wait and delay gratification.
• Provide opportunities for “boredom”, since boredom is the moment when creativity awakens. Do not feel responsible for always keeping children entertained.
• Do not use technology as a cure for boredom, nor offer it at the first second of inactivity.
• Avoid using technology during meals, in cars, restaurants, shopping centers. Use these moments as opportunities to socialize by training the brains to know how to work when they are in mode: “boredom”
• Help them create a “bottle of boredom” with activity ideas for when they are bored.
• Be emotionally available to connect with children and teach them self-regulation and social skills:
• Turn off the phones at night when children have to go to bed to avoid digital distraction.
• Become a regulator or emotional trainer for your children. Teach them to recognize and manage their own frustrations and anger.
• Teach them to greet, to take turns, to share without running out of anything, to say thank you and please, to acknowledge the error and apologize (do not force them), be a model of all those values you instill.
• Connect emotionally – smile, hug, kiss, tickle, read, dance, jump, play or crawl
I cannot tell you how loudly I was shouting while reading Dr. Marcos’ post: YES! YES! ONE THOUSAND TIMES YES! Parents need to take heed of these warnings. They are no longer hypothetical. The results are being seen daily and it is never too late to begin to reverse the trend. Regardless of how old your child is, please consider making changes to your child’s electronic device usage!
My #1 tip to reduce consequences of screen time addiction
Although the article posted above includes many of the things I personally feel parents need to consider to avoid screen time addiction, I want to use my own voice to share my number 1 tip. We all receive information in different ways and sometimes it is better understood when you know the source. And the fact that you are visiting my website, well I guess that means you know and trust my words. You know who I am and that I only seek to provide healthcare tips to as many people as I can.
I believe the essence of attacking this screen time addiction crisis starts with addressing that it is actually present and then discussing what approach you want to take to deal with it.
The time has passed to debate whether or not screen time addiction is a real thing. It is real, and it has real consequences. The question before you now is…what are you going to do to protect your family?
Establish clear family rules for electronic use
Countless articles can be found online with suggestions on how to reduce screen time addiction. In a nutshell, I think the answer lies in establishing clear lines of communication.
Kids respond best when they understand your expectations. Do they know their bedtime? How about teenagers knowing what time they need to return home at night? Parents know they must give a clear curfew to avoid teens from returning home at 2 am when you want them home by midnight.
Well, the same applies to the use of electronic devices. Have you clearly established rules for when you do or do not want them to use devices? How about having the rules and expectations written down and reviewed on a regular basis? You may opt to change the rules as your children get older; nevertheless, the written expectations should be known to kids.
I believe that many parents have not adequately decided how they want their kids to use electronics. Many parents are going with the flow and reduce screen time use on a sporadic basis. Whether you follow the recommendations of the American Academy of Pediatrics or you make up your own, I suggest you commit to your beliefs. Then write them down and share them with your kids.
Of course, the kids will want to revolt! Who doesn’t want to fight new restrictions on something that you have been doing? Or that you perceive “everyone else in the world” is doing? A child’s job is to fight for what they want, and parents have the job of enforcing what they believe is best for kids. Parenting is not a democracy. Kids give input, but parents make the decision.
Also, it is important for parents to model the behavior they want from their kids. Yes, I mean parents need to “walk the walk”.
How does it impact your children when you tell them to turn off a video game while you sit in front of the TV or mindlessly scroll on your smartphone? This does not do anyone any good! It is very important for you to set healthy limits on your personal electronics use for your own sake, as well as your child’s sake. Adults are not immune to some of the health consequences of excessive screen time use. Just saying.
Here are a few suggestions that you could implement. It does not have to be all of them, but can you choose 1-2 and make them a normal part of your life. Every bit of reduced electronic usage is a good thing:
- Do not use digital devices during meals.
- No screen time in the car.
- Avoid screens in bedrooms.
- Do not mindlessly watch TV while doing homework
- No electronics use during family fun or game nights.
- Use electronic devices to play music during chores or other activities. No need to interact with the device but its presence is still appreciated.
- Consider some method to actually track screen time use. You will be surprised at how much it is used. Easier to reduce once you see the amount.
These are good tips that many people share, but now I want to share two of my personal favorite tips that I think should be implemented immediately:
- TURN OFF ALL ELECTRONICS WHEN TALKING WITH A PHYSICIAN WHERE YOU NEED TO FOCUS ON IMPORTANT INFORMATION BEING SHARED
- Here are some examples of non-electronic entertainment you might consider.
- Just make it a habit, regardless of convenience. Remember, parenting is not convenient.
- THE VOLUME MUST ALWAYS BE OFF WHENEVER YOUR CHILD USES A DEVICE.
- It truly is exceptionally rude to force everyone around you to listen to your child’s device.
- I mean, at what age would you consider this to be rude? Most people would hate teens and adults to play music out loud. Well, they also hate it when toddlers do it.
- If you must use the device, begin using headphones that are made for kids of all ages. Check out Amazon, and you will find many to choose from.