A guide for parents of toddlers to teens in taking charge of screen technology

A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven (The Philippine Star) - May 23, 2019 - 12:00am

(Part I)

Noël Janis Norton, a learning and behavior specialist with over 45 years experience in Britain and the United States, says, ”We need to treat our children’s screen preoccupations seriously as if it were a real addiction. We know that when people are addicted to a substance or an activity, they’ll find a way to satisfy their craving even if it is at great personal cost.” She is internationally known for her distinctive Calmer, Easier, Happier Parenting and Teaching methods, which shows parents how to improve family life and which guide teachers to bring out the best in their pupils.

The educational impact of screen time

When researchers measure the educational impact of children’s and teens’ screen use, they find that the more time children and teenagers spend in front of a screen, the more their test scores decline. Mathematics, reading comprehension, and essay writing are affected.

Academic achievement requires critical thinking, attention to detail and willingness to persevere with a challenge. Computers encourage the opposite kinds of information processing. Computer use reinforces a short attention span and a quick reaction time. Plus of course the more time kids spend playing games on computers, the less time they are spending on homework, reading, reviewing and school projects.

To make the most of their education, our young people need to be involved in more activities that use and reinforce the parts of the brain that govern planning, prioritizing, anticipating, organization, sequencing, self control, critical thinking, understanding cause and effect and understanding motives. They will get this through conversation with interested adults, through reading and through real life experiences. But computer use expands to fill free time so there is less time available for conversing with adults, less time available for reading, for education and for real life.

Repercussion of the fast-paced nature of computer games

The fast-paced nature of interactive computer games, with images that change every few seconds, leads children to expect instant and constant distraction. Actual accounts prove too much screen time also tends to make children less confident about trying unfamiliar experiences and less willing to take healthy risks. Statistics tell us that for each additional hour a week that a toddler or young child spends on a screen, the more likely he or she is to be diagnosed with ADHD a few years later. (Make sure there’s no TV in the bedroom including the parents’ room, only in the communal room).

Descriptive praise to make habits easier to establish

For many parents, lack of cooperation is the most frustrating part of parenting. Luckily it’s never too late to guide our children into the habit of first-time cooperation. But it won’t be a quick fix. Instead of lecturing and telling off when our children do something wrong, praise them when they do something right. Descriptive praise is about noticing and mentioning the little OK things our kids do. This strategy describe exactly what the child did right or exactly what he didn’t do wrong. Cooperation and self-reliance are two very important habits we want to strengthen, as well as the other qualities that you want to see more of such as friendliness, flexibility, helpfulness, attention to detail, courage.

Here are some descriptive praises that will result in more self-reliance and a more mature sense of responsibility: ‘You got dressed and made your bed before you came down for breakfast.’ and ‘I saw the two of you sharing the markers, and there was hardly any arguing.’ Here are some examples of descriptive praise that are specifically to do with screen time: ‘Every day you’re arguing less about the new computer rule.’ ‘You gave me your tablet the first time I asked you for it.’ or ‘This morning you didn’t ask for the iPad before school. You’re remembering our new rule.’

In all these descriptive praise examples, the parents were not saying, ‘Well done’ or ‘Brilliant’ or ‘Terrific’. Superlative praises are so vague the child is often not really clear what he did that was so great. Each time you say a descriptive praise, you are helping your child to see herself in a new, more positive light. This makes it easier for her to be more cooperative, and eventually self-reliant about all things you want her to do. 

Establishing rules and routines

Rules and routines are needed to help establish a wholesome lifestyle for our children and teens so that they can mature sensibly. A rule needs to be clear, and phrased in terms of what the young person should do. It is not enough to talk about what she should not do. A rule needs consistent follow through, otherwise it isn’t a rule, it’s just a nag.

The least effective way to transmit our values is with lecturing and telling off after something has already gone wrong. When we react after the event, we will probably be annoyed or disappointed or even shocked, and that kind of reaction makes teens and preteens not want to listen to anything we have to say. We need to prepare for success before things go wrong.

 We can focus on prevention by establishing rules and routines and then following through to make sure they are being followed. We can give children and teens bits of responsibility and then monitor them closely.

Using the think-through technique

We can establish our rules, which soon become routines, with very effective technique called a think-through. A think-through is a friendly conversation that lasts one minute. It is an extremely positive way of getting your point across. It is structured in a particular way. You will ask your child or teen some questions about what the rule or expectation is and what she should do, and she will answer your questions.

During a one-minute think-through you don’t talk about what he did wrong the last time or about what he should not do. You phrase the new rule in the positive. You may say, ‘The new rule is that from now on you need to finish your homework to our satisfaction before you can go on the computer.’ State the new rule in one simple sentence, and then refrain from explaining and justifying. Having told them the new rule you then ask think-through questions like: ‘What’s the new rule that I just told you?’, ‘What do you have to do before you can go on the computer?’ and ‘What does “to our satisfaction” mean?’

(For feedback email to precious.soliven@yahoo.com)

(Part II – “Replacing Screen Time with Family Time”)

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