Paula Kettula is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been working with children and families for over 20 years. Paula holds a master’s degree in social work from San Diego State University. She also has a diploma in Montessori education from Association Montessori Internationale (AMI). In addition, Paula is a certified yoga teacher (RYT-200) and is trained in EMDR, Sandplay Therapy, Play Therapy and Transformational Leadership. Paula is also the creator and the host of a massively successful online parenting summit called “Becoming a Peaceful Parent.”
We are delighted to learn from Paula today about how we can move beyond the screen time battles.
It’s a new world. Kids growing up now have a completely different world versus how we grew up. I’m from Finland. I was raised by the forest. My mom and dad often had no idea where I was. At 4 or 5-years-old I was off playing in the woods. I’d come home for dinner, but my friends and I were out there exploring. There were no worries about people being a danger to us, or animals. It was a beautiful way to grow up, in nature. I wish kids had more of that now.
Now, we have technology, but our brains are still that hunter-gatherer brain. That means the brain is being exposed to stimuli we’ve never experienced before. The battles between kids and parents are real. Being a heart-based attachment parenting coach, one of my major concerns is the erosion of the parent-child relationship. It’s such an important thing for children.
Attachment alone results in such beautiful outcomes for children – trust in relationships, leadership, good academics. Social skills are so important in this world. Those skills are changing now though, because we are no longer connected face to face in the same way. Screen time battles create conflict in the family. We know that conflict erodes relationships. It has an impact on social development, and brain development as well.
This is still fairly new, they are still doing a lot of research on this. They did an MRI and have found that at 3-5 years old the white matter in the brain was less in children who were exposed to more screen time. White matter helps the brian stay connected to other parts of the brain. We don’t know exactly what all that means, but we do know screens are changing the brains of children.
Whatever fires together, wires together. Exposure to violent content is related to violent and aggressive behavior. The neocortex, the top layer of brian, thins sooner than it’s supposed to in children exposed to a lot of screentime. I am very concerned about that. It’s such a crucial time of development.
Screen time also impacts sleep. The blue light sends a signal to the brain that it’s time to be awake and disrupts the development of the hormone melatonin. When we enter REM sleep, when we are dreaming, this is when a lot of the things that happen during the day are processed and seep into the memory. Problems focusing, memory issues can all arise because of a lack of sleep. Sleep cleanses the brain. It gets rid of toxins. If sleep is impacted our body and brain are now carrying these toxins. We need to really monitor the sleep of children and make sure they are getting enough. The rule of thumb is screens should be off one hour before bedtime, so the brian has the chance to start slowing down and calming the nervous system.
Obesity is another issue caused by excessive screen time, because kids aren’t moving. Back aches, headaches, depression, loneliness, and vision problems These are issues kids were not exposed to before.
Screens are here to stay. We are going to have to learn how to deal with it. How do these two worlds merge? How can we keep supporting children without being too stern and too strict? The reality for children right now is they connect with friends through video games, social media, and chatting. It’s here to stay. We need to figure out the best way to support children to be digitally savvy but still have the values and principles from parents.
The younger the child is, the more negative impact screen time will have. If you haven’t heard recommendations from American Academy of Pediatrics as well as the World Health Organization, children 0-18 months should have no screen time at all, other than maybe video chat where they are interacting with somebody. Age 2 – 5 one hour a day of quality educational content. A lot of kids are getting way more than that. Kids 6 and older, because the brian is a little more mature and can start understanding more of what is going on, they don’t really have the same hourly recommendations. Instead, we should keep an eye on how the child is functioning.
9 Warning Signs of Screen Addiction in Children:
The University of Michigan did a study on children 4-11 years old. It looked at how the children’s functioning was affected. They found it’s on a case by case basis. One 6-year old may have less screen time but have more impact in some of these areas than another child.
They provide nine areas or warning signs you want to be aware of and keep an eye on:
Those are 9 warning signs to look out for, rather than just looking at the time that the child is in front of the screen. I would say if you have three or more of these warning signs, you may want to get professional help. Seek out a therapist. Call your insurance company to see who is in-network for you. If your child is 12 or under, definitely look into play therapy. You don’t have to do this alone. Good Therapy is a great resource too. Have someone help you navigate this. Sometimes the use of screens is a coping mechanism, and there are underlying issues that should be looked at.
