Start Your New Year Off Right When It Comes to Screen Time
Did you loosen your screen restrictions over the holidays? Are you regretting it now? Now is the perfect time to get back on the right foot and avoid the common myths that surface this time of year. Avoid these four screen time myths and start your new year off right.
“Ugh, I just need to vent. I am so done with the anxiety and indecisiveness about my kids’ phones and tablets. I haven’t wanted to take them away totally in an effort to teach them moderation and self-control. But the truth is it’s not happening. (Even with mmguardian, parental controls, limits, talks, grounding). Unless they are punished, or we have a hurricane and lose power, they don’t come out of their rooms and engage with us or the outside world.”
Do you relate to this frustrated mom?
You may be right if you have a nagging feeling that you are losing your child to their screen.
Warning Sign Screens Are A Problem in Your Home:
- Do screen time negotiations cause conflicts in your home?
- Do you find yourself organizing everything around screen time?
- Do you spend hours on Google researching how to get your kids off of their screens?
- Do you find yourself walking on eggshells around your children when they’re on screens?
If you answered ‘yes’ to any of these questions, it might be time to make changes to your home.
If you’re tempted to follow the latest advice on raising kids with screens, I’m here to tell you that some of this advice, however well-meaning, is wrong and will lead to more serious screen issues in the long run. Here are four screen time myths that are pervasive in our culture but, in reality, undermine our efforts to help our kids become healthy, happy adults.
4 Screen time Myths
Myth 1: Balance and moderation is the key to good screen health.
It’s the new year, and you’ve decided to balance screen use better in your home. I’m here to tell you that this is impossible. I know this from experience, and it’s dangerous to balance things that lead to undesirable outcomes.
We have this idea that everything in moderation is good. This is true for some things like nutrition, exercise, and building healthy habits. We should balance nutritious food with the occasional treat to create a sustainable lifestyle.
However, we should not seek to balance things that are not good for us or are not age appropriate.
An alcoholic should not try to moderate alcohol consumption, nor should we give alcohol to our kids and moderate its consumption. They are too young. Teens are more susceptible to addiction, and their brains are not fully developed.
Sex is great between consenting adults, but it’s inappropriate for kids. They are not physically or emotionally ready for it.
It is the same with smartphones. They are not healthy for kids. Our children’s brains are not developmentally ready to moderate smartphone use, despite what the culture tells us. Jean Twenge’s research is clear on this. Smartphones cause or compound depression and anxiety for teens.
We used to believe smoking was okay, and everyone did it. We now know smoking is terrible for us. It takes a strong parent to go against the culture, but listen to your gut. We want to balance and moderate the good things but not the bad. Don’t try to balance and moderate video games and social media. It is impossible to do. This is the first of the four common screen time myths.
Myth 2: Parental Controls will help me stay on top of my child’s screen use.
This is the time of year when parents put up chore charts, put out swear jars, and vow to make their kids help cook family meals. These are all great ideas, but as any seasoned parent will tell you, most of us give up on these strategies because they become too hard to manage in day-to-day life with multiple children.
It is the same with parental controls. Kids are smart and quickly find ways around the most stringent parental controls. Unless you plan to follow your child around the house and sit on their shoulder, you will not be able to stay on top of all of their screen activities, especially if you have more than one child in the house.
Don’t put yourself out on this hook. You are not a bad parent if you can’t keep up with parental controls. No one can. It’s impossible. If you have more than one child, there is no way you can keep on top of all of their screen use. Please don’t feel bad about it.
Many parents start with the best intentions around parental controls but soon give up in frustration. It is too hard, but unlike the swear jar you stop putting money into, unmonitored screen use can lead to serious issues.
If you don’t introduce video games and social media and don’t hand over smartphones to your kids in the first place, you will not have to monitor their use. Have one home computer in a public place in your house. When your child needs to complete research projects or schedule a Facetime session with Grandma and Grandpa, they can use the family computer. You will be there, or at least walking by if it is in a public place. A public computer is much easier to monitor than devices in pockets or bedrooms.
ScreenStrong is not about removing all screens. It is about avoiding toxic screen activities like video games, social media, and pornography. Parental controls will not help you. This is the second one of the screen time myths we are busting today.
Myth 3: Screen time isn’t that bad. My child will be okay.
This is the optimism bias. After all, it’s the new year, and you’re feeling positive. This is a fresh start. Maybe the screen conflicts were all in your imagination. Maybe your child’s screen behavior is normal, and they will be okay in the future.
This is not true. If your gut has been telling you screens are a problem, they are a problem. Screen issues are serious.
