Teachable Moments

Danger: Cumulative Screen Time for Little Ones

I tried to avoid it; I really did.  I didn’t like it and I didn’t want to deal with it.  Yet, I knew that if I didn’t deal with it now I’d regret it for years to come. So I faced it. I engaged. I chose to enter into conflict….with my preschooler.

I remember the years in which trying to set rules and boundaries with my little ones was more challenging than any other challenge I ever tackled.  I really didn’t look forward to saying things like, “Bedtime is in 5 minutes”, or “No, you may not eat that bag of cookies”, let alone – “Stop painting the dog white with the house paint!” and my favorite, “You will not spoon feed your little brother a bag of powdered sugar and spill it all over the carpet!

While I was wrestling over house paint and powdered sugar (which, by the way, is impossible to get out of carpet after children and a 100-pound Golden Retriever walked all over it), today’s parent wrangles over a less-messy yet more potent problem. Cumulative screen time for children in early childhood (children under the age of 5) has potential harmful effects which negatively affect a child’s development.

In a recent study of 2,441 children*, too much screen time before the age of 2 affects the results of developmental testing in these same children when they are 3-years-old. Consistent with these findings, 3-year-olds who have experienced excessive screen time show decreased developmental outcomes at the age of 5.  Bottom line, research shows that young children should not engage in more than 1 hour of cumulative screen time in a day. So practically, the cartoon before the play date, the iPad in the grocery store, and the computer game after dinner all add up to cumulative screen time. When you add all the screen time together, you don’t want to exceed 60 minutes (1 hour) a day.

How difficult is it for parents to abide by these wise guidelines?  Extremely. Often when children are engaging with a device it provides them an instant gratification, and as such they are likely to have a strong pull toward playing or watching it again and again. Like us, children can easily get hooked on screen time.

How do parents deal with the inevitable conflict that will result if they set and enforce limits on their child’s screen time?

  • Conflict should not be avoided and should be handled with gentleness and patience.  Limiting screen time will be disappointing for the child and may result in conflict, but it is also an opportunity to engage in discussion, spend time together, and teach the qualities of patience and delayed gratification. Help the child identify their disappointment and give them the emotional and verbal skills needed to express their feelings constructively to find alternative activities.
  • Children learn best through movement; they are kinesthetic learners as much as visual ones. Playing with hands-on games, puzzles, and blocks engages their brain in ways a screen never could.  Parents and caregivers alike can work toward understanding the stages of cognitive development of a child and what it takes to maximize a child’s potential for cognitive functions (critical thinking, decision making, creative solutions, etc.) by playing with their children and providing toys that require small and large motor movement.
  • Effective social learning, which takes place when eye contact is made in person, cannot be replaced with screen time.  Parents are encouraged not to “underestimate the value of face-to-face time” in which children learn how to empathize, express emotion, read facial and other nonverbal clues, and learn vocal as well as verbal communication.  Quality time is any time that parents and children are paying attention, listening, talking, and engaging with one another. Every day moments matter!
  • Setting boundaries on screen time is best done early in the child’s development.  A habit of non-screen time is a habit best started when the child is young and kept consistently as they grow.  Not only will the child’s potential for development be maximized, a child is never too young to start a life-long pattern of self-discipline in regard to technology use.
  • Encourage children to explore and be curious. Screen time often makes problem-solving and entertainment too easily accessible. Challenging children to work to overcome boredom or solve their problems engages the child in critical thinking, delayed gratification, and innovative creativity.

Dear Reader, I have a hunch that research will continue to show us the dangers of cumulative screen time. How can we help parents realize the dangers of setting their child in front of the screen too often? Consider passing on this blog post to the parents of preschoolers you know; join them in thinking through what and when screen time could be used in their home. At the same time, this is a great opportunity for each of us to take a serious look at how much time we spend in front of a screen. We can’t influence the Next Generation if we are not self-aware of how we ourselves are using screens. We can also thoughtfully consider how much face-to-face time we may be inadvertently giving up by picking up our screens without thinking through what we are giving up by picking them up. How precious is the time we get to spend in each other’s company without the distraction of a screen!

Many blessings as you seek to uses screen time wisely for you and your children.  

