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Smart Phones May Not Mean Smart Kids

February 7, 2019

I’m trying to think of anybody I know who doesn’t have a smart phone.  Can’t think of anybody.  How about you?  Here’s a word for your vocabulary-building this week: ubiquitous.  It means “everywhere.”  I’m thinking somebody should rename smart phones Ubiquitous Devices.  Nah.  That’ll never fly.  Too many syllables.

I’m a smart phone person, myself.  If it’s not in my pocket or in my hand, I feel naked and handicapped.  I use my iPhone all the time.  Sometimes I even make and receive phone calls on it.  Anybody out there get me on this?

Smart phones and wireless devices have made life better for me in so many ways.  I’d hate to have to go back to the days before iPhones and iPads and their twins from a different mother, the Android devices.  It would slow me down a ton.  I’m grateful for all the good things that technology has put in my lap.

But for families with kids at home, there’s a dark side of technology that every parent needs to know about and think about.  I’ll warn you, though, the truth about technology for kids and families is an inconvenient truth (to quote a very poor scientist from the last century).

Tons of data has been released from studies regarding the impact of “screen time” on children.  None of it is encouraging.  I don’t have the scientific background to write intelligently and authoritatively about the technical aspects of these studies, but I can report what they’re finding in two words: two hours.  These aforementioned studies all agree that the limit for children and screen time is two hours per day.  After that, there is nothing good that comes of time in front of screens.

Bad news here.  This “Screen Time” thing is about all screens, including the TV screen.  Wireless tablets, smart phones, computers, TV.  If it’s got a screen and your kid is watching it, two hours is the limit for positive outcomes.  Two hours, total.  Per day.

There are significant things that happen in a child’s brain as they look at images on a screen for an extended period of time.  Most of which are potentially very harmful.  When images are changing every 1.8 seconds or so, neuro pathways get overstimulated and stay overstimulated for a while, and this generally isn’t a good thing.  How long the effect and the negative aspects of it last depends on many factors, and is different for different individuals.  But the fact that this over-stimulation thing happens is a given.  It happens to everyone.  If you’ve ever had the experience of your kid getting especially feisty and grouchy after a session of video games, you know this brain-thing is real.

With video games, in addition to the screen time involved, the content and theme of the game is an important issue.  Gratuitous violence, sexual innuendos (or blatantly sexual content), inappropriate language (swearing and otherwise), story lines that have to do with executing crimes, and many other themes are part of the video game landscape, and if you want to keep these things out of your kid’s lifestyle, you’ll need to at least consider keeping them out of the game cabinet.  I’m not interested in tell you what games you can have in your home and which ones you can’t.  You’re the parent.  You make that call.  But, please, make a call!

There’s a lot more that can be said/written about video games, but my point on video games is for parents to know what their kids are playing and decide if what they’re playing is appropriate or not.  If it is, you might want to play, too.  But if it’s not, then step up and help them live within your boundaries.  And part of the boundary work needs to include how much time the games you say yes to can be played.

Back to the screen time issue.  I know that limiting your preschooler to under 2 hours of screen time per day will have some challenges for most families.  Especially if the kids have had free reign of devices.  You’re not likely to hear your kid say, “Hey Mom.  Can you cut me back to two hours with these things?”  You’ll probably end up with weeping and wailing and gnashing of teeth when you cut them back.

If you want to limit their screen time to 2 hours a day, you’ll have to have some replacement activities ready.  The younger your kids are, the more supervision they will need.  Duah.  So you’re not going to be able to set them up and go do what you want to do.  You may have to stay there and keep them from finger painting the kitchen or giving the cat a haircut.  And that will cost you time and energy.  Sorry.

When I typed “indoor activities for preschool kids” into Google, according to the message at the top of the screen, I got “about 94,500,000 results.”  Granted, not all of them are good.  Not all of them are free.  Some of them are just way not for you or your kids.  But, really, if you can’t find something to do out of 94,500,000 possibilities…

Back to the brain-thing for a minute.  The same part of the brain that is stimulated by cocaine gets stimulated by screen images.  If you’re thinking there might be some kind of connection there with addictions, you’re right.  Prolonged over-stimulation creates addiction issues.  And that ought to catch your breath.

If you do Facebook, you may have seen posts about teenagers going ballistic over having their devices taken away.  They have a small mental break-down.  Anxiety attacks.  Panic.  Fits of rage.

I’m not making any moral judgment about these kids.  I’m just making an observation that these are responses I’ve seen in addicts.  These are withdrawal responses.

Even if there weren’t these (and more) physiological/neurological issues involved, I think we’d need to take a close look at the screen time thing.  Among many other things, this one is my greatest concern.  Kids who spend hours and hours with screen time are not doing one particular thing that is essential to their development.  One thing that holds the potential to make or break them in their lives over time.  They’re not reading.  Or being read to.  You can make of that what you want, but for me, this is a big issue.  Huge.  Reading is an essential skill that has to be developed through practice.  Of course you’re free to disagree, but I believe if you want to set your kids up for their greatest successes in life, help them develop strong reading skills.  And even if your kid is exceptional, they won’t be able to do this while they have unlimited screen time.

All this has been about the problem, but not much (as in nothing) about what to do about it, other than set limits on screen time.  I’ve got more input on all this, but not until next time.

From → Marriage, Parenting

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