When your child is playing, there is this reward system which is activated. This is a huge business. These companies know that kids are getting addicted and it’s all about making money. These games are designed to get your kids addicted. They know how the brian works. They are taking advantage of this, unfortunately. It’s an immediate reward with all the flashing lights. The dopamine increases and it’s the same thing that happens with someone that is addicted to drugs. When you take away the device, the dopamine level drops. It’s a biochemical reaction, that’s why the child freaks out. It’s not that the kid is a bad kid or they are doing something to try to bother us, it is a biochemical reaction that’s happening. That combined with the fact that the prefrontal cortex, the executive function of the brain, isn’t fully developed yet. That is where impulse control and frustration tolerance reside.
Dr. Laura Markham always says, kids are not giving you a hard time, they are having a hard time.
They’ve done some studies where rats were not allowed to play, they were isolated, withdrawn, depressed, not eating, socially awkward. One of the things I hear from parents who are struggling with online schooling is the kids just want to play. I say awesome! Let them! That’s their education. That’s their learning. If we keep engaging in that conflict with kids, we are creating chronic stress for everyone. Kids should be playing a minimum of three hours a day. I don’t know how many kids are actually getting that these days. That doesn’t include playing video games.
What to do then, right?
Make sure they are getting physical activity and that face to face social interaction. Even though we get social interaction in social media, texting only uses the left side of the brain. Language is left-sided, but the connection to the body and emotion aren’t there. Even with zoom, we can see body language, but we are flat, two-dimensional.
Making an intention with the family, to have family time, a family dinner. Parents should be mindful, what am I modeling? It doesn’t seem fair to them to have to put their phone or tablet away when they see mom or dad on the phone all the time. That time will have to be replaced with something. Is it walks? Board games? Reading time?
Although, I do want to mention, it’s also okay to let them be bored. It’s only when we are bored that we can get creative. That’s another symptom of this digital world: we are losing our creativity. Let kids be bored.
Modeling, encouraging physical activity, hobbies, having a solid foundation of values are all very important. What are you teaching your child? What is empathy? Kindness? How do we talk to each other? How to be authentic? How do we support one another?
You want them to have all of that background. When they get to age 8 or so, you will have a lot less control over their interactions with screens, so you want to set it up before then.
Limits, boundaries, parental controls, being aware of what your child’s brain is consuming, just like you would be aware of their nutrition. Sit down and watch what they are watching with them.
It’s important to note that not all screen time is created equal. If you’re watching TV, that is passive. If you’re playing a game, now you’re talking about the reward system being activated which is different from tv watching. There is also social communication. Then you also have creating videos and things like that. That’s great, that’s being creative. Not all screen time is necessarily bad. You need to ask what parts of the brain are being activated.
Nowadays we are just going to have more screen time, there is just no way around that. If it’s TV, we want to be very selective in what media we allow them to view. Commonsense.org is a great resource for parents to look at for guidelines on appropriate media.
I see the largest impact from video games. They replay these scary scenarios and often engage in really aggressive play. I remember one girl, she was 6 years old at the time, was exposed to a scary game that I wouldn’t even watch and she was having nightmares from that. She was scared to walk outside. The things that kids are exposed to really impact them.
But, give yourself grace too. We live in unprecedented times. Whatever you do, if you have a lot of screentime, have a lot of time together, too. Balance it out. Maybe you are going to cook together, maybe you take the weekends off, things like that.
If you consistently do that every day, it’s not going to be perfect of course, but this approach will help you pay attention to the relationship. It helps you stay calmer in these situations. That we can get through these hard times with empathy and understanding.
Question: What is your feedback on using screen time as a disciplinary tool?
I’m all about consequences, but they should be natural consequences. Taking away screen time is not a natural consequence.
Chances are if a child isn’t listening, it is often because they don’t feel listened to. Everytime we use an arbitrary consequence that isn’t related to the behavior, it becomes about control and nobody likes to be controlled. Positive discipline yes, I see it more as being a guide and a coach to these children. What’s really going on with the kiddos if they’re not listening. Chances are one of their emotional needs is not being met. Kids have the desire to be listened to, to be in control.
I talk a lot about vulnerability for parents as well. Sharing their feelings with the kids. That’s the natural consequence. Kids do have a natural desire to connect.
Paula Kettula Email: firstname.lastname@example.org
Paula Kettula Website: Peacefulparent.com
Paula Kettula is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker who has been working with children and families for over 20 years. Paula holds a master’s degree in social work from San Diego State University. She also has a diploma in Montessori education from Association Montessori Internationale (AMI). In addition, Paula is a certified yoga teacher (RYT-200) and is trained in EMDR, Sandplay Therapy, Play Therapy and Transformational Leadership.
In her role as a psychotherapist and a transformational parent coach, Paula works closely with parents to help them connect with the heart and soul of their children by using a love-centered approach infused with the power of the latest research findings from developmental neuroscience and trauma research.
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