If We Think We Have Trouble UNPLUGGING, What About Our Kids?

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Not me! A young adult!

Sometimes it is hard not to check my work email at night right before I go to bed. If a client name or an interesting subject header happens to catch my eye when I am checking the weather on my phone before I turn out my light to go to sleep, I have to click.  Inevitably I am sorry I did; my mind starts churning over possible responses to the email and then moves on to the list of all the things I have to do tomorrow. I just made it that much harder to relax. Experts warn that I should not even be checking the weather in the first place — the blue light emanating from electronic screens overstimulates the brain and makes it harder for the brain to achieve REM sleep.  All screens should be off for at least a half hour before bedtime.

Remember the good old days when experts warned of the dangers of using TV as an electronic babysitter?

Parents today have an even tougher problem – how to raise children that are not addicted to electronic screens. So much content is available online and we can access it from so many places, that of course we want to teach our children how to benefit from this valuable information. But its too much! I read a news story about a 2-year-old who was given a magazine and tried to swipe it like a tablet to turn the page. When was the last time you went out to dinner and DIDN’T see a baby playing with their parent’s cellphone?

Toddlers who can’t even talk, who should be handling toys, running around and learning interpersonal communications skills are instead sitting and playing games on electronic screens. A colleague in the publishing business just told me she was going to buy one of my books in a few years for her now 18-month-old. But since her child was already using a tablet she was thinking that maybe her kid won’t want to read a book. Shocked, I said she had a difficult task ahead, to set limits on electronics, and she said with a laugh, “That will be impossible! I won’t be able to stop it!” I wanted to tell her that experts are now recommending that children do not even see a screen before age 2 because it stunts cognitive development, but I did not think she would believe me. And why is she waiting for a few years? If she read my co-blogger’s post last week she would know that she already should be reading books to her child.

Experts are now gathering statics on how much time children spend sitting down viewing a variety of media – and the bottom line is IT IS JUST TOO MUCH TIME.  High school boys are spending far more time playing video games than doing homework. This is hardly news, but face it, the chances of them being hired by an electronic company to make a career out of spending their days vetting video games to make sure they are captivating are pretty slim.

The American Academy of Pediatrics is trying to make parents aware of the harm from so much time in a virtual world.

Chinese doctors already know the harm. They have diagnosed the excessive use of computer games by children in China as a clinical disorder. There are now rehabilitation centers where “patients” are sent for months and shut off from all media.

Depriving children of all acess to screen time completely seems a little drastic, and of course there is no information yet available as to whether or not the Chinese re-programing of kids works. But the message to American parents is clear – teach your children how to limit and control their use of the media, or it will control and limit them.

There are all kinds of studies linking violent behavior in children to extensive playing of violent video games. Everybody gets that.  But even if they play less violent games, if they are plugged in for every car ride, when do kids get to be bored enough to start using their imagination? Is daydreaming a thing of the past?

There was a documentary on PBS entitled, “Web Junkie” that discussed the issues and solutions.  I missed it, so I will probably surf my Roku® to see if I can find it on Amazon Prime® or another On Demand service provider. . .  Hmmmm, maybe this is part of the problem.

Technology has freed us from having to be home in front of the television set at a certain time in order not to miss our favorite show, but the hours can whittle away quickly when you hang out at night watching marathons of that show while you check to see what is happening on FaceBook and read the news on your computer. Who can blame us if we plug our kids in along with us?  But they are not along with us, they are in a separate room using separate electronic devices, watching who knows what?

We had better find out. And quickly, because apparently the conversation skills of kids are already heading for extinction.

Jane Brody, the New York Times writer on Health and Aging has an article with practical tips on how to start entitled “How to Cut Children’s Screen Time? Say No to Yourself First”. Yes, that is right, one more thing to blame ourselves for as parents – setting a bad example.  But the good news is that with some thought and some discipline, a healthy relationship with technology can be maintained.

images-2But it isn’t easy. In fact it is even hard to get the word out.  Maybe we need the Surgeon General to put a warning on all electronic devices, the way they labeled cigarette packages starting in the 70’s – WARNING; THE SURGEON GENERAL ADVISES THAT WATCHING ELECTRONIC SCREENS CAN BE HAZARDOUS TO YOUR HEALTH. AND TO YOUR CHILDREN.

© Jane F. Collen July 23, 2015

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