Part 1: Kids’ Brains and Screens
Hi. This is Melanie Hempe and I’ve been waiting for months, even years, to introduce you to our Screenstrong course. If you are worried about kids and screens, this is for you.
In fact, today may be the day you’ll look back on and remember where you were when you decided to make screen changes in your home.
I have this day, too. I’ll never forget it. Back when my oldest son was very addicted to video games, I was driving him home from his first year of college (and I remember exactly where I was on the interstate – I could probably even remember the exit) when my son said,
“Mom, this video game did something to me. I’ve been in bed for over a week.”
I was floored! Of course I was driving so I had to keep focused on the road, but it was at that moment when I realized what had happened to him. I finally understood the root of all the conflict in our home – his video game addiction. We loved him so much. He was so sweet and such a great kid, I thought he was going to go to college and outgrow his gaming habit. But that didn’t happen. In fact, he played much more than he had ever played at home. He played to the point where he quit going to classes. So today I’m going to share with you how this course came to be and how it will help you if you’re worried about your kids and screens.
This first story is really important because when we got home, we spent a number of months figuring out what to do. One of the biggest things I had to figure out was what happened to my son. Why did he get addicted to a video game? How could someone get addicted to a video game?
I started attending medical conferences. As a nurse who graduated from Emory, I have a lot of contacts so I started calling them. I was looking for someone to explain to me what had happened to my son because back in 2012 we didn’t have a lot of information on video game addictions like we do today. So, I traveled, researched, and read every book I could get my hands on. I knew I had to share my findings so I started doing workshops.
I remember the first workshop we did was at our school and we put up a little flier. It wasn’t even an email, just a flier on the front door of the school that said: “If you’re struggling with video games in your house, we’re having a meeting next week.” Do you know we had over 125 people come to this meeting? It was amazing and sad at the same time. There were so many concerned parents.
That first workshop marked the beginning of what I’m sharing and what is available for you today. I created a Powerpoint presentation with slides that had everything I wish I had known about kids, screens and child development. It showed what happens to kids when they play video games and later, of course, I added the social media component.
Every year the presentation gets better because I continue to do a tremendous amount of research. I’ve become good friends with a lot of the guests that you have heard on our podcast. Over the years, the research has become so robust. When Covid hit, we struggled getting out on the road. As we transitioned to Zoom meetings, I took that time to fine-tune this content and build an online course so more people would be able to benefit from these findings.
I just wanted you to know that this course has been years in the making. I hope it will benefit your family, too.
Imagine never arguing about screen time with your kids. Think about that for a minute. Picture what it would be like to take all the conflicts, heated discussions, and screen arguments off the table. It’s the most amazing change and I’m glad to be able to share it with you.
Choosing the Screenstrong path is the best thing we’ve done in our home. And we’ve done it both ways. We took one path with Adam and you know how that worked out. Now, we have a different path available to us with the rest of our kids, and that is the Screenstrong path. And it is so much better.
Our life has been helped by all the information I’m going to share with you today. I know some of you will worry when you see the price of the course, but I want to tell you one thing before I dive in. I want you to know that what you’re going to get in this course is worth way more than one counseling session, but the price of the course is less than a counseling visit. That should help put things into perspective.
This course has two parts: Kids’ Brains and Screens and The Solution. Really there are 3 parts because when you purchase the course, you will get access to the 30-day version of the Screenstrong Challenge. This will encourage you to take a much-needed screen break to reconnect with your family.
What is the Kids’ Brains and Screens Course?
The average child spends over fifty-two hours a week in front of electronic media. It is no longer a question as to why managing screens, from toddlers to teens, has quickly become the largest parenting challenge today. This science-backed course provides the education families need to change their lifestyle and begin to live a family-centered life rather than technology-centered one.
This content is perfect for all families, easy to understand, and can be used individually or in a group setting.
The Kids’ Brains and Screens Course (the KBS) contains 8 lessons:
- Healthy Brain Development
- The Teenage Brain
- Brains & Screens
- Smartphones & Social Media
- Video Games
- The Dark Side of Screens
- School Screens
- The Teen Mental Health Crisis
Here are some highlights from the course.
Healthy Brain Development
The first section of the KBS is all about Healthy Brain Development and it lays the groundwork for everything that follows. This section covers:
- How the brain develops
- How executive function skills grow
- Additional skills that are needed for healthy brain development
Through the use of videos, flippable true/false cards, and a clickable brain, this section is purposefully interactive so that you will be able to go through it with your kids. This lesson will teach you how the brain grows and develops, including a section on how to bolster executive function in teens and tweens.
