Stop the battles over screens and take back childhood for your kids
Ugh. Not another article about screen time. I know, I know—don’t let my kids spend too much time on screens. It is bad for them. I get it.
As mothers we are faced with so many do’s and don’ts. Less screen time, more unstructured play, less sugar, more vegetables and the list goes on. What is all the fuss about? Are screens really that bad?
Raising kids in the digital age is so tough. Screens, video games, cell phones, even electronic billboards are everywhere constantly competing for our kids’ attention. When my son was born in 2017, I made the decision to raise him mostly screen free while he was an infant. (We still watched baseball and football in our house:) The American Academy of Pediatrics came out with a policy statement in 2016 that recommended no screens until 18-24 months. It said “children younger than 2 years need hands-on exploration and social interaction with trusted caregivers to develop their cognitive, language, motor, and social-emotional skills.” (Pediatrics (2016) 138 (5): e20162591.) I thought that sounded good and it wasn’t too difficult in those early years.
Then, COVID hit. Life as we knew it halted. All of the fun activities like Books to Boogie and JumpBunch and music class at the MIM were canceled. Some went on-line. I tried to put my 2 year old in front of my computer to beat the homemade drum I made out of Tupperware but it just wasn’t the same. When it was time to close the computer after class, my son would throw epic tantrums, screaming “NOOO! More!” The problem wasn’t the online class, it was the ad or video that would pop up and catch his attention. He wanted to watch it. Then watch another…and another….and another…..He turned into a crack addict looking for another fix. It didn’t feel right, so I stopped opening my computer in order for us to interact with the outside world.
It was hard and lonely. We spent a lot of time going on endless bike rides, playing golf, making sensory bins and swinging at empty parks that year. Then when the world re-emerged, we were excited. Yay! People! But something was different. We went to the park to play but no one was there. We asked friends to go on bike rides but the kids didn’t know how to ride a bike. I asked a friend what they did after school. The answer surprised me. “We watch YouTube or play Minecraft.”
I was unsure. I had heard that kids these days socialize over video games. Was my son missing out on friendships because he wasn’t playing Minecraft? I started researching and reading. I played Super Mario Brothers and Tetris when I was a kid and I turned out OK. What could be the harm in letting my son socialize with his friends over a video game?
What I uncovered shocked me. Many videos, apps and games today are designed to grab kids’ attention and give them a feeling of pleasure that keeps them wanting more. This can lead to harmful addictive behaviors in our kids and so much more. When something is potentially harming our children, we as parents need to raise awareness and make better choices for our families. I discovered Screen Strong (screenstrong.org) which is not an “anti-screen” or “screen free” community, but rather they recommend the removal of toxic screen use for kids—platforms like violent video games, porn, and social media. I listened to a podcast with ScreenStrong founder Melanie Hempe interviewing Dr. Adriana Stacey, a child psychiatrist, about screen use in kids and what devastation it has caused in so many lives. I started reading about brain science, the dopamine effect and how screens are disrupting the normal development of our child’s brains.
I want to share what I learned with all of you and how the ScreenStrong solution to this problem is fresh and simple and much easier than you can imagine. It is time to take back childhood for our kids too and when you do, my son and I would love to meet you at the park! If you are sick of the endless screen battles and want to reconnect your family please go to ScreenStrong.org for more information.