Limit children’s screen time, expert urges
By Hannah Richardson BBC News education and family reporter
Too much TV can change the amount of certain chemicals produced in the brain
The amount of time children spend in front of screens should be curbed to stave off development and health problems, an expert says.
Psychologist Dr Aric Sigman says children of all ages are watching more screen media than ever, and starting earlier.
The average 10-year-old has access to five different screens at home, he says.
And some are becoming addicted to them or depressed as a result, he warns.
Writing in the Archives of Disease in Childhood, Dr Sigman says a child born today will have spent a full year glued to screens by the time they reach the age of seven.
He adds: “In addition to the main family television, for example, many very young children have their own bedroom TV along with portable hand-held computer game consoles (eg, Nintendo, Playstation, Xbox), smartphone with games, internet and video, a family computer and a laptop and/or a tablet computer (eg iPad).
“Children routinely engage in two or more forms of screen viewing at the same time, such as TV and laptop.”
British teenagers are clocking up six hours of screen time a day, but research suggests the negative impacts start after two hours’ viewing time.
Dr Sigman cites from a string of published studies suggesting links between prolonged screen time and conditions such as heart disease, stroke and diabetes.
But he suggests the effects go further than those simply associated with being sedentary for long periods.
He says prolonged screen time can lead to reductions in attention span because of its effects on the brain chemical dopamine.
Dopamine is produced in response to “screen novelty”, says Dr Sigman.
It is a key component of the brain’s reward system and implicated in addictive behaviour and the inability to pay attention.
“Screen ‘addiction’ is increasingly being used by physicians to describe the growing number of children engaging in screen activities in a dependent manner,” Dr Sigman says.
‘Reduce screen time’
And there are other psychosocial problems associated with excess screen time. These include “Facebook depression”, reported by the American Academy of Pediatrics, which develops when young people spend too much time on social media sites and then begin to exhibit classic symptoms of depression.
Dr Sigman says: “Perhaps because screen time is not a dangerous substance or a visibly risky activity, it has eluded the scrutiny that other health issues attract.”
He says there are many questions remaining about the precise nature of the association between screen time and adverse outcomes, but adds: “The advice from a growing number of both researchers and medical associations and government departments elsewhere is becoming unequivocal – reduce screen time.”
Developmental psychopathology expert Prof Lynne Murray, of the University of Reading, said: “There is a well-established literature showing the adverse effects of screen experience on the cognitive development of children under three, and the US Paediatric Association for example has recommended no screen time before this age.
“If children do watch, however, adverse effects are mitigated by watching with a supportive partner – usually adult , who can scaffold and support the child’s experience, and by watching more familiar material.
“A lot of screen material is not well designed for a child’s cognitive processes, eg loud, fast changing stimulation – this is attention grabbing, but does not help processing.”
All about Adolescence
Coping with the tumultuous years
Suddenly it’s like you cannot recognise your child. S/he has become argumentative, secretive and is demanding the same haircut as the latest teen rock star.
No, your child hasn’t been replaced by an alien being – it’s just the beginning of the tumultuous years of adolescence. How tumultuous they are, is something that you as a parent can, to a large extent, influence. While it is important for you to get through these years without turning grey to your very roots, it is equally crucial to ensure that you don’t alienate your child.
The first step to managing adolescence is to understand what it is. Adolescence is the time between puberty and adulthood, and puberty starts when your child begins to develop adult sexual characteristics, like breasts, menstrual periods, facial and pubic hair. Along with these physical changes, he/she will also begin to develop psychosocially — this is not evident on the outside, but happens at a more cognitive and behavioural level. As all these changes overlap, you will begin to see your child change both physically and behaviourally.
There are a few important things that you can do to pave a smooth path for your child’s transition to adulthood.
Read: Educate yourself on what to expect and how to deal with key phases of adolescence. