The other night I took my children to a dinner party.  As soon as they arrived they asked if they could play video games.  They had been outside all day and I along with the other parents agreed that it would be fine.  After a short time we interrupted them to come and eat- of course it took me a while to peel them away.  Afterwards we said no more technology and the kids struggled for a little bit on what to do next.  There were 10 children ranging in age from 5 to 12.  Before long they decided, on their own, to play a winking game.  If you could only have heard the squeals of delight, witnessed the connected engagement of the kids and felt the joy that radiated from all of them.  Not to mention how we as parents felt as the spectators of true play.  I wish more childhood experiences looked this way as the more time I spend with television and video games the more I feel as though it has squashed the real wonders of childhood.

As a Parent Coach I have heard everything from, ‘My kids have never seen TV’ to ‘My 5 year old plays ‘Call of Duty’ because his older siblings do.’  The spectrum of screen technology use in the home is widespread.  Every parent’s decisions on technology are different due to the variables that exist in one home to the next.  For example, one family may have a full time nanny, allowing the parent the freedom to get things accomplished without a child dangling from their leg.  Another parent may have no support in the home and the tv goes on in order to provide a few moments of sanity.  The way we raise our children has changed drastically from one generation to the next.  Our society no longer sends children out the front door and tells them to come home when the street lights come on.  We are raising our children in isolation a lot more and hence technology has often become what I call the ‘e-sitter.’  (Electronic babysitter) It’s free, it’s quiet and I can get dinner made a lot faster.  Every family has a different level of support and you can begin to see why one family may allow more technology use than the other.  However, being accountable to our decisions surrounding screen time is important.   I can write a novel on the subject, however, here I will outline some educational points and some food for thought.


The down and dirty truth: Most programming aimed at children has a change of image every 3 – 5 seconds.  Your cerebral cortex can only process a change of image every 7 – 10 seconds, hence the zombie like trance most children fall into while watching TV – as their ability for higher level thinking is actually not working.  (Ask yourself why you enjoy watching TV at the end of a long day?)  A child’s brain is developing from the time they are born until about the age of 22 or even 24.  Much of the critical language and emotional regulatory process is happening before the age of 6 or 7.  Our goals should be to offer opportunities to enhance this process versus hinder it.  So yes, we do need to be careful about how much our kids are in a zombie state of mind.  Screens can also be very addictive!  Since our higher level brain isn’t taking the images are mid brain is, which is where are emotions are produced.  We have an emotional response to technology and it is like getting the next ‘high’, hence the begging and the pleading for 5 more minutes of MineCraft and the emotional fall out when we say ‘no’ or ‘its time to turn off your ipad.’ If the show or game is violent it will create a much larger emotional response.  If you see enough violent images you will eventually become desensitized to them, not something we want to see happen in this next generation.

Things to Think About: Our children’s generation is going to be the first to be exposed to this influx of screens and devices.  They are in elevators, at bus stops, in taxi’s, in restaurants, in classrooms, in public washrooms, in ski lodges and in our pockets.   Studies are being conducted all over the world about the impact that this is having.  It is affecting the way our brains function and we are already finding out that children are now expecting a faster paced world.  (So are adults).  We do not yet know the full impact that this is going to have on our children’s developing brains.  Its food for thought when adding up just how much technological exposure truly exists.  Our children just might be the guinea pigs for our researchers.  As adults we need to assess the example that we are setting or inadvertently setting.  How often do our children see our phones in our hands?  How often are we using the ipad?  How is all of this getting in the way with our connection to our own children, family and society?  We are communicating in ways in which we are still learning and understanding the ramifications.  It is not that the written word is anything new, yet the rate in which we are using it to communicate is.  As well, we are communicating with pictures and images.  It is all quite fascinating.  However, when in the hands of a child whose brain is still developing we need to ask ourselves if they are mature enough to communicate in such ways.  Most children and youth are still learning to read social cues, understand intonation, body language, sarcasm, facial expression and many other non written ways of communicating.  So when we are allowing our youth to use Instagram, Facebook, and other chat forums we require a level of emotional maturity that developmentally may not have occurred.

Fear:  I often hear parents saying, ‘I am so afraid that my child will be left behind if they don’t know or understand how to use technology’ or ‘I don’t want my child to be socially left out at school or ridiculed because they don’t know who Dora is’, or for an older child, ‘if he is not playing a certain video game, will he be able to relate to his peers?’  Research shows that when a parent is involved while a child is using media it changes the child’s impact and experience.  So if you are afraid your child will feel left out, then I invite you to turn it into a teaching experience.  Maybe sit down with your child and the device and talk about the different things it can do?  Find out what they love to do on the ipad and why?  Change the way you use the device and create a connective experience.  Sit down and watch Dora with your young child and then show your child how you can draw maps to find neat things around the house?  Help them create wonder and meaning from the device versus the other way around.  If your older child is texting, emailing, Facebook, Instagram and so forth then I invite you to be involved and be discussing the social maturity that comes with writing and sharing with friends.

Research: I really feel that it is important to do your own research.  If you are feeling unsure source some articles (just look closely who is writing them because when the author of the article works for a tech company they probably don’t have your best interest in mind), talk to your pediatrician, and you can even do your own in home experiments – assess your child’s behaviour after they have interacted with a device?  Turn on the tv and see how attracted they are to it?  It is almost impossible to look away.

Overall: I invite all parents to simply create awareness around how much technology their child is exposed to and to make choices surrounding devices that align with their value system.  Challenge your kids to find other ways to entertain themselves and then key into where they find joy.  Allow them to experience boredom and watch as they figure out all on their own how to overcome it.  While disconnected from devices our children will discover who they are and what they love to do.  Let them have time to be in charge of their own play.  It is during this time that our children are using their brains and making positive connections.

*Remember that a scheduled activity led by an adult does not constitute ‘play’, as then an Adult is in charge of starting and stopping the activity and making choices based on what the children will be doing – therefore the child just needs to follow along – this isn’t a bad thing, it is just that if your child is engaged in a lot of scheduled activities and then also has a lot of screen time it leaves very little time for a child to initiate their own play and essentially use their own brain to think, learn and grow.

I may not have gone where I intended to go, but I think I’ve ended up where I needed to be.

Douglas Adams