Isaac Garfield MSS, LCSW - Psychotherapy, Groups, & Coaching

Supporting your child in developing a healthy relationship with electronics for optimal brain, emotional and social skill development.

Supporting your child in developing a healthy relationship with electronics for optimal brain, emotional and social skill development

  There is a growing body of evidence that shows that too much screen time and the content of the screen time can negatively influence brain structure and function (gray matter atrophy).  In addition, excessive and/or unhealthy screen time leads to a decline in academic performance, compromises young people’s ability to focus, read emotions/develop social skills, maintain healthy weight, and puts children at risk of cyberbullying and pedophiles.

So, what can you do to support your child in developing a healthy relationship with electronics? The following is a list of steps that will be described in more detail below:

1) Model a healthy relationship with electronics,
Make a plan to show your children that electronic devices don’t have to control your life. For example, turn of the TV and refrain from using your phone during mealtime.  Shut down your computer, TV, and other devices an hour before bed and if you are in the middle of playing or conversing with your child, do not pick up the phone, send a text or look at social media.  Make a pact with your partner or other parents to follow through on this plan and periodically check in with each other about your progress.

2) Educate your children on the benefits and risks of digital media consumption
Depending on their age, they may already be aware of the benefits and risks of various screen time activities through conversations with peers, educational programs at school (e.g. anti-bullying programs), or their own experience.  If they are younger explain to them the concept of moderation, and the influence on their brain (the brain turning to mush metaphor is not too far off from the truth).  Talk to them about social skill development and explain that we are social humans and need face to face contact for our well being and development. Tell them about self-esteem and discuss issues around cyber bullying and the distorted images of how beauty and sex are often portrayed. Finally review the impact that excessive screen time can have on physical health including sleep and obesity, and about the importance of protecting personal information online.

3) Set time limits, specifying the setting for usage, using monitoring and control devices,
Dr. Kimberly Young, an expert on preventing and addressing Internet and gaming addictions recommends the following time limitations:

For children: 
0-2 years Rules: Never/ Nowhere (says the American Academy of Pediatrics)
3-5 years Rules: One Hour a Day - under parental supervision. Avoid multiplatform such as ipad/smartphone. Appropriate activities now are: 1. Uses an eReader for story time 2. Sorting shapes and finding hidden objects on mobile apps 3. Access to electronic toys that educate and teach numbers, letters, and vowel sounds
5-12 years- Two hours. Rules: Supervised Use, play active video games with family.  If you are not sure about a game’s content, use the Entertainment Software Rating Board app (it is free) to judge its appropriateness.
13-18 years- Two hours a day max (includes family video game time).  If rules are broken you should be firm with consequences, including confiscating….. You must confiscate all screen devices for 24 hours and lock up technology at night (or else they will sneak online).
As Dr, Young states, it’s important that electronic devices should be used in public settings, where they can be monitored, to block inappropriate content and so kids won’t use them to avoid social interaction.
Many parents are also investing in software and applications that restrict inappropriate content and the amount of time kids spend on these devices.  You can also preinstall antivirus software and even settings in your computer, tablet, or phone that enable parents to control the amount of time children spend online (search for 'parental controls' on your devices).  For a list of applications and reviews see: Tom’s guide for the 10 best parental control apps

4) Support your child in developing social and emotional skills to nurture positive relationships with family and peers 
Children must learn sharing, reciprocity, vulnerability, emotional control and communication skills to have successful relationships and to meet their attachment needs. These skills are hard to come by through watching a screen and attachment needs cannot be truly met without physical contact.   The best way for children to learn these skills is for their parent(s) to model them.    If you have questions about how to do this, consider seeing an individual or family therapist who is knowledgeable and experienced with these problems.

5) Create opportunities to help your children engage in activities that support holistic development
Whether it’s art, music, dance, theater, or sports, children greatly benefit physically, socially, and emotionally from these dynamic activities.   Make a commitment to support your child in at least one extracurricular activity per season whether it is an organized program or an activity that you create yourself (preferably with other children involved and parents helping you in the planning and execution).

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