The section on Healthy Brain Development also goes into the stages of childhood and how to help kids develop healthy identities. This is so important. The benefits of teaching life skills and emotional intelligence cannot be underestimated. Here, we share the specific activities that will encourage healthy brain development.
The Teenage Brain
The teen brain is a work in progress.
Because there’s so much to understand about the teenage brain this topic has made for an entire section. This lesson is full of all the little secrets that you didn’t know about why your teenagers act the way they act so you will no longer be upset or shocked by their uncharacteristic behavior. It is really important for you to sit down and go through this with your teenager. We did that with our kids. And, once we did, we had the language to use with them as we discussed our parenting decisions.
When I said “your amygdala is on overdrive” my kids knew exactly what I meant. We also talked about how intelligence is not maturity. When I set boundaries I explained that “it’s not that we don’t like you, you’re just not mature enough to make certain decisions.”
My favorite part of this lesson is the parent orientation versus peer orientation section. I think that piece was one of my top 5 rocks, as I like to call my most important ‘a-ha’ moments. I think peer orientation kind of sums up where our problem is today in that our teenagers are leaving home too early, mentally and emotionally, hence all the mental health problems.
It is not a good idea to have teenagers raising teenagers.
The adolescent brain has a lot of work to do and what we’re seeing in our culture is the stunting of this development. Our teens are not moving forward because they’re being raised by each other. If your child has social media or even a video game, they’re going to be very influenced by the people that they spend time with online, even if they’re just online for an hour a day.
We’re not saying that it’s not good for them to have friends. Of course they should have friends, but they should be closer to you and come to you for advice about life’s big questions. Those big questions should not be answered online. So much of the depression and anxiety today comes because our teens are trying to get these questions answered online from people who not only don’t know them, but also who don’t care about them. Remember, you, the parent, are the one with the unconditional love.
Brains and Screens
Lesson 3 is entitled Brains and Screens and we know that excessive screen use can disrupt healthy brain development so we spend time in this lesson talking about how that happens.
This lesson covers:
- How screen overuse causes stress and changes behavior
- How screen overuse can interfere with healthy executive function development
- Parental blind spots and biases can make it difficult for parents to see early warnings of screen overuse and dependency
We have a wonderful video featuring Dr. Victoria Dunckley, author of the book, Reset Your Child’s Brain. This lesson is so good, it may be worth the entire price of the whole course. The Brains and Screens lesson will help you understand that not all screens are created equally and what that really means as you embark on your Screenstrong journey.
The amount of stress that interactive screens cause is a huge problem for families. We have a whole slide deck that explains where the stress is coming from and what we can do about it. We will show you how our kids’ brains are changing as a result of this stress. And, we have information on the Adolescent Brain Cognitive Development study. This is the ABCD study that the National Institute of Health is conducting to determine the effects of screentime on over 11,000 children over a ten year period. We have some of the early findings available for you in this lesson.
Finally, there is an entire section on parental blind spots and biases. This is really close to my heart because I personally struggled with some blind spots in the early days. I didn’t know what I didn’t know (if you know what I mean). This section can save you so much pain. We end this lesson with an inspirational family testimony.
Smartphones and Social Media
In this lesson you will learn:
- What kids are doing on social media and why many teens suffer from mental health issues
- Why 13-15 years old is the worse age for social media
- The common myths regarding adolescence and smartphones
What’s the problem with teenagers and social media? We’ll show you with a great interactive graphic highlighting some of the major problems our kids encounter when they have social media accounts. The information is presented through lots of bite-sized, easy to digest pieces you can share with your teen. Learn why social media is not smart for teens.
Next, we get into some of the mental health issues facing our teens and how they are exacerbated by social media. This issue has become so prominent in the news, we have another entire lesson devoted to it at the end of the Kids’ Brains and Screens course.
Finally, we get into the 12 myths about social media that I hear all the time when I am out on the road. I think that the myth number 11 is one of the top three I hear.
“If I don’t give them use now they’ll binge and go crazy later.”
Across the board, in every state and across every aisle, this is the myth I hear. We have a very good answer to this one. In this lesson, we share some common misconceptions regarding kids and social media use and put them to rest once and for all. You’re going to want to read this.
This lesson ends with two important Ted Talks as well as some book and podcast recommendations for you.
Now that we’ve examined why Social Media Use is not smart for teens, let’s look at video games.
In this lesson you will learn:
- Why kids play video games and what keeps them hooked
- How an innocent gaming habit can rapidly spiral out of control
- The common misconceptions and mistakes parents make about video games
Lesson 5 covers video games. There is so much information, I could probably take lesson 5 and make an entire course out of it. Anna, our brand manager, has created an experience that allows you can soak in a lot of information, but not feel like that is what you’re doing.
