There’s an ongoing battle in our household over screens. By screens I mean television, video games, computers and iPads, basically any electronic device that has a screen. The Canadian Pediatric Society recommends that time in front of the television or computer should be limited to no more than two hours a day[i]. Research shows that more time than this is correlated with poor social skills, learning problems, short attention spans, obesity and sleep problems[ii]. Our children’s brains are developing and what they are exposed to has an impact on how their brains develop. It’s pretty clear that some of the technology we use is having a detrimental effect on our children’s brains[iii]. Research also shows that most parents don’t limit their children’s TV viewing, gaming or computer use[iv].
I have been attempting to limit this ‘screen time’ but it has created a constant battle and we are always over the recommended 14 hours a week. This is how it goes. We come home and the TV goes on for the agreed upon 45 minutes. I am making dinner, cleaning or doing some other work and before I know it, the TV is still on an hour later. I tell my kids to turn it off. “One more show! One more show!” They beg. Depending on my mood, either the TV goes off or there is one more show. (Not great, I know, but this is the truth) I go and continue whatever I am doing and next time I check in on the kids, the iPad is on. I tell them to turn it off. “Okay, just a minute, when I’m done the game!” Ten minutes later it’s still on. “Turn it off!” My voice is beginning to rise. “Okay! Okay!” Ten minutes later and I am standing over them. “Turn it off NOW.” Finally it is turned off. The weekends are even worse and it feels like a constant battle to get those devices off, with me being the heavy. There is often yelling. This is not how I want to be relating to my children.
We seldom all sit down at the table to eat together. During the week, either my husband or I are working at dinner time. On the weekends meals are eaten in front of the TV 90% of the time. Judge us if you want, but remember, we are one of the few households that limit screen time. So, I doubt it’s much better in most other homes.
This week I was pondering the idea of what you resist, persists. In other words, what you try to avoid, tends to increase. You can see this law at work right now in sports. The equipment has gotten much better at protecting athletes against broken bones and broken teeth in contact sports like football and hockey. This is the attempt to avoid injury, the resist, if you will. The result has been truly devastating. Since athletes don’t feel the impact as much, the force of contact in these sports has increased. There are fewer bruises, broken bones and broken teeth but it is leaving a legacy of brain damage that is leading to the early deaths of athletes at a rate never before seen.
A good driving instructor will tell you that you must always look where you want to go. If you look at the thing that you don’t want to hit, you will drive into it. So always look where you want to go, not at what you want to avoid. What does this have to do with the screen battles in my household? Well, I realized that I have been focusing on what I don’t want. I have not been looking at where I want to go. So I began to think, what if I didn’t put limits on screens? The fear is that they’ll be on all the time. That the creativity will be sucked out of my kids; they’ll never get their hands in the dirt and play with actual physical things. These are real fears. Many children really are divorced from physical reality and live almost entirely through experiences created on electronic devices. I read that medical schools have had to change how they teach about the circulatory system because so many medical students have had no hands on experience with syphons or pumps. I began to wonder: is it really unlimited screen time that is the problem or could it be that there is something else that is happening in families who limit screen time that creates better outcomes for their children? Maybe the parents in these homes are more present with their children, more interactive with them.
I am beginning to experiment with this idea. What if the problem is not the devices but that I am not connected to my children at these times? I am beginning to experiment with this idea. So far, the screens are still on far more than 14 hours a week but I don’t think they’re on any more than they were before and I am not yelling at them. So that’s an improvement right there. I also notice that if I take a few minutes to watch a program with them, they are more co-operative about turning the TV off. My next step will be to enter into a conversation with them about these devices. Maybe we’ll explore what they get out of these devices. Maybe we’ll talk about what we want to do with our time, what are some creative projects they would like to do. I’ll keep you updated on how it all works out.