Should you really just chill out about your child’s screen usage?

Should you really just chill out about your child’s screen usage? 150 150 Jane Evans
Should you really be concerned about the effects screen time is having on your child?

According to a report by the Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health (RCPCH), no! In fact, you should just chill out about how often and how long your children are accessing screens. You can use their simple check list to assess your family’s habits, and rest easy. Beware though as the questions are embarrassingly unscientific, fluffy, lame, lazy, half-arsed and subjective. Quite honestly, it makes me wonder if Apple, Samsung and Sony funded the RCPCH report.

  • Is your family’s screen time under control? – defining ‘control’ might help, otherwise a family might spend hours on screens and think that’s the norm and they have it all under control. The whole point is that many families may have no idea unless some expert body comes up with clear research-based guidelines!
  • Does screen time interfere with what your family wants to do? – can this REALLY be a question set by an organisation ‘which oversees the training of specialists in child medicine (No I’m not making this up!) If a family wants to do hours of Minecraft together, then that’ll be a NO!
  • Does screen time interfere with sleep? – depending on what is known about the vital role of sleep for children’s development and all of our physical and mental well-being, this could also be a ‘no.’ Especially if there are misconceptions about catching up on sleep at the weekends.
  • Are you able to control snacking during screen time? – back to wondering what ‘control’ means as each family will have a different measure for it. Anyway, It’s not just snacking but also the fact that screen time keeps children inside and inactive which impacts all areas of their health and development, as well as any food they eat.
Time for a real study…

In America the National Institutes of Health have just begun a ‘$300-million study to examine the effects of screen time on developing brains’ is conducting real research. Unlike the seemingly irresponsible advice from the UK Royal College of Paediatrics and Child Health, the American study, ‘uses MRI scans to track the changes in brains of children who use screens at varying amounts.’

If screen use is no big deal, why are the Americans taking it so seriously? After all, $300-million is a bit more than pocket change. Are the UK experts right, wrong or just being ridiculously lazy? They reportedly said they did not see the need to set time screen time limits for children under 18 years as ‘there was not enough evidence that screen time was harmful to child health at any age.’  What do your day to day observations of what happens to your children on and off screens tell you?

What about applying common f*%@”^g sense?

Even without scanning children’s brains there are a few basics its damn hard to overlook or minimise UNLESS you are the RCPCH!

  1. Children’s brains develop rapidly in the first few years of life based on the incoming real-life sensory information and emotional responses they get from those around them. What they taste, smell, see, hear and feel both physically and emotionally within relationships is EVERYTHING. Children learn how to be healthy happy humans from other humans, not Peppa Pig!
  2. Speech and language develops when children are spoken to, hear it all around them, are read to and get to try out sounds and form words with you.
  3. The optimum environment for children to develop in, comes from having 4 adults they can regularly interact with on a face to face basis. Communication is a whole-being experience that just can not happen via screens.
  4. Children cannot unpack, understand or process their own emotions (let’s face it many adults struggle which is why they are on screens to numb their feelings out). Children of all ages through to adulthood, need regular small emotions-based interactions with adults, otherwise emotions build up and they get stressed and overwhelmed, and even sick.
  5. If a child is repeatedly given a screen their brain cells will connect up based upon how that feels for them. Does it make them feel OK, or stressed and miserable? Sadly in most cases, give a child, even a baby a screen and they are soon entranced by it. They no longer feel anything much, neither emotionally or physically, just like us.

Just by being given a phone or tablet, feel good pleasure seeking chemicals are released in their brain and nervous system, and so a pattern is created. Of course, when the screen is removed, boom they feel everything at once, their feelings, any physical discomforts and all the sensory stimulation around them. Hence, in many cases children then scream the place down, or get aggressive.

What to do?

The half-arsed attitude of Dr Viner, president of the RCPCH sends a message of it’s too late so we just need to get on with it. I totally disagree, so here are some pointers for you.

  1. It’s going to be tough to detox for you and your children so focus on your calmness, if you are already stressed to the eye-balls this will NOT go well!
  2. Remember exactly how it feels physically AND emotionally when you can’t have what you crave. Whether its that stress-reducing chocolate bar, coffee, glass of wine, 5 mile run, Facebook splurge or anything else. Tap into these sensations and emotions as that’s what your child will go through when you start the process of reducing screen time.
  3. If they are old enough, get them involved in some research on what parts of the brain light up when we are on screen. If this is good for us vs if it feels good?
  4. Get your child to become a detective of their life to see if there’s anything else they do that feels good and absorbs them as well. If not then you might have to start, slowly exploring and experimenting with alternatives, they could score them out of 10.
  5. Make a pact that all meals will be screen free, and get them to decide on other times when you will ALL be off screens. Don’t put rewards and consequences in for this as that’s going to create a further dependency on external stuff.
  6. When bringing a child off a screen do it slowly and with compassion. If you were in the middle of your favourite TV programme, right at the bit where….and some one turned if off or started yelling at you to, it would drive you nuts. 

Go sit with them, show interest in what they are doing and gently introduce that it’s time to go do…..If they react, breathe, breathe again, and empathise…

‘I’m sorry it feels so tough to turn off your game, can we screen shot where you are up to? Is it making you feel sad, or cross?’

I know this will take time, but for a while this is the way it will need to be.

7. Get ready for your children catch you out, and to work to model screen free time and being emotionally present for and with them.

8. Laugh about the times you all struggle, don’t tease them, but just make it light-hearted.

9. Know that this may take a while to transition so YOU need to be totally committed and have support.

Returning to the American study, initial findings aren’t surprising…

‘The first batch of results from the study,.……shows that kids who spent more than two hours per day on screens scored lower on language and thinking tests.’

Also bear in mind that Steve Jobs of Apple fame and Bill Gates of Microsoft, both limited their children’s screen usage, which should have been a bit of a red flag for us all! A final chilling insight comes from Tristan Harris, a former Google manager, 

‘…there’s a narrative that, oh, I guess they’re just doing this like we used to gossip on the phone, but what this misses is that the telephone in the 1970’s didn’t have a thousand engineers on the other side…who were redesigning it to work with other telephones and then updating the way your telephone worked every day to be more and more persuasive.’

Jane Evans

Jane is a ‘learn the hard way’ person. She has learnt from her personal experiences and her direct work with people who have often been in really bad places emotionally, relationally, practically and sometimes professionally.

All stories by: Jane Evans
  • Caro Eardley

    Hi Jane – I’m a new fan of your work! Loved your Ted Talk @ Bristol…

    Just wanted to add another idea to this excellent post – I’ve seen some studies – here is one: – that should trigger all parents about the danger – not really publicised – of exposing babies and children to EMFs – which are emitted from all devices! No one is shouting about this but they should be…I’ve seen one study where brain scans demonstrated that it takes 40 minutes for a 10/12 year old child’s brain waves to return to normal after using a (probably old) mobile phone for a few minutes….

    I’m by no means an expert on this topic but EMFs are just about everywhere these days and last week an Australianscientist was warning that G5 networks are going to seriously increase exposure to EMFs. It’s just another of those topics where very little science gets funded because the manufacturers of these devices would really rather that we didn’t even explore this issue…please don’t think I’m doing a Marvin the Paranoid Android here but my own experience of having used and still using computers all day every day inclines me to think there are a variety of health problems that seem to be connected with constant EMF exposure…

    Just my sixpence worth but hope it is of some interest to you.

    Kind regards

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