“The earlier we introduce screens, the more it affects the child’s brain development and the more likely they will have trouble managing their addiction to screens and technology later in life.” – Dr. Laura Markham, author and founding editor of ahaparenting.com
Not only is screen addiction a serious problem that leads to all sorts of issues, like unfinished college courses, failure to launch, and poor job prospects, but mental health suffers when kids spend too much time online.
Over the holiday, Dr. Adriana Stacey, MD did an experiment with screen time. She had three days free of activities. Since she works with teens, she wanted to try to spend as much time as they do online for three days. (She does not recommend that parents do this!) Since the average teen spends 9 hours daily on entertainment media, Dr. Stacey wanted to see what it would be like to spend that much time on entertainment screens for a full three days. The result: She got depressed, and she has never been a person who gets depressed. Even knowing this much screen time might cause her to feel bad, she found it much worse than expected.
Our teens don’t realize that their screens can cause them to feel depressed and anxious. Their brains are more reactive, and this much screen time affects them even more deeply than it affects adults, and it can affect adults pretty badly.
In a study from the Journal of Affective Disorders researchers noted that a greater amount of time spent on social media was associated with an increased risk of self-harm and depression and lower levels of self-esteem in females. Findings were similar for weekday and weekend use.
I’m here to tell you that screen overuse is that bad, and your child will not be okay in the future. I believed this myth, too. I thought my oldest son would outgrow his video games when he went to college. He didn’t. He ended up failing out after his first year. Screen problems are serious. It is time to recognize your optimism bias and overcome it. This is one of the screen time myths we must dispel.
Myth 4: “My kids are mature; I’m finally seeing glimpses of progress.”
The truth is that just because you see a glimpse of mature behavior in your child does not mean that they are mature enough for internet access 24/7. Time and again, I hear parents ask, “My child changed the cat box yesterday, did their homework without asking, or performed another mature task without being reminded. Aren’t they ready for a smartphone?” This is helpful behavior, but it is certainly not evidence of a mature brain.
Just because your kids are showing signs of progress does not mean you plug everything in and hand them that phone or that video game. Maturity is a process, and while glimpses are wonderful, they are not mature enough yet. At 16, parents think: Now they’re 16, they are driving, so I’m going to give them the tidal wave of the phone. Bad idea!
Dr. Stacey had some kids over at her house recently, and one teen that had not had a smartphone finally got one. His parents decided he was mature enough to handle it. Instead of hanging out with his friends at Dr. Stacey’s house, he spent the entire time watching videos on YouTube. Maybe he had shown progress and signs of maturity, but the fact is, kids are not ready for smartphones.
When you think your kids are getting more mature, they may have more pieces of the puzzle in place, but the entire puzzle is not yet complete. They may be making progress, but it is more likely to be one step forward and two steps back.
Teens have a new world opening up to them. It is almost harder for a teen to moderate smartphone use than a 5th grader. A 5th grader will still listen to you. Teens have more reactive brains and take more risks. This is not a good combination with a smartphone.
The right exposure to the right things will help our kids grow in maturity, especially when they are exposed to values that align with your family values. This type of exposure will help, but ultimately, it takes time to develop maturity, and there is nothing you can do to speed it up.
Finding examples of a time the child was mature last week does not mean they are mature enough for toxic screens. This is the last, but certainly not the least, of the screen time myths we are highlighting today.
You may understand all these myths deep down, but it is hard to do things differently than everyone else. However, here at Screenstrong, we have your back. Join our Screenstrong Families Facebook group, check out our course, listen to our podcast, and try not to fall prey to the four screen myths highlighted in this post.
Here are some Screenstrong Resolutions you can take to reclaim your kids from their screens and reconnect with your family:
- Replace the smartphone with a non-data phone throughout adolescence.
- Hit the pause button on the video games; they are not necessary.
- Introduce new hobbies. We want dopamine to come from hard work and creating things. Your child will never know their full potential if they don’t try new hobbies and activities. Remember, the primary source of dopamine in your child’s life should never come from a device.
- Start new traditions. Get out of the house together each month. Take the kids to something cultural. Watch a play or listen to a symphony. Have fun as a family. Move away from screens providing all the fun in your house.
- Slow down this year. Take a whole year off of social media and video games. Not forever, just for this year. Make this the year you will slow down, even from the mindless TV binge-watching. There is nothing bad about slowing down when trying to reset your home.
Remember, the primary source of dopamine in your child’s life should never come from a device.
Finally, be a strong parent. Don’t look to the culture to get screen time advice; you know in your heart what you need to do. There are many great things about our culture, but this is not one of them. Change your family culture. Your family culture is up to you. Let us know your plans for the new year, join our private Connect Community, and don’t get swept up with the myths that will bring you down this year. We have your back, and we are here to help!