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March 16, 2021
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March 16, 2021

Excessive screen use…What do we do?

By Sophie Barcant, BA (Psyc), B.ED.

Trainer, Facilitator, Parenting Coach/Consultant.

Are your lectures, threats and punishments around time spent on screens working with your children?

Are you exasperated or tearing your hair out knowing that the amount of time they spend on their devices is not healthy, yet you feel powerless and don’t know what to do?

We fool ourselves thinking our lectures and threats are effective, but are they? Often, threats and lectures and demands create resistance.

Here are a few tips that can help.

Providing our children with the facts is vital. This empowers them with true unarguable information which tends to lead to more rational thinking and wiser choices.

With factual knowledge they are in a better position to analyse and evaluate their options and the consequences that follow. This creates intrinsic motivation, where they choose the wise and good behaviour because they see the benefits as rewarding.

Explaining some basic neuroscience to older children can help a lot. When they learn that prolonged use of devices is over-forming a part of their brain structure and thus not allowing time for other vitally important areas of the brain to develop, they may better appreciate that the choices they are making now can significantly impact their happiness, performance, and abilities in their near future endeavours.

Dr Jennifer Cross, a developmental and behavioural paediatrics expert at New York-Presbyterian Komansky Children’s Hospital explains it like this: “Interacting almost exclusively with screens would be like working out only your arm muscles and nothing else. You would have really strong arm muscles, but at the expense of overall fitness.”

Engaging with devices for extended hours deprives the brain of developing in other brain regions responsible for all sorts of other vitally important skills. Overdevelopment of the area of the brain responsible for video games, social media use and watching episodes will not equip them with all the skills needed to succeed in relationships, most careers and navigate the real world.

Prolonged use of screens can lead to thinning of the brain’s cortex, which is related to critical thinking and reasoning, as well as impaired socialising skills. Telling them that their brain is likely to be weak in socialising appropriately and getting along with peers will almost certainly get their attention, so too the possibility of developing diabetes and obesity.

Not to mention getting bad grades due to lack of brain focus, poor memory, comprehension and writing skills. Research “Neuroplasticity” to show them the science behind these claims.


Put limits

It is a known fact that extended screen use at night affects sleep and causes eye strain. The ability to judge emotions is also affected, thus leading to poor emotional regulation, anxiety, isolation, and depression.

When people realise that developing their own brain powers is doable, and is in their control, it can change their perspectives enormously. Most people are not aware that they can develop brain muscle like they do biceps and abs.

Older children may also appreciate some basic biology lessons on what the dangers of living a sedentary lifestyle can lead to.

For starters, you can ask them to Google what the effects of living a sedentary life are…let them find the answers for themselves. They may be shocked at their findings.

Then we ask them, (instead of lecturing) “So knowing all this now, will you choose to remain sedentary or get moving?” If they do not want to research it, then you can, then share the facts respectfully in a matter-of-fact way, noncritically, at a family mealtime or at another suitable gathering.

According to Dr Cross, “Excessive screen time may inhibit a child’s ability to observe and experience the typical everyday activities they need to engage with, in order to learn about the world, leading to a kind of ‘tunnel vision’, which can be detrimental to overall development.”

Young children learn by exploring their environment and watching the adults in their lives and then imitating them. They cannot observe and imitate the adults in their lives enough to develop adequate brain functions if they are focused on screens excessively.

Again, Dr Cross points out that “If young children spend most of their time engaging with an iPad, smartphone, or the television, all of which are highly entertaining, it can be hard to get them engaged in non-electronic activities, such as playing with toys, to foster imagination and creativity, exploring outdoors, and playing with other children to develop appropriate social skills.”

Most teachers today would admit that keeping young children’s attention in classrooms is an entirely different ball game to 25 years ago. Teachers are competing with animated, fast paced, super entertaining videos to get children’s attention. Thus, the rise in Attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).

When it comes to managing device use with young children, it’s up to the parents. Just decide to take it away.

We can easily put limits on screen time saying, “You are welcome to use your device for 1/2 hour, after your chores and homework are done.”

Some children need help with these limits up to age 14 or 15. One hopes that by this age they can appreciate the type of conversations described at the start of this article, given facts to guide their choices.

Self-mastery does not happen overnight so they might appreciate the loving support and gentle reminders of the consequences of screen overuse on their brains and lack of mobility on their physical bodies.

And if it comes to this, we can demand they get physically active, it is technically a form of medical insurance. Non-negotiable.

Team up and have loving conversations with them, to lovingly and firmly guide and form well adjusted, stable adults.


For more ideas on parenting around screen use and for personal, family, or corporate coaching on strengthening brain muscle with Positive Intelligence Operating System, contact me at sophiebarcant@gmail.com, or 799-9933 or messenger. Also visit: positiveintelligence.com for more info.