Replacing screen time with family time
A POINT OF AWARENESS - Preciosa S. Soliven (The Philippine Star) - June 27, 2019 - 12:00am

(Part II of “A Guide for Parents of Toddlers to teens in Screen Technology”)

When too much screen time becomes the norm, children become less interested in non-screen activities. So during the early weeks of this new screen-time reward plan, you may find that your children and teens don’t know what to do with themselves. All children at every age are capable of entertaining themselves, but if they haven’t been left to do this they may forget how and may resent being expected to relearn this basic skill. We don’t know how a child’s gifts and talents will unfold, so we want to give him a chance to explore different possibilities. Teens, in particular who become more and more absorbed in the screen world are less and less enthusiastic about activities they used to find enjoyable and fulfilling. 

Cultivating children’s hobbies with daily exposure to parents’ creativity

There is a lot we can do to re-awaken our children’s interest in non-screen pastimes and hobbies. You may need to put some time and thought into planning alternative activities like doing a scrapbook, family tree album, trying out Japanese, Thai or Mexican recipes. This can be a part of family time or a special time. Family time is one or both parents with two or more children doing something everyone enjoys. When children are exposed on a daily basis to their parents’ interest in their education, they become more articulate and better informed about general knowledge. They enjoy school more, get better grades, and eventually graduate from a university. Siblings get along better because they have to practice being civil to each other for a period of time every day. Teens are less likely to experiment with minor or major wrongdoing (missing school, cheating, stealing, drugs, and irresponsible sexual activity) because they are daily absorbing their parents’ values.

There are some family activities that parents have found useful for reducing children’s screen craving, while involving the younger and older siblings at the same time. These activities are board games, picnics or cook-outs in the garden or park, visiting museums together, etc. Expect your children to be highly resistant at first, declaring that any activities you suggest is babyish, boring or stupid. But my advice: Persevere! If one child doesn’t want to participate, get started on the activity on your own with a sibling. Children love to hang out with parents who are in a good mood and who are making time for them. 

Reflective listening

Another useful strategy that helps children and teens to feel better and to behave better is reflective listening. It is a way of reacting to upsets that is different from what we usually do. When children are upset, they are usually not open to reason. Instead of making your child see sense, try to focus on understanding the painful emotion your child is going through. Your child will feel comforted when he can see that his parents are taking the time to think about how he feels. When children feel heard and understood, the intensity of their upset will gradually fade. They move out of being stuck in their uncomfortable emotion. They are more likely to listen to your pearls of wisdom – as long as you keep it short.

Reflective listening has four steps. Step one: We need to pause so that we don’t react in our usual and often unhelpful ways. We need to set aside our own upset so that we can think clearly. This may not be easy to do because a child’s or a teen’s upset is often accompanied by disrespect and other forms of misbehavior. But if our old ways of reacting are not working to build better habits, we need to do something different. Step two: Let’s show we are listening by stopping what we are doing and by looking at him. We can make listening noises, such as ‘Umm...’ or ‘Ah…’. You can also give your child a hug if you feel that it might help.

Step three: We need to look deeper because children are often confused or inarticulate – often they don’t know how to express what they really mean. We use our words to reflect back to the child what we imagine he is feeling. Step four: Give your child his wishes in fantasy. This injects a note of lightness and fun. When he whines, ‘I want to finish this game,’ you could say, ‘Maybe you wish you could play on the computer for as long as you like, and no one would stop you.’ Use reflective listening whenever your child is upset, instead of lecturing and telling off or giving in.

Unwelcome effects from games involving aggression

There are unwelcome effects from too much screen time, quite apart from the content and quality of what’s on the screen. Most research demonstrate a link between watching or participating in on-screen aggression and heightened aggression and anxiety in real life. Real-life aggression can take a number of different forms, including greater disrespect towards parents, more teasing of younger siblings, more impulsive lashing out or shouting when frustrated, and less cooperation at home.

You can do your own in-house experiment, as many parents have done. If you have a child or teen who spends an hour or more a day watching or participating in on-screen aggression, you can reduce this amount to one or two hours a week and notice for yourself the result. Parents regularly report that within a few weeks their child’s anger and resentment fade significantly, and he becomes much calmer, happier, and more cooperative. Anxieties will also fade, and he will become braver and more emotionally resilient.

The calmer, easier, happier parenting guidelines

Mrs. Noël Norton recommends to parents to extend the ban on all screen exposure to three-year-old children. This is based on research and observation of how screen use adversely affects toddlers’ moods, concentration, confidence, and resilience. Screen use by children below the age of three years can be detrimental. Young children, even babies, grow up entertaining themselves. They start developing the essential life skills of self-reliance, confidence, patience and flexibility. This habit has largely faded away. More children nowadays are perceived by parents and teachers to be sensitive, clingy, unconfident, and inflexible.

“My recommendation from age eight upwards is a maximum of an hour per day of leisure screen time. That figure is based on my experience of how the human body and brain react to leisure screen use. If our child needs to use the computer for homework, that’s completely separate from leisure screen use.”

(Ref. Calmer, Easier, Happier Screen time by Noël Janis-Norton)

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