Put the Screens Away: Parenting Tips from Lisa Hunt-Wotton
In this information age, industrial scientists have found out that people’s attention span lasts for about two and a half minutes. Before the internet we actually had longer trains of thought. It is now widely known that interrupted brain spans are not healthy for the brain. When we are on the internet or on screens a lot, it is actually training our brains to have scattered thoughts and low attention spans. It is possible to change this, the brain is plastic and it with activity and mental experience it can be rewired (Doidge).
When my children were small, the only screens available were the TV and a handheld donkey kong. Even so, my husband and I were very conscious of limiting screen time. I have a passion for stories and wanted my children to grow up appreciating literature. I also believed that it was important for children to learn how to have quiet time. I think silence and quiet time is the greatest gift that I have given my children.
Around the age of two, when they are starting to move out of the afternoon nap, I substituted the nap time for quiet time. They had to spend about an hour on their own on a mat in the lounge, quietly reading, playing with creative toys like leggo, duplo, dollies, or drawing.
If it was a sunny day I would put a mattress out on the porch and they would sit outside. I would be nearby quietly gardening or reading. They were allowed to talk to themselves, sing, sit and lay down. They were not allowed to walk around or yell out to me. To make this time more captivating, there were different boxes of ‘special’ toys, books, that only got bought out at quiet time.
When we went on holidays, we chose destinations with no power. On purpose. This meant no TV and no movies. Don’t faint.
What about early mornings?
Well my children were early risers and without TV to keep them quiet it was a challenge. Thankfully they had always been taught to have quiet time. So the afternoon quiet time was swapped for the mornings. I would make up boxes of interesting craft. Everything that would be needed for interesting and successful craft in one colourful box, along with a drink and a special snack. Each child had their own box which would sit on the end of the bed. They were not allowed to open it until the morning when they woke up and it was packed away until the next morning. They would sit quietly playing until the rest of the family started to wake up. This was ususally for about an hour.
What is my point?
It is up to us as parents to train and teach our children to know what it is to be able to sit quietly when needed. I see so many children that cannot do this. Please understand, my kids were raging lunatics, they were not quiet passive little pets. This was a learned thing. When my boys were 3 and 5 we bought a house in a semi rural area. We actually said to the agent that we would buy the property without even looking inside the house. The yard was far more important. We wanted somewhere for two little boys to grow and explore and have adventures. Creeks to ford, frogs and rabbits to catch, camp fires in the back yard and plenty of room for cubby houses.
**I understand that not everyone can do this but there are so many great parks and green spaces available to take kids.
It is the job of parents to:
- Think creatively ahead of time and prepare things like special craft boxes, activity books, special story books.
- Participate in the activities.
- Encourage creative play and problem solving.
- Get involved in projects. I spent hours in the creek with my boys.
- Go for walks.
It is proven that when we walk outside and take in new environments, we trigger growth programmes in the brain. We actually trigger new connections in the brain. Dementia is accelerated with a sedentary life style (Doidge).
Outdoor activities help develop problem solving skills. Climb a tree, build a billy cart from an old pram, fix a cubby house, sleep outside under the stars and many other cheap and easy activities. These skills will serve them well into adult hood.
It is becoming more widely known that reading exposure during the critical stage of development prior to kindergarten seems to have a meaningful, measurable impact on how a child’s brain processes stories and may help predict reading success, said study author John Hutton.
Of particular importance are the brain areas supporting mental imagery, helping the child “see the story beyond the pictures, affirming the invaluable role of imagination” (Hutton).
Children with ADHD, and learning difficulties can all be helped by creative learning. “It is possible to treat learning disabilities by identifying and strengthening cognitive functions”(Barbara Arrow Smith Young).
Screen time is creating subtle damage even in children with “regular” exposure, considering that the average child clocks in more than seven hours a day (Rideout 2010).
I hear comments like: He can’t focus, he is totally defiant, getting ready for school or night time is a nightmare, she has meltdowns and is exhausted even if she’s had enough sleep.
Dr Victoria Dunckley says: “As a practitioner, I observe that many of the children I see suffer from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyperaroused nervous system, regardless of diagnosis—what I call electronic screen syndrome. These children are impulsive, moody, and can’t pay attention” (Victoria Dunckley).
- Use this research to strengthen your own parental position on screen management
- Think creatively about the alternatives
- Spend time with your children, engage with them
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Thanks for considering.
Victoria Dunckley has just released a new book on this subject called “Reset Your Childs Brain”. You can click on the image to purchase through Amazon or go to:
Doidge, Norman. “The Brain That Changes Itself: Stories of Personal Triumph from the Frontiers of Brain Science”. Click the book to purchase through Amazon.
- Hutton, John. MD, National Research Service Award Fellow, Division of General and Community Pediatrics, Reading and Literacy Discovery Center, Cincinnati Children’s Hospital Medical Center.
- Lin, Fuchun, Yan Zhou, Yasong Du, Lindi Qin, Zhimin Zhao, Jianrong Xu, and Hao Lei. “Abnormal White Matter Integrity in Adolescents with Internet Addiction Disorder: A Tract-Based Spatial Statistics Study.” PloS One 7, no. 1 (2012): e30253. doi:10.1371/journal.pone.0030253.
- Psychology Today: https://www.psychologytoday.com/blog/mental-wealth/201402/gray-matters-too-much-screen-time-damages-the-brain
- Rideout, Victoria J., Ulla G. Foehr, and Donald F. Roberts. “Generation M2: Media in the Lives of 8- to 18- Year Olds.” Kaiser Family Foundation Study (2010). http://kff.org/other/poll-finding/report-generation-m2-media-in-the-lives/(link is external)