Wait, did you say I can still use Facebook??

I mentioned that I would follow-up my post on SCREEN TIME for younger kids with some ideas and suggestions for healthy screen time for older students. To sum up my previous post, I encouraged you to keep children under 2 away from all screens, to look at decreasing or eliminating screen time for preschool and kindergarten children, and to structure limited viewing for school-age children.  Be honest with yourself about how much screen time your child is actually having every day.  The ability to play by oneself and occupy oneself with imaginative thoughts is a learned skill.  Children need practice and time to be able to form that skill.

While even my 1-year-old seems to intuitively know how to turn on, swipe and unlock an iPhone (no, I don’t let her play with it… she just has grabby little hands), that “tech knowledge” does not translate into an understanding of how an iPhone actually works.  In the “olden days” a child could figure out how to build a radio by taking apart and rebuilding the gadgets inside.  But an iPhone, computer, or television is now so complex that even programming one is difficult for the brightest high school students.

You can find support for nearly any view on the internet, but when I look at language and social skill development with my SLP lens, I’m identifying circles of communication.  A message produced, sent, and received, followed by the recipient producing and sending his own message.  Email falls into this category, as does text or instant messaging if received the correct way.  (Many of my students struggle with innuendo, sarcasm, and humor, which are often lost in an email or text, however.)

When we look at how to incorporate screen time into an older child’s life, we can first looks at PDAs and online homework.  Those two systems should be used as a backup system for a planner and binder with in-class notetaking on assignments.  Many schools use Edline of PowerSchool as online systems, or a similar system.  In my experience, teachers often forget to update their online schedules, don’t add valuable information, or are unavailable to respond to after-hours emails regarding assignments.  A middle- or high-school student needs to know how to record their own information in class, asking questions as needed while they are still face-to-face with the teacher.

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At home, having a designated place to charge and keep the cell phone can be vital for homework efficiency for a student.  I often tell my students that if they keep their phone off, Facebook logged out, and computer powered down, they will be much more efficient at completing their homework.  As a result, they will free up “down time” after the work is through to play video games or check their Facebook.  I have one student who has decreased his homework time from 6 hours every night, down to 2 hours every night by staying off the computer.  (He’ll get on at the end of his two hours if he needs to type something.) He LOVES the extra time he has for free time after his homework is finished.  It’s a win-win situation for him.

My thoughts on video games for middle and high school kids?  If they enjoy playing in their down time, let them.  Wait, what??? For a child who is going through the tumultuous process of growing-up-with-hormones-racing and the insecurities that come with that growth, video games are often their only platform for controlling their own destiny.  There should be a few guidelines, however, that parents follow.

  1. Set a certain amount of time on screen time “down time”
  2. Encourage other “down time” in the absence of screens where your child can be alone in their thoughts
  3. Don’t forget about exercise and outside time!
  4. If your child struggles with social skills, beware of the tendency to retreat into video games.  Make sure they are involved in at least one extracurricular that encourages them to be social.

I’m actually a big fan of Facebook and other social media, especially when used well.  Studies have found that the more social a child is, the more frequently they reach out to others through social media.  For a child with limited social skills, great.  For the social child with ADD/ADHD, not so great if they haven’t completed their “to-do” list.  Sit down with your child and decide what the boundaries are.

I often recommend that parents provide a lot of structure around these outlets, at least initially.  Bullying and inappropriate contact can occur, and it is wise to be cautious of your child’s independent use of media.  Placing the family computer and the cell phones in a central place can help you keep tabs of your child’s internet surfing.  A child who can effectively navigate social media gains a confidence and expertise in social relationships needed for school and the workplace.  As parents we can teach them how to let it add value to their lives, rather than taking away from real-life experiences, friendships, and holistic health.

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Tips to Quit

Convinced of the negative cognitive impact (see: attention difficulties, underdeveloped language systems, social communication difficulties, behavior challenges, limited abstract thinking…) of too much screen time? Where’s a parent to start?

I thought I’d follow up on my last post about Screen Time with a few practical tips for decreasing your child’s screen time. I’ll focus here on children up to 5th grade, with a follow-up for older students later.

(As my friend Kathleen and I joked the other day, you have a pass if you have a newborn in the house and are desperately trying to sink into a new family routine with siblings. You also have a pass if your child is sick. While nothing is better than being cuddled and read to all day, I understand you have other things to attend to! A favorite movie or show can do wonders to soothe feverish kiddos.)

As parents, we have to teach our children how to down-regulate to soothe themselves and get relaxation time. We want to end up with adults who are comfortable with their own thoughts and energy. Here are a few helpful ideas that have worked in my practice and in my own home:

If your child is 0-2 years old:

1. No screen time. Just turn it off. Put the remote controls out of sight, hide the iPad, and keep your phone in your purse. During this age range, it comes down to parent discipline. They don’t need it, and they won’t want it later if you start the good habits now.

If your child is 2-5:

2. Remember the power of distraction. Again, just turn it off. Keep the devices out of sight, and use the power of distraction (“Hey, let’s read this good book!”) to redirect attention when they start requesting (whining *cough*) for it.