Fondly yours, Elizabeth

**The research study referred to in this article is taken from Madigan, Sheri, et. al. “Associates between Screen Time and Children’s Performance on a Developmental Screening Test.” JAMA Pediatrics. Published online 28 Jan 19. JAMA Network, URL: jamanetwork.com/journals/jamapediatrics/article-abstract/2722666 **


Children and Family, Teachable Moments, Uncategorized, Young Adult, Young Adults

A Christian Guide to Technology Part 2:  A Parent’s Top 10 List

This Christmas as we think about buying our children technology, let’s keep this “Top 10 List” in mind. This Top 10 list encourages parents to think “God first” and then decide what to do for their children, since the best Christian parent is a thinking Christian parent.

  1. We want to temper our love for our children’s happiness with our wisdom to keep them safe. We know that scripture assumes a good father wants to give good gifts to their children, which we may assume will make the kids happy (Luke 11:11-13); simultaneously, one of the responsibilities parents have is to protect our children from their immature lapses of judgment.  What do I do? Don’t give your child something which may make them happy, but in the long run isn’t good for them.  We do this by making an honest assessment of our child’s emotional maturity and their ability to exercise the word “no” for themselves.  If they can’t step back and stop themselves from engaging in ungodly or unhealthy behavior when using technology, then say “no, you may not have that” or “no, you may not go onto that site.”  Be clear, explain why, enforce the “no”.
  2.  One rule for the family may not be as helpful as making individual rules for each individual child. No 2 children are the same, so the wise parent parents each individual child.  What do I do? Prayerfully consider each child’s best interests before you set rules and expectations and don’t fall to the false belief that “one rule fits all”. Example – one child gets an iPhone at the age of 14, but another may need to wait until 16.
  3.  In a family, parents count as much as the children do; as such, know yourself and embrace your limits.  You only have so much time in your life; it’s key that whatever you allow in your child’s life, you have the time to interact with your child about it.  All technology is most beneficial for a child when the parent monitors the child’s use of it. What do I do? Ask yourself, do I have the time needed to monitor this device or how they will be using it?
  4. Encourage your child’s relationship with you before their relationship with technology.  Spending more time in front of a screen and being dismayed when they have to talk to you face to face are symptoms that technology is becoming too important. What do I do? You might consider a general principle that goes something like this: If you can’t talk to me respectfully or enjoy spending time face to face with members of the family, then I won’t allow you to hide behind a screen to talk to someone else. (Take the phone away or turn off the computer.)
  5. Don’t let your love for your child blind you to their limitations. Not all kids are above average – in fact, most are just average. Therefore, don’t give your kids more credit than they deserve.  Assess honestly what they can handle. If you even think they might make an unwise decision while they are on a device, think twice and three times if you want to put them in a position to make that unwise choice.  What do I do?  Think honestly about what your child might be handle and don’t be afraid to say “not yet” if you aren’t sure they are absolutely ready.
  6. Beware of healthy fear-based decisions vs. unhealthy fear-based decisions.  Look at the realistic dangers of technology and media (healthy fear), but never forget that God has His eyes and ears on our children even when we aren’t there. Avoid having more fear of the world than faith in a sovereign, omnipotent God (unhealthy fear).  What do I do?  Become up to date on current research reports on how technology affects children and teens and while you are learning, pray for God to give you faith and discernment as you navigate the millions of questions that technology will inevitably evoke.
  7. Embrace the value and finite quality of money.  There’s only so much to go around; debt is to be avoided if at all possible and money is to be used for the ultimate good of God’s Kingdom and the needs of the entire family.  What do I do?  Look at how much things cost – notice the fine print on extra fees if there are any.  Be willing to wait if the financial resources are not there yet. Let the technology you have be enough until you can afford something new.
  8.  Don’t engage in fantasy thinking.  Technology and a social media presence will not make you more popular, smarter or better looking no matter what the advertisers say.  Also, more and new is not always better – sometimes it’s only more and new. What do I do? Like the Apostle Paul, learn the key to being content (Phil. 4:11-13). Work to find your identity in Christ by studying His word, praying, worshiping and fellowshiping with other believers who love you even if you don’t have the newest phone or best social media site.
  9. Identify the difference between wants and needs. Knowing the difference between wants and needs is key to preventing a life of disappointment.  An unwanted need puts me in the path of peril; an unmet want makes me grumpy, uncomfortable or inconvenienced.  What do I do?  Think carefully – know the difference and you have found the secret to perspective.
  10. Enjoy the fun and usefulness of technology.  We don’t have to feel guilty about having fun on our devices or even cultivating relationships through social media. As long as they are not idols in our lives, we can enjoy the creative outlet they afford us.  What do I do?  Use your devices for the purpose of communicating and connecting in appropriate and godly ways; play games that are fun and even exercise your brain. Learn and shop. Whatever you do, however, do it all to the glory of God (1 Cor. 10:31)  by displaying the fruit of the Spirit in your words (Col. 4:6) and in your self-control (Ga. 5:22,23).
Children and Family, Teachable Moments, Uncategorized, Young Adult, Young Adults

