Screens and Children’s Brain Development – by Angela Pruess

If you are a parent and haven’t been living in isolation for the last decade, you are well aware of the vast amount of hype surrounding the effects of screen time on our child’s developing brain.
Here’s the thing though- it’s no longer hype but straight up massive heaps of scientific research. The negative implications of screen time and brain development cover a broad spectrum of areas in child development including physical health (obesity), emotional health, behavior, sleep quality and social interaction.
Due to the preponderance of neurological evidence in combination with behavioral studies indicating that screen time had the potential to disrupt multiple areas of children’s lives, the diagnosis of “Internet Use Disorder” has been added to recent versions of the DSM (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders).
In addition we now know without a doubt that screen time habits have the potential to become addictive, as our brain’s reward center is repeatedly triggered with the instant gratification effect of video games and social media, creating a release of the feel good chemical dopamine.

So what is a concerned and well-meaning parent to do? After all, screens are an inescapable reality for our children woven into the fabric of daily life. Luckily, there is an answer that both parent and child can feel good about, and it is practicing intentionality with our child and their relationship with screens.

What exactly does being intentional about the way our child interacts with technology look like?
A combination of several important factors including parent awareness, limit setting, and ongoing involvement.

Parent Awareness

When our children get to an age where they are able to interact with technology, it often elicits a response along the lines of “Alleluia I can clean the bathroom in peace!”, but don’t be fooled by the temporary appearance of independence and maturity. Children lack the necessary brain development required to make healthy decisions on what they’re exposed to.

It is up to parents to stay informed of and monitor their child’s interaction with screens. This means being the gatekeeper of all media brought into the house including television, video games and social media. Take some time to look into the research on screens and brain development and figure out where your thoughts and values lay because parent awareness with technology is key to supporting your child’s well being.

Limit Setting

Research tells us that screen time usage going beyond the APA recommended time of 2 hours a day correlates with lower academic performance, as well as increased attention deficit symptoms, making it of vital importance for parents to monitor the amount of time their child is engaging with a screen everyday. When parents set fair time limits for screens and enforce them consistently with a logical explanation, children often come to learn and respect the boundary. The screen time tracker from Kidibank™ is a fantastic way for parents to begin negotiating these limits with their child.

We also know that a myriad of negative symptoms such as increased aggression are seen when children are exposed to violent and inappropriate media content. Many parents are stunned to discover that when viewing violent or anxiety provoking content, our child’s brain often reacts in a similar fashion to how they’d react to an actual traumatic event with stress hormones and all. Kids today have so much stress in their lives already, why would we seek to increase that?

Ongoing Involvement  

As most of us have stood in line for an iPhone ourselves, parents are fully aware that technology is ever changing and for that reason, getting in tune with our child’s screen habits is not a one-time deal. When we expose our child to technology in our home the burden lies with the parent to maintain ongoing conversation around the thoughts and opinions of both parent and child.

Parents have the power to help their child establish healthy habits with technology, through reasonable limit setting, cultivating ongoing awareness of content available and ongoing discussion. On the days it may feel overwhelming, parents can take comfort knowing that laying the groundwork for a positive relationship with screens is a skill that can’t be undervalued when it comes to the future of their child.
Using the Kidibank™ screen time tool allows parents to limit, track and manage each child’s individual media exposure effectively to allow for true active childhood moments. Find out more at www.kidibank.com

 

Angela Pruess, LMFT, is a Child and Family Therapist and special needs parent on a mission to support and empower parents of behaviorally challenging kids.  Over at parentswithconfidence.com, she wants to make life easier for you by decoding your child’s maddening behaviors, as well as their developmental and emotional needs. When she’s not supporting parents, or seeing kids in her private practice, she is at home being challenged (a lot) by her own three kids (and sometimes husband). Follow her on facebook.