3. Have other options for “down time” available. Books, books, books. The families that are most successful at this step have books, magazines, newspapers, postcards and letters available for their children in every room of the house. Also place out dolls, trains, play dishes ~ whatever their fancy for imaginative and pretend play.

4. Put on music to fill their auditory space. You can also start introducing books on tape or podcasts if they are having difficulty leaving the technology behind. This step works well for parents who need the time for themselves to accomplish something.

5. Ask them to help. I know, believe me, how much faster chores go when you can do them yourself. But a child who is helping around the house is not getting in trouble, is not complaining about being bored, and is getting positive quality time from their parents. And during this age, they like to help! Take advantage of it.

This is an important age for screen time structure. They won’t complain for it very often if they aren’t used to it. Go cold turkey if you can!

If your child is school-age:

6. Try the tips mentioned above. Set the structure in place, grit your teeth, and repeat the mantra that you are doing what’s best for their little minds.

7. Transfer screen time to a task-specific reward, rather than a “down time” activity. After homework completion or chores, say, the reward is 20 minutes (timed on a Time Timer or analogue clock) of iPad time. “Down time” on the weekends or afternoons is time for books, free play, sports, family games, etc., that foster communication and learning. Focus on rewarding a specific task (or positive effort -timed- on homework), rather than good behavior, or the screen time becomes a bribe rather than a reward.

8. Use screen time for research time. Spend some time with your child showing them how to look things up in Wikipedia, Google, or find supporting documentation for a book report. Help them use media as a tool.

9. Model other “down time” activities (like book reading, shooting hoops, etc.) Watch your grownup shows after they go to bed. I love a good Downton Abbey episode, but even that subject matter is too adult for most kids. And the ads on t.v… don’t get me started.

10. Go to the game. As one mom put it, if your child doesn’t have the attention span to attend a football game, they don’t have the attention span to watch it on t.v. Take them with you to the game. Or, if that’s not an option, organize a gathering and let the kids play in the garage or outside with their friends while you watch.

It can be done. One family I work with has six children, some with learning challenges, and all with varying temperaments and energy levels. Screen time is just not an option in their house. The computer and iPad are used on occasion for schoolwork, but the calm and steady demeanor of their parents keep these kids learning, creating, and interacting with each other throughout the day. Oh, and did I mention that this mom homeschools? It can be done.

(One last note: Lest you think I blame screen time for all our society’s woes, think again. I have two fabulous brother-in-laws who make a living in the video game industry. Their “technology” genius? Being able to communicate ideas clearly and effectively, energize and manage teams of people, and use social and pragmatic language skills to introduce new products. Those skills are acquired through hands-on learning, book reading, and interactions with people. Screen time can serve its place if used effectively, which I will delve into in a future post focused on our middle school and high school students.)

Screen Time… Is it really that bad?

I recently read a couple of blog articles about screen time, and it got me fired up again. As a parent of two young children, I understand reality in a chaotic household and the modern family life. But I feel very strongly that this is an area where even the most well-intentioned parents choose to turn a blind eye. The following article examines the research for young kids (under 2). What I see in my practice are things becoming habit. While it’s hard to resist your toddler at age 2, it’s even harder to get your middle schooler to put down the iPad or phone. We’re not perfect in my own house, but I ask that you take a good look at your child’s use of screen time. Here’s a link to that article:Screen Time for Kids

http://families.naeyc.org/learning-and-development/music-math-more/how-true-are-our-assumptions-about-screen-time

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The Big Experiment

In an effort to simplify our life and downsize our budget, we recently embarked on the “Big Experiment” in our house:  eliminating cable.  Partly as an effort to make sure our time together with our busy schedules was truly a time of connection.  Partly because the cable around here has gotten ridiculously expensive.  And partly because, as a therapist working in a child development field, I felt I needed to at least try to “practice what I preach.”

In general, we didn’t let our daughter watch television before we axed the cable.  But the television was often on during the weekend, tuned to the latest sports game.  At night, after our daughter went to bed, my husband and I would watch a show or two.  After all, after a long day of work, when you really need to relax, some mind-numbing show can do the trick!  But the thing we’ve noticed over the past two months or so is that we don’t really need it.  During the day my daughter is playing or reading books.  And at night, my husband and I can actually talk to each other, and there is always the internet to stream our favorite show (“Parenthood”).  Every few weeks we will sit down on a Friday night for a “date night in” (yes, we are getting old, people!) and watch several episodes of Parenthood.

Personally, I have loved the change.  Yes, I have only one child, so giving her attention throughout the day isn’t as difficult as it might be for a bustling family of five or six.  And yes, I supplement my “screen time” with the internet and my iPhone, but also with books, magazines, baking, and conversation.  My husband has also taken to The Big Experiment, reading, talking, cooking, and getting more sleep.  (As it is, I will have a hard time convincing him that this change should be a permanent one come college football season in the fall.)

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