The Godzilla Mayhem of Kids, Parents, and Family Screen Time. Tokyo is Torched.

godzillaphoto by JD Hancock (creative commons) In family therapy there’s the notion of the identified patient. A wife brings in a husband, parents a difficult child. But in our training as therapists we are taught to be skeptical of this set-up. Who else might be contributing to the problem?

The message we communicate to our kids… : “Everybody else matters more than you.” Children, she declares, “are tired of being the ‘call waiting’ in their parents’ lives.”

And from Catherine Steiner-Adair’s book, The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age:

One girl among the 1,000 children she interviewed in preparing her book said, “I feel like I’m just boring. I’m boring my dad because he will take any text, any call, any time, even on the ski lift.” A 4-year-old called her father’s smartphone a “stupid phone.”

Often we identify kids as having a problem with their devices. But let’s be real. We are all addicted to our screens. A spate of recent articles take on this issue. First, a July 6 article by Jane Brody in the New York Times, Screen Addiction Is Taking its Toll on Children fired off. Then a follow-up piece the next week: How to Cut Children’s Screen Time. Some of the assertions regarding large amounts of screen time:

  • it hinders normal development
  • older children spend over 11 hours per day on media
  • screen time offers distraction, detracting from the ability to self-soothe
  • viewing violent games creates an “immunity” to violence, in some cases a taste for violence
  • negative impact on health, behavior, school performance
  • sedentary nature and advertising promote poor diet and unhealthy weight gain
  • decrease in family conversation
  • teens send an average of 34 texts after going to bed
  • pain in fingers and wrists, narrowing of blood vessels in eyes

The anecdotal evidence that excessive screen time is problematic is everywhere. Any kind of intervention regarding children’s screen use that doesn’t include the behavior of parents is misguided and laughable at best, not to mention frustrating and fruitless. At Psychology Today, child psychiatrist Victoria Dunckley added her two cents in an article titled Wired Parent, Wired Child. Dunckley has just published (July 14)book on the topic Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time.

So what are some suggestions for reducing screen time? First, Brody:

  • Kids learn by example and modeling. Model responsible media use.
  • Keep devices out of bedrooms
  • Observe device-free moments during the day — pickup after school, mealtimes, the hour at home after school
  • Show kids they are worth your undivided attention
  • Provide alternative activities — but don’t fall into the trap of becoming their cruise director

Next, Dunckley identifies factors that help “facilitate screen management”.

  1. Education regarding the harmful physiological effects of screen-time.
  2. Realizing that interactive screen-time (video games, iPad, etc) is more problematic than passive (TV).
  3. Appreciating the quality of life improvements related to screen restriction.

If you’re interested in reading more on this topic, here a few more titles: Dwight Garner wrote a review of three books on the topic, Resisting the Siren Call of The Screen: 3 Books Offer Ways to Cut the Cord, If Only Briefly . It’s a helpful overview, though from 2013. The 3 books are listed here, as well as others mentioned in this post: