Screen addiction in children

I’m one of those moms who sway between the different extremes when it comes to screen time for my kids. I like to think I have it all under control and that I’ve created a “good balance”.

You know, I’m not the hippy (no offense) with no TV at home but I also place high value on free play and expanding my kids imaginations. I usually only resort to screen time at the end of a long day and with very strict guidelines on what they watch. Ok I also got into the very bad habit lately of putting Peppa Pig on my phone when my youngest wakes up and gets into our bed. It’s all in a bid to get a few more minutes shut-eye, but that’s a terrible excuse right?

While I’ve perfected the balance at times, I know I’m guilty of allowing too much TV time to creep in. Lately they either spend half an afternoon watching Peppa Pig or the next minute I’m declaring “No TV for a week!”

I go from being all “But kids are living in a different time than we did and by the time they get to school they are going to need to know how technology works” to telling them too much TV will turn their eyes square. (Yes I lie to my children sometimes). I then like to convince myself that embracing the 21st century is where it’s at and with strict monitoring there is no harm done.

But then I watched Carte Blanch last night and was shocked at what I heard. Or was I really? Have I just become so good at ignoring the voice at the back of my head?

Tech expert Brad Huddlestone shed light on the issue and shared with us how research has started to show what a huge impact all this screen time is having on our kids. And I’m not sure I like it. He talks about just how addictive tablets, Ipads, computers and TV can be and how using them to often can lead to the rewiring of our brains.

They have noticed such a close similarity with the brain’s activity when using drugs or eating sugar and what happens to the chemicals in our brain when we use technical devises for long lengths of time.

Brad even went on to explain how there are even rehabilitation centers being set up in Asia for this kind of addiction which is now an actual psychological/mental/social disorder. Scary right?

Have we as parents started ignoring the nagging sense that we should do more to limit screen-time? Have we gotten so used to questioning whether there’s enough evidence to justify yanking coveted devices by rationalizing that it’s “part of our kids’ culture.

It’s not only the addictive nature of it all that’s so concerning. What about the fact that it creates such disconnectedness between families, between people! We are no longer chatting to each other, instead handing our kids devises to keep them quite and distract them from being chatty and talkative kids.

This is what Catherine Steiner-Adair, a Harvard-affiliated clinical psychologist and author of the best-selling book “The Big Disconnect: Protecting Childhood and Family Relationships in the Digital Age” says this:

“We’re throwing screens at children all day long, giving them distractions rather than teaching them how to self-soothe, to calm themselves down.” It’s no wonder everything often becomes too much for children who are so easily overwhelmed.

“If kids are allowed to play ‘Candy Crush’ on the way to school, the car ride will be quiet, but that’s not what kids need,” Dr. Steiner-Adair said in an interview. “They need time to daydream, deal with anxieties, process their thoughts and share them with parents, who can provide reassurance.”

Its no surprise we have called a “TV free week” in our house, which I know you may think is a bit extreme, but I’m looking at a bit like a screen detox. It’s not forever (and I’m sure we’ll be experiencing  some horrible withdrawals) but I think it’s important to show our kids that we don’t need to rely on TV and devises for entertainment. It also teaches all of us some very healthy discipline around saying no and gaining some control back.

So while you wont see me throwing our TV out my intentions are definitely to put a much tighter limit on when and what my kids watch. It’s never to late to start making changes to give our children the very best that they deserve. No matter what side of the fence you are on, you cannot deny the negative impact too much TV is having on our kids and I hope you feel challenged to make a few little changes. Although if you watched Carte Blanche last night you have probably declared a no TV week too. In that case, good on you and good luck.

Leigh Geary

Leigh Geary was born and bred in good ol’ Jozi before moving with her family to Cape Town where she continued high school. She went on and studied Foundation Phase teaching and Child Psychology through Damelin while working in the childcare industry as an aupair. She is married and has two energetic little boys, Noah and Brody, who inspire her to record her stories for them as well as bringing moms together through shared experiences on her blog The Mom Diaries.

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