Summer Screen Time – How to Handle It?

screen time

We are the first generation of parents to be raising digital natives.  In a family hierarchy, where we are meant to be leading our children, the inverse is happening and our children are leading the way, when it comes to technology.  Technology is competing with us for our child’s attachment relationship.  Our children are becoming more savvy with technology than we are.  Our children are feeding on screen time, in an attempt to fill themselves up.

Ironically, Facebook began in 2004 and Dr. Gordon Neufeld & Dr. Gabor Maté’s book on the importance of the parent-child relationship, Hold Onto Your Kids ~ Why Parents Matter came out in 2004.  The authors have now added an addendum chapter to their book to address Screen Time and the Digital Revolution – I will highlight the key points in today’s blog.

How Screen Time Is Impacting Our Children

  • Technology provides us with input but our children’s growing brains need to emerge from the inside-out, by producing their own  creative output.  According to Dr. Neufeld, children learn problem-solving skills more through play than through screen time.  When children are spending a lot of time on screens, they are ingesting more information than they can digest, which creates a tuning out from information overload.
  • Children used to depend on us for food, company and information.  Nowadays, they go to the fridge for food, they go to their friends for company and they go to Google for information. This makes parenting much more challenging as we try to maintain our Alpha position and the need for children to lean on us.  Before technology, parents could time when they were going to share different types of information but now all information is accessible at children’s fingertips, even though they may not be mature enough to handle certain images or content.  Children need to be developmentally ready before they access too much information.
  • Families are now spending one third less time as families and that lost third is being spent on screens, according to a study Dr. Neufeld cites, out of California, which has studied 30 countries over the last ten years.
  • Electronic games don’t teach adaptation.  They don’t teach about loss or cooperation between children.  In video games, there’s always another level, whereas in traditional card games and board games, children learn about loss and having sad or disappointed feelings.  When children interact together, in the real world, they have to figure out how to cooperate.
  • Attachment is the strong influence which activates the desire to want to be good for another person, to whom you feel attached.  The first steps of attachment include eye contact, a smile, a nod, touch etc.  In social media “conversations” or texting “conversations”  do not begin with these first steps of activating the attachment instincts (eye contact, smiles, nods, touch etc. ) Therefore, texting and social media communication is superficial which leads to wounding.
  • When children are feeling sad, lost and confused, they need to turn to someone who is grounded and has found him/herself such as a parent, versus a peer or social media “friend” or “follower”, who is probably also feeling lost and confused.
  • There is an instinctual hunger for attachment in all of us.  People who seek attachment through social media sites continue to feel empty, and spend more and more time on these sites, because this is not real attachment, therefore, they keep searching in vain.

Dr. Gordon Neufeld’s Analogy for Screens

I think Dr.Gordon Neufeld’s following analogy is very effective, in helping us understand the best times to offer screens:

He says, there is always a time and season for eating dessert.   We eat dessert once we’ve eaten the good stuff.  We eat dessert after dinner or it will spoil our appetite.  If we fill up on dessert for dinner, we feel full in the moment but since it’s not providing us with the necessary nutrients, we soon feel empty again.

Technology is the same.  We need to feel full up on true attachment before we have “dessert” a.k.a. screen time.  The more we fill up on true attachment, the less our appetite or need for screen time.  If we have fulfilling friendships, we have less need to be on social media sites.  If we spend quality family connection time, there will be less need to use technology.

Recommended Guidelines for Screen Time

We are what our children need, not devices, therefore we need to make ourselves available for meaningful connection time.

We need to have rules around devices.  For example, digital devices are not allowed at the dinner table and the television is not on in the background while we are eating dinner.

We need to be the buffer between our children and technology.

Screens are not allowed in children’s bedrooms. (Dr. Neufeld compares screens to alcohol and says, it is as foolish to put an alcoholic bar in a child’s bedroom as it is to allow screens in their bedrooms.)

We need to carve out time for connection and we need to protect this by limiting screen time.

We need to reduce the temptation.  We wouldn’t leave cookies all over the counter and we wouldn’t put an alcoholic bar in our children’s bedroom.

“We have to feed them at our table.  Where is your child going for his food?

Social media is fine for dessert but not for dinner.” ~ Dr. Gordon Neufeld

When our children wake up, we need to fill them up with our connection time.  We need to satisfy their attachment hunger.  Later on in the day is a better time for them to use technology.

When their predetermined screen time is finished for the day, we need to help them transition by inviting them to connect with us in a way that is mutually enjoyable.  For example, throwing a ball, playing table tennis, going for a walk, reading a book, doing a craft, making some food etc.

Plan a family trip, without other friends, to a place where there is no internet access, such as a camping trip.  This will help you re-connect with your child and reactivate the attachment instincts.

For websites and tools which help with setting limits, you can access my free technology guide for setting limits on screens here.

I remember when my children were young, like many of you, I post-poned giving them sugar, for as long as possible.  The same philosophy applies for screens…it’s in everyone’s best interest to delay introducing them, for as long as possible.

I hope your summer is off to a great start,



PS.  Registration for my summer “Brain Science” camp starting on July 5th is now full.  If you are interested in registering for the second “Brain Science” summer camp for boys and girls, please contact me here and indicate the age of your child.

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