Friday, 13 March 2015

Techniques for Limiting Screen Time & Content

The Electronic Conundrum

When I was young, we played, played, and played some more.  I remember playing cops and robbers outside with the neighbours and playing countless board games with my family.  Lego was also a big hit.  In fact, I learned later in life that my parents never bought me my own Lego in order to manipulate me into playing with my brother.  Well played, Mom and Dad.

Electronics Promoting Parallel Play
well Past the Natural Developmental Phase (2-3 years)

I even remember the day when we got our first Nintendo.  Wow, were we excited.  There's nothing like the classics, Super Mario, The Legends of Zelda, and of course, Duck Hunt (I must say, I was awesome at that game, but that in no way dictates that I'm a good shot in real life, quite the contrary).  If I remember correctly, it wasn't until later that we discovered the joys of Mario Cart.  Countless hours were wasted playing these games.  We did, however, still play all the time and as we got older, we went to karate about 3 times per week, so lots of exercise there.

Now, forward to 2015.  Technology has become mainstream in our society.  Almost everyone has a cell phone (Except me, we don't get service at my house, so what's the point in having that outrageous monthly fee?).  Many kids have a DS, Wii, Xbox, iPad, iPod Touch, tablet, TV, and/or a computer/laptop.  It's not that they have one of these items; They have many.  I see children who often jump from one electronic device to the next or have 2 running simultaneously.  They spend hours performing sedentary activities, while eating sugary foods.  I'm not saying that my own children don't do these things.  They certainly go through stages of doing exactly this.  Life gets busy, you just need a moment of peace and quiet, suppers need to be made without constant interruption.  Then my husband and I will stop and say, "Hey, we need to make a change!"   

Why is this a problem?  According to Kid's Health, the brain development in the first 2 years of life is at it's peak performance.  Children are learning to play, explore their surroundings, and develop social and physical skills.  

An increase in screen time deters children from being physically active, reading, completing homework, playing with friends, and interacting with family members.  Not only does it affect their development, it also leads to childhood obesity.

What have I learned as a teacher?  Learning through play and interacting with your environment is extremely important in developing proper social skills, making connections between new and old information to enhance comprehension and learning, and promotes an active, healthy lifestyle.  

Violence in Electronics:  Children learn the natural consequences of their actions by having the opportunity to explore their environment.  When a child falls off of a play set, they learn that they need to be extra careful when climbing to greater heights.  When they speak politely to their parents, their parents are more apt to fulfill their wishes.  For every action, there is a consequence, whether good or bad.  Children learn this through countless trials and errors.  As they collect several similar memories of their actions and consequences, they start to make connections between them and form a concrete concept of how the world works and their part in it.

When children spend the majority of their time in front of the screen, they are decreasing natural learning and increasing unrealistic learning.  When a character dies in a video game, you can start all over again.  When they get hurt, it surely doesn't send their character to the hospital for a month or two with rehabilitation.  They can't feel or experience what happens on the screen.  The less time that children spend in real life circumstances and the more time they spend playing unrealistic games, the less opportunity your child will have to fully comprehend the actual consequences of their actions.

Parallel Play: Parallel play or playing along side another child without communicating or interacting is a normal developmental step for a toddler (aged 2-3 years) and is a great step that leads to playing in groups as children develop their social skills.

The problem is that so many children in our society will play with their siblings or visit their friends and there they all are, side by side on their electronic devices.  More often than not, I hear one child comment about their own game, while the other child, oblivious to what their friend said, responds by commenting about their own game.  There is definitely a lack of proper communication.  

Can you imagine if we all walked around all day communicating with each other by only speaking about ourselves and what we are doing and never responding to what others are saying?  This is definitely the skill that our children are practicing.

Lack of Imagination: One major issue that I have noticed, arises when my children go through a stage of increased electronic use.  When I cut them off to take a break, they have absolutely no idea what to do with themselves.  Even when I make suggestions, they simply aren't good enough.

Why is this?  Electronics offer instant gratification.  They have exciting colours and tasks to accomplish, children can jump from game to game as their interest wanes, and they are frequently rewarded for completing a level or task.  This is an external motivator.  It's easy to obtain.  It supports the concept of what will I get if I do this?  Children don't have to think or try very hard to be successful.   

In regards to television use, children become zoned in and literally start behaving like zombies.  Have you ever tried to talk to a child who is zoned in on their show? 

