The Screens are Changing Him

February 22, 2020

I never thought I'd say it, but I can't wait for spring sports to start. With no basketball players, avid skiers or hockey players, I love winter because the schedules are lighter, the driving load is less, and we can hunker down, curl up and spend more time together as a family. For years, everyone bought in to movie marathons, cooking contests and game nights. Then along came Shane. He is an outdoor, active, kid, and we've been doing a lousy job supporting who he is. A couple of day ski trips, ice skating last weekend, a road trip here or there, but generally, we have let him play on his Nintendo switch, watch stupid YouTube videos (which he laughs out loud at, and I am quite certain are indicative of a complete lack of creativity and taste on his part) and connect with friends and cousins remotely via Minecraft. It is admittedly not great parenting, but when I don't have the energy to redirect, I have been letting it go, and screen time has been his winter crutch.

The effects are starting to show. He is less focused with homework, far less organized, less helpful around the house, not necessarily rude or mean, but more snarky. Unlike Shane, his twin, Charlie, likes to read, pretend play and build legos. He is engaging with screens too often as well, but in general, he is more content with restricted physical activity, and I haven't noticed any changes in him this winter.

OK. So, I see what's happening. Now what? Heaven knows I'm not gonna become a cold weather outdoorsy woman.

  • Step 1: Acknowledge the problem. 
    -- Children who used screens for long times every day (7 hours) were found on MRI to have significantly poorer integrity between the white matter connections in the parts of the brain that support language and literacy skills. As little as 2 hours a day showed lower scores in vocabulary and literacy tests.
    -- Blue light emitted by screens can alter sleep patterns, resulting in inadequate rest and time for all the critical brain work that is done while we sleep
    -- Too much screen time affects impulse control and healthy decision making
    -- Violent games do what you think they would do, predispose a child to anxiety and anger

  • Step 2: Educate your child.
    -- Our kids are capable of understanding far more than we sometimes think.
    -- If you restrict screen time without an explanation, it will feel like a punishment. With a discussion of the health hazards associated, it can hopefully feel like love.
    -- Make a plan together for staying active and busy even in these cold months. Focus on the things you will do, not the restrictions you are imposing.

  • Step 3: (Here is the hard part) Lead by example.
    -- Put down your phone. Leave it in another room. Take a walk outside. Read a real book. Play a real game. Even if you aren't doing it with your child, he or she will absorb what you are doing more than what you say.

     

     

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About Dr. Karen Latimer

I’m a family physician now struggling to take care of a bunch of kids who keep calling me Mom. When I’m not wiping butts, refereeing sibling rivalry and chauffeuring over-scheduled little people, I write a family medical blog that gives you five thoughts on all sorts of different health topics.