Summer Screen Time Strategies for Children
By Ashby Underwood-Garner
If you gave a child today a rotary phone, they may not know what to do with it! Yes, technology is useful, sometimes frustrating, and entertaining. Yet, too easily, it can be the thing that keeps your child or grandchild occupied while you finish a chore or make that phone call. You need a minute of quiet, but at what cost?
When neurological patterns are developing at a rapid rate - such as they are in childhood - research shows it is a disservice to a child’s development to be handed a phone for amusement. What seems convenient in a moment can become an addictive pattern that is hard to admit for parents.
What are the signs of screen time toxicity? We see these more when the electronics are taken away. A withdrawal sequence ensues that can include symptoms such as resistance, feeling dazed, irritability, confusion and being unaware of adults talking to them. As a child begins to associate with the characters they are watching or playing on a video game, they lose a sense of reality that is meant to shape their sensory potential. Disassociation can lead to inappropriate sympathetic nervous system responses such as impulsiveness, anxiety or depression.
Power struggles with your child can emerge over screen time. These are not just a test of will! There is a chemical dependency present. If the programming is too graphic for their young age, a child can undergo an adrenaline-induced attack with no real physical resolution. They can be stuck in a panic inside, replaying scenes, and repeating what they see. In addition, opportunity for depth perception is lost which cannot be easily recovered.
“Oh, you know, kids today…”. It’s an easy write off for an adult to talk about behavioral challenges. But the truth is, what legacy will we leave them if we bypass a well-recognized concern about the influence of today’s technology?
We are fortunate in the mountains to be surrounded by nature, living things, and occasional silence. Summer schedules allow for swimming, hiking, dancing to music, making art, and gardening with our children. Free play can let a child master new skills, releasing pent-up energy from over-stimulation. Greenery and sunlight can improve a child’s mood. Eye contact, face to face interaction, touch, all help children learn to regulate emotion, develop a sense of self, and build capacity for empathy and joy.