So, I have to say, I feel that the main idea behind this webinar was to give you strategies for things to do other than offer screen time…but I hope that parents who watched didn’t feel shamed if they do let their children watch programming. I really appreciated that they started with Emmi Pikler’s statement which essentially says that if you are paying attention to your child, to the inner cares and concerns, if you’re observing and present, and letting those guide your responses to and your interactions with your child, then you are doing a good job…you are raising your child well. And I agree: you are all such caring, committed and present parents, who pay attention to your children’s points of view, who are thoughtful…you are absolutely raising your children well, even in this tumultuous time.
As their goal really is to limit screen time, that’s where most of their focus was. They touched briefly on some of the negative impacts of screen time like the fact that screen time actually stimulates our nervous systems…and for young children who are already extremely sensitive to stimulation (remember, their brains are WIDE open right now…their brains do more growing and developing in the first 2 years of life than in ALL OF THE REST OF THEIR LIVES COMBINED), this stimulation is interpreted by their brains as stress. Yikes!
I really resonated with one of the presenters when she said that when she’s engaging with screens, she feels her energy going outward and her thinking sometimes gets scattered. Me too! In fact, I didn’t realize, but I’ve been unconsciously trying to cope with my sudden uptick in screen time by taking notes and journaling with paper and pen. She also reminded parents about what we already know for our own screen use…limit consumption before bedtime…if you are using screen time as a wind down activity and you’re finding bedtime challenging, that might be why.
But beyond that, they really didn’t harp on the problems with screen time (if you would like more info on that you can read this, this, or this or watch this), but instead talked about how to help transition children away from screen time. Acknowledging that it is hard…they didn’t say this, but as Magda did…what children get, they come to expect, and then need. So if children have become used to having screen time options, making a change is going to be hard. (And for many of you, simply turning off the device at the end of a session is hard!)
In terms of turning off the device, I always counsel parents to sit down and engage with their child through what’s happening in the show as it comes to a close (or throughout the whole program)…talk about what’s happening on the screen, bring them back into relationship with you, so that when it is time to turn it off, it doesn’t feel like such a bucket of ice water to them.
It also helps to have very clear guidelines for yourself about when and what you allow your child to watch. Schedule designated times, so that you don’t feel like you are ‘caving’ when you just can’t cope…children will ask for it less when they have a clearer idea of when they can expect it.
And I want to throw in a word of encouragement about video chatting…the American Academy of Pediatrics says that video chatting is different from typical screen time…it does not have the same types of impact on children’s brains as shows with programming. They do recommend having children sit back from the screen and play in the background, rather than sitting up close…and suggest you also connect in other ways like by mailing letters and packages and talking on the phone…but in and of themselves, video chats are not harmful.
If you’re ready to cut screen time out, this webinar suggested doubling down on free play time. They suggested carving out the time that you would have spent going to a class or workshop and dedicating it to free play. They really emphasized creating a dedicated safe play space…and think about it…we are all now working from home. Aren’t you finding that having a dedicated space for your work helps you focus? It’s the same for children. And lastly, maybe it is time to shake up your play materials.
RIE Associate, Anna Ruth Myers, challenged herself to go through her small NY apartment to look for ‘found’ materials that could be used for children in free play…and she got a nice little collection. I challenge you to do the same. Raid your linen closet for handkerchiefs, washcloths, and hand towels; head to the kitchen for Tupperware, measuring cups, bows, silicone items, napkin rings; assess your knickknacks for miscellaneous sundry like old makeup bags or purses; and, of course, hit up the recycling for boxes and bottles. Pull the sofa cushions off the sofa for big things to carry. Hang up a sheet over the corner of a room to make it a small space…See what changing up your children’s playthings does for their play and exploration.
Of course the most important thing you need for free play is a ready and open mindset. Have confidence in yourself that letting your child play and explore, even if they have to ‘stretch’ a little to get into that frame of mind, is the right thing for them. Have confidence in your child that free and uninterrupted play is something they not only CAN do, but is something they are developmentally programmed to do. Think about it also, from your child’s point of view, and don’t necessarily go for a sudden and dramatic shift. Talk to your child about the change, start imposing more limits on how much screen time you’re offering, give them alternatives to do something else (reading books together is an excellent substitution as you are weaning away from screen time). Don’t be discouraged if your child cries or tantrums: this is a change and a loss for them, let them feel sad about it! Don’t be sad with them, no instead, think of this as a gift you are offering your child! Did you know that play is one of the keys to developing empathy, understanding and trust of others and the world, as well as personal coping skills? It’s true!
But all that said, the most important thing about screen time is to not feel too guilty about it. Your guilt is certainly something to look at because it is telling you something, so maybe you do want to make some changes…but don’t let guilt overtake you. There is enough in parenting to feel guilty about. Give yourself what you give to your child…observation, kindness, limits, love and joy.