In this lesson we look at the science around attention and show why games today are designed to keep kids hooked. We also talk about the basic human needs that your son has because gaming mostly becomes a big issue for boys. We have a whole slide deck in here that talks about how the gaming habit grows out of control. It will allow you to see where your child would fall under the levels of gaming immersion.
One of my favorite parts of this lesson is the information that Lieutenant Colonel David Grossman shares in the video he filmed especially for us. This little video in here is priceless. He talks a lot about aggression and how video game violence really is a thing and how it makes your kids more aggressive.
At the end of this lesson we talk about common mistakes parents make and how to know if your child is developing an unhealthy dependency. Finally, we share the most common myths around gaming and how we can replace video games with healthy activities.
We end this section with a lot of the work that I have done on the question of whether or not your gamer will survive college. If you’re not convinced to go game free in the first part of the lesson, by the time you read this, you will be. This section gives you a preview into what happens when a high school boy who is very enamored with gaming, and who actually has gaming as one of their favorite things to do, goes to college. You need to know this before you spend a lot of money on college. Your son may not be ready. The wisest thing you can do is to replace the video games before he goes to college.
The Dark Side of Screens
In Lesson 6, we cover the dark side of screens, which of course is the pornography issue. It’s hard to deal with this topic, but we wanted to make this lesson user-friendly so that you can share it with your kids. ‘The Dark Side of Screens’ gives you a feel for the information without causing you to feel bad or guilty or ashamed. It’s very logical.
In this lesson you will learn:
- What physically happens to the brain when consuming pornography
- Why teens seek out pornography, and where they can find access (it’s easier than you think)
- How online sextortion and grooming can happen in a moment. Damage can last a lifetime
The Dark Side of Screens shows what happens when the teen brain meets high speed Internet porn. We’ve had a lot of experts work with us to develop this and there is a really good video in here. There’s a slide deck called ‘Why Good Kids Look at Porn’. Every parent should flip through this to understand what makes good kids go down this path. Then, there is a whole section on finding porn in the most surprising places. This may be shocking because many of us use these sites.
In this lesson we also share stats from Pornhub that are just fascinating. I don’t know that the average person would go out and collate all this information. It would be really hard, but we have it here right under one little roof. You can just skim through it or you can take a deep dive and learn a little bit more about it. Again, it’s in a really easy-to-read format.
I don’t feel like there’s a lot of fear mongering going on in this lesson. It’s clear and succinct. The education you’ll find here will give you the confidence to go home and make some changes in your house.
“Kids don’t use screens like adults do.”
In this lesson you will learn:
- How the brain learns
- How screen use in the classroom can interfere with the learning process
- Why filters and school firewalls are not always effective
This lesson touches on how the human brain learns, processes new information, and transfers it long-term memory centers. We then look at the ‘6 Ways Screens Interfere With Learning’. There is some fascinating research on why paper books are better and note-taking on paper is preferable to note-taking on screens. The section on how screens affect attention is important for every parent to read.
And, once again, we include book, blog, and podcast recommendations as well as a video from Matt Miles and Joe Clement, the authors of Screen Schooled.
The Teen Mental Health Crisis
We added Lesson 8 at the request of a number of school counselors. They suggested we add a lesson on teen mental health. This lesson is so necessary and important. Sit down with your teenager and share some of these statistics. I think a lot of us wonder how to bring up this discussion? How do I talk to my daughter or son about this?
Well, this is how you do it. Sit down together and go through this lesson. You will learn:
- The factors for teen depression
- How social media triggers mental disorders
- Why girls are more at risk than boys
- Three types of screen media use that cause mental health problems
- 10 ways social media can cause mental health problems in teens
- How to improve mental resilience
This is an interactive and clickable lesson you will be able to easily share with your kids. This goes into some of the ‘digital’ differences between boys and girls and it covers the 10 ways social media use can harm mental health. We will show you how to help your kids improve their mental resilience.
Social media use has really affected our girls in so many ways (even more so than boys) and it all centers around the types of rejection that they feel when using social media. In this lesson, we unpack the different types of rejection and their effects.
Now you know why we advocate a Screenstrong lifestyle. The benefits are immeasurable. You will see immediate results when you remove toxic screens from your home. Now that you know the why behind our recommendations, have a look at Part 2, ‘The Solution’, to learn how to remove the screens. ‘The Solution’ will give you the foundation for the Screenstrong lifestyle and provide practical tips for resetting your home and reconnecting with your family.