A Christian Guide to Technology Part 1

I’m officially terrified.  Not the normal-everyday type of terror as when I hit every single red light on the way to the train station and I’m afraid I might not make the train I need to get to arrive at work on time.  Not the “’oh no – I just ate another plate of Christmas cookies and I haven’t exercised in over a week” despair. And not the, “I haven’t gotten 7 -8 hours sleep since…..I’m too tired to remember” anxiety.  Nope – this is the “what is the world coming to; I think the world is getting exponentially worse moment-by-moment” type of terror.

Here’s why:

  • The Royal Society for Public Health in the UK asked 14-24 year-olds how social media platforms impacted their health and wellbeing.  Results showed all forms led to increased feelings of depression, anxiety, poor body image, and loneliness.
  • Teens ages 13- 17 send an average of 3364 texts per month, while 33% state they send more than 100 texts a day.
  • 11 hours per day, 11-18 year olds spend over 11 hours per day exposed to electronic media
  • Recent research is investigating the negative effects of cumulative screen time (phone, computer, ipad, TV, etc. minutes combined) which shows children and teens’ relational and emotional development is leading to more negative behaviors, depression and an overall decrease in the satisfaction of life

Bottom line, technological use is eroding the happiness, critical thinking, relational connection and compassion in a large majority of the next generation.  And none of the research indicates it is going to move in a positive direction; instead, experts believe it will only get worse and we have yet to understand the full negative ramifications.

What do we do in light of such a discouraging forecast?  We do what we always do; we engage in “God-first” thinking.  We remind ourselves of the mandate that God gives each of His people; we are to invest in relationships with one another that engage in heart and Kingdom matters.  Too often technology is a distraction from relational connection as it engages the gratification centers of our brain, pursues bullet point facts or information and allows us to insulate ourselves away from hard conversations, which lead to effective conflict resolution.  Relationships require BOTH quality and quantity of time and our time is compromised when I invest in a relationship with my devices more than I do with those around me.

Intimacy is the characterizing attribute we are working to cultivate between one another.  Intimacy grows in a relationship when we disclose vulnerably to one another in safe and trusted ways; intimacy grows when who I am is valued as a person no matter my flaws.  We value one another with honor when we take the time to engage in non-distracted conversation, listening and encouraging one another in consistent and dependable ways. Just like God does with us.

God is always with me; God is always listening to me; God is unchanging in His devotion, attention and care for me.  To grow as a believer is to be conformed to the image of God in Christ and to do that, I need to choose intentionally to invest my attention and effort into my relationship with God, which will then flow into my relationships with those around me.

Practically, pursue intimacy with God and others by considering the following:

  1. Remember, “All things are lawful, but not all things are profitable.  All things are lawful, but not all things edify.” (1 Cor. 10:23) Choose to use technology only in ways that profit and edify your soul and the souls of others. This requires self-reflection and self-assessment and won’t look the same for everyone; think edification over legalism.
  2.  Media can be missional when it advances Kingdom matters, which can include a right understanding of man’s relationship with God, wisdom to flourish in the God-given lives God has given us and advance the world’s understanding of God and His gospel message.  Choose wisely the words you post in social media; if you wouldn’t say it face-to-face and it is not first loving, don’t say it.
  3.  God has given you a set amount of moments in this world; consider how you will be accountable for all the time you spend on electronic media and make sure you teach your children to do the same.
  4. New is not always better; consider giving more money to your local church, missions or a worthy organization that is teaching God’s word rightly rather than buying the newest technology.

Reader, the key to making sure we are using our technology wisely is both an internal and external matter.  We start with the internal by prayerfully reflecting on our choices, habits and needs. We then have our internal convictions and priorities result in careful consideration of how and when I use technology.  We take responsibility that if I am to impact the next generation to thirst after God, then I must first live a life myself that is obviously displaying a thirst for God myself.

Psalm 63:1, “You, god, are my God, earnestly I seek you; I thirst for you, my whole being longs for you, in a dry and parched land where there is no water.”

Until next we meet here in Teachable Moments, may the lover of our souls Himself give each of us discernment in how we pursue His kingdom in a digital world.