What is an internal motivator?  We want to shift our children's goals to internal motivators.  This is the drive that moves people forward in life to better themselves.  Internal motivation is the need to succeed, get excited about your accomplishments, and work towards personal goals.  Life long learners have internal motivation.  People with a strong work ethic, who strive to be the best and move up the ladder, have internal motivation.  We want to put our efforts into facilitating our children's internal motivators.

How do I Increase my Child's Internal Motivators and Foster Creativity?  
The Wonderous Sounds of Creative Play

  • Model the desire to learn & improve in yourself (read books, have hobbies, play sports, make goals and work towards them)
  • Encourage your children to play outside (children love to get creative outside by making forts, playing in the dirt with trucks and shovels, making rivers in the dirt when the snow is melting, helping in the garden, making snacks over a fire pit, playing tag, or the most recent games I've heard of are Man Hunt, real life Minecraft, real life Prodigy (after an online Math game), dragon riding, and basically anything that mimics their favourite things revered by the media)
  • Foster your children's learning by paying attention to their interests and encouraging them to create a goal related to that interest (My son loves rocks, so I buy him books about rocks that I read to him each night, we search out special rocks in the yard and research them, he has a special spot for his rock collection, he has a magnifying glass to analyze his rocks, I'm planning to create a chart where he can document his findings)
  • Motivate your child by using praise (Way to go!  You're almost there!  I'm so proud of you!)
  • Indicate ways to improve by first pointing out something you like, then pointing out an area for improvement ("I really like all of these rocks you have collected.  Can you please find me a rose quartz for our collection?" - If your child doesn't know what that is, show them how to find out - books, Google, ask an expert, go on an excursion to the Science Center)
  • Take interest in your child's learning.  Children love when they can share their interests with their parents.  You are their biggest influence 
  • Sign your children up for extracurricular events
  • Limit screen time
How do I Limit Screen Time?  

This sounds challenging, but honestly, it's not as hard as you think.  My children were not impressed, the first time I decided that we needed to make some serious changes in our house, but I took some steps that were very useful in preparing them for the change.
  •  First, I talked to my kids about the health risks of using electronics too much.  I told them that their health and happiness is the most important thing to me and that is why we are making these changes
  • Compromise with your children - Let them know that you think it would be best to take away the screen completely, but you don't think it's fair to them, so you are willing to compromise by allowing them to earn screen time.  If they argue with you about this, let them know that the alternative is no electronics at all
  • Set limits and stick to them - If you don't follow through on the limits that you set, then why did you bother to set them in the first place?  Following through allows your children to know that when you say something, you mean it
  • In our house, we have must do chores required for being part of a functioning family and extra chores that allow them to earn money or screen time - it's their choice (Here is a Handy Electronic Use Chart that you can use and edit)
  • Your children will likely argue with you about wanting to use their electronics more often.  Simply tell them that they know the rules and why they are there.  Their choices are to play with something else or give them a list of chores they are welcome to complete
What are the Recommended Screen Times?  
Pediatricians are recommending no more than 2 hours of electronics time per day and for children under the age of 2, they suggest that you eliminate the use of electronics completely.

We know that every family functions differently, so use the recommendations to prove your point that electronic use needs to be limited, but do what works for you and your family.

I know that I usually need some quiet time when I'm preparing supper after a busy day to maintain my sanity.  I don't make my children earn the use of their electronics at this time.  If they are occupied doing something other than electronics, then that's Great!  However, if they aren't and they are tired and whining and constantly fighting, then we have a problem.  This is when I don't have the time or energy to help them sort things out, as I'm exhausted myself and lacking patience.  This is a time when the TV can be a very helpful babysitter.  I'm not overly concerned with allowing this because I have dictated that this is a TV watching time and it ends as soon as supper is ready.

My children get car sick, so this doesn't work for us, but I know many parents who allow an extended amount of electronics time on long car rides.  This makes sense because there's only so much time you can dedicate to singing songs and playing punch buggy seeking games (we never find these anymore).  Since we can't use electronics in our car, we bring dinosaurs and other action figures for the kids to play with. 

