We understand that limiting your child’s screen time may at times be fodder for tantrums, meltdowns, and sour moods, but it doesn’t have to be a battle of wills. As with most things in life (and health), it’s all about moderation and consistency. In this post, we’ll pull from our pediatric care expertise to help you and your family develop healthy screen time practices.
First, it’s important to understand the impact that screen time has on your child’s brain…
It likely goes without saying but digital devices are downright addictive. Studies reveal that the brain gets so captivated by the colors, shapes, sounds, and overall interactivity of screen media that it responds by producing dopamine, a neurotransmitter that helps to control the brain’s reward and pleasure centers.
Because of this dopamine boost, kids enter into an almost trance-like state, as if in another world, when engaging with their digital devices. This overwhelming sensation can make it difficult, perhaps even painful, for them to disengage from the media they’re consuming. So when your child balks (or worse) at having to put down his iPad, it’s likely not because he’s willfully being difficult — his mind and body are responding to the sudden drop of dopamine, which is quite powerful.
So what can you do to better manage these all-consuming devices?
1. Practice gentle disconnection.
Trying to snap your children out of this hypnotic state is like pulling the rug right out from under them. Instead of using time sanctioned warnings like, “5 more minutes then it’s time for homework!” – try inviting yourself into their digital world.
When you need to disrupt your kids’ screen time, start by sitting down next to them and asking questions about what they’re watching or what game they’re playing. Starting a mindful dialogue will allow the dopamine “high” to taper off and encourage your kid to disengage in a less jarring way – and reconnect with you in the process.
2. Create a family screen time schedule.
Create a family plan for when digital devices can be used and for how long. We think less is more, so consider screens off limits on weekdays, for example. As a family, carve out “device free” times when you and your family disengage from your screens and engage with each other. Make meal times “no screen” zones.
It’s all about being consistent and mindful about the rules that you set. Remember, your children learn by example and they’re watching you. If you’re telling them to put the iPad down while you yourself are glued to your phone, your directive will likely fall on deaf ears or fuel an argument.
3. Do not allow screen time at bedtime.
Bedtime can be a challenge for some kids and digital devices can only make matters worse. Screen time can sabotage quality sleep and make it difficult for young minds to settle down for the night. We suggest ending screen time at least an hour before bedtime and sticking with good old-fashioned book reading, which is essential for your child’s language development among many other benefits.
4. Choose high-quality kid-friendly content.
Just as important as the amount of time your time child spends watching a screen so is the quality of the content they’re consuming. There are many high-quality educational apps and games for children that can aid in their development. Try to engage in the content with your kids so you can make sure they’re making sense of what they’re seeing.
5. Make time for outside play.
Offsetting your child’s screen time with outside play is essential for aiding face-to-face interaction, physical activity, and hands-on exploration, all of which are important aspects of childhood development.
Also, the more time kids spend glued to a screen, the less time they’re spending outside soaking up direct sunlight, which acts as a natural eyesight enhancer. Therefore, too much screen time and not enough sunshine can negatively impact your child’s eyesight.
For a deeper dive into this and the sun’s many benefits, check out our post Sunlight: Growing Healthy Kids from the Outside In, where you can also find tips for getting San Francisco kids safe and sufficient sun exposure.
Let’s GetzWell help.
We’d love to work with you on devising a safe and mindful family screen time strategy. Give call us at our San Francisco offices at 415-826-1701 to learn more.