Parenting in the Digital World: Managing Screen Time

Parenting in the Digital World
Developing Minds and the Impact of Screen Time
Azmaira H. Maker, Ph.D.
Licensed Clinical Psychologist
Founder and Director: Aspiring Families, Center for Mental Health and Wellness

Parents often worry about the amount of time their child is spending on electronics and how it is affecting their social skills, motivation, attention, emotional regulation, and neurological functioning. Screen time has become the primary source of information and entertainment for children, and the American Pediatric Association estimates that children in the U.S. spend an average of 7 hours a day on media devices.

Neuro-psychological Impact

A critical question to ask is does screen time affect neurological functioning, and if so what is the impact? The research indicates a relationship between screen time and an increase in stress, anxiety, frustration, impulsivity, and poor emotional regulation. There are also critical changes associated with neurobiology, including the release of dopamine, increased need for stimulation and instant gratification, decrease in focus and attention, sleep difficulties, and sensory overload. Screen addiction can also lead to grey matter shrinkage (where processing occurs), frontal lobe shrinkage (where executive functioning occurs, such as planning and organizing), striatum shrinkage (where reward pathways and impulse control of socially unacceptable behaviors occur), insula damage (where our capacity to develop empathy and compassion occurs), loss of integrity of white matter (these are the connective pathways for communication within the brain), and a reduced number of dopamine receptors, which is linked to depression.

Tips and Tools

Perhaps the next important step is for parents, teachers, and professionals to be better informed on how to manage screen time for their children from infancy to young adulthood. Many parents continue to struggle with managing electronics with their children which often leads to power struggles, family conflict, co-parenting conflict, and disrupted trust and communication. There are ways to decrease power struggles, family conflicts, and helplessness by restricting your child’s screen time in healthy ways.

Here are some possibilities:

  • Enforce lights and electronics off for a sufficient 8-9 hours of sleep.
  • Only 1-2 hours of any type of screen time a day, recommended by the American Medical Association
  • Create electronic free zones: meals, car rides, bed time, HW (media free), school, etc.
  • Create 10-15 minute breaks for your child when working for thirty minutes to one hour at a stretch on the computer (brain re-set).
  • Set clear and consistent rules and expectations.
  • Establish co-parenting agreements that are enforced equally.
  • Use positive reinforcement in conjunction with appropriate consequences for compliance and non-compliance.
  • Provide research articles and facts to your child, so that they are informed and educated.
  • Encourage your child to participate in conversations about the pros and cons of electronics.
  • Organize and facilitate extracurricular activities, sports, hobbies, and social get-togethers.
  • Family Time: 30-60 minutes of electronic free, FUN, family time daily.

In sum, the research suggests that excessive screen time has a direct and negative effect on the bio-psycho-social development of children. Parents, schools, pediatricians, professionals, and researchers need to continue to pay close attention to and intervene with screen time in structured and consistent ways across domains to foster the healthy bio-psycho-social development of our children.

References
1. https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/mental-wealth/201402/gray-matters-too-much-screen-time-damages-the-brain
2. www.kappanonline.org/rosen-distracted-student-mind-attention
3. Book: iGen: Why Today’s Super-Connected Kids Are Growing Up Less Rebellious, More Tolerant, Less Happy–and Completely Unprepared for Adulthood–and What That Means for the Rest of Us.
4. Investigating the effects of screen time on children: Can screen time be addictive and is it really harmful to my child’s cognitive and socio-emotional development.
 

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