Some parents have "No Electronic Days."  I think this is a great way to foster imaginative play.  When children know that there is no chance of using their electronics, they have no alternative but to find other interests.  Some well loved activities include making crafts (Rainbow Loom, learning to knit, Minecraft Papercraft, etc.), marble runs, and Lego is a big hit.  Just today, my kids were making a Lego city.  It's great how they can turn small goals of making individual buildings and vehicles into a larger goal of creating an entire city.  Definitely a great step in cultivating internal motivation.

How to Get the Most Out of Screen Time?

We live in a technological society, so to ignore that seems futile.  But we can make better choices where electronics are involved.  

Electronic Toys: On our iPad, we have folders set up for each child that contain learning apps that are appropriate to their age.  We also have a folder with popular games that they've seen their friends playing and they just have to have them.  We set limits as to when they can play outside of their designated "educational" folders.  This way, I know that most of the time when they are using electronics, they are learning something at the same time.

Television:  We are able to set up Channel Lists with our TV provider, so I have a list set up for my children with channels that I feel are appropriate.  I choose some that have fun, fictional shows (Tree House, Disney, PBS Kids) and some that are non-fiction and educational (Animal Planet, Discovery).  My children know that they can only choose from that list of channels.

How do I Deal with Temper Tantrums and Misbehaviour over Electronics?

Oh, the joys of taking a child's electronics from them.  It doesn't always go over well.  I've encountered temper tantrums (which also arise when they are having trouble passing a level or an add pops up on their screen, disrupting their play), screaming, arguing, can you think of any others?

Here is What I Do:

Whenever it's time to transition from playing electronics to another activity, I give them a 5 minute warning.

If my child has earned time for electronics, they set a timer (usually on the iPad and when the timer goes off, they are done).  My eldest loves to check the clock app every once in awhile to see how much time is left.

If my children choose not to follow the rules during "Electronics Time", their electronics are taken away.  They learn quite quickly that these are not the consequences that they want to receive for their actions and choose more wisely in the future. 

Sometimes this results in a temper tantrum or screaming.  To this, I say, "You chose to lose your electronics by not following the rules, if you choose to act this way, there will be another consequence.  You have 2 choices, find something else to do or continue acting out and spend some time in your room until you are ready to calm down and act nicely."  If they keep acting out, I tell them that they have until the count of 3 and then they will go to their room until they are calm.

Arguing basically ends with the same speech, except that this behaviour is usually conducted by older children with whom you can have a more detailed conversation.  I let them know that arguing is pointless, but if they want to earn more electronic time, they can do some chores or they can find something else to do.  If they continue to argue, I tell them that they have until the count of 3 and then I will choose for them and I will be choosing for them to spend some quiet time in their room.

If you have an exceptionally challenging child who continues to act out in their room by kicking doors, yelling, etc., you can do one of the following:
  • For young children, who might not comprehend an in depth conversation, I've had to go up to their room, give them one warning, "You can sit on your bed quietly or I will have to hug you until you calm down.  It's your choice, you have until the count of 3."  If your child chooses to sit quietly, thank them for making a good choice and ask if they are ready to choose another activity.  If they continue acting out, bring them to their bed and hug them tightly enough, that you won't get hurt.  Tell them that once they are calm, they can choose something else to do."
  • With older children who continue to act out in their rooms, I go to their rooms and let them know that the longer they act out, the longer they will stay in their rooms.  If they are hitting doors, they are to stop immediately, otherwise, they will have to pay for a new one out of their own pocket or do chores to make up for it.  They also will not get their electronics back until the door is paid for
  • When you are done dealing with your child's misbehaviour, always talk to them about their actions ("I can't trust you when you don't follow the rules," "Was sneaking around and playing your electronics without permission a good choice?") and ask them what would be a better choice for next time
  • It's easier to learn how to follow through when your children are younger.  The earlier they learn that you mean what you say, the less behaviour issues you will have in the future.  My youngest has a developmental delay, so it took him awhile to comprehend the consequences of his behaviour, but I remained diligent, talked to him about his actions and better choices for the future, found a way to communicate with him without him using words ("Show me.", "Nod your head, yes or no."), as this was a large cause of his behaviour, and stayed calm and encouraging.  It sounds challenging, and it was, but now, he is so much easier to manage.  He's happy and follows the rules for the most part.  When he doesn't, he quickly changes his tune.
Limiting electronic use in the home will likely be a challenge at first, but you now know that others have done it before you and it is definitely possible.  Stay strong, informed, and positive.  You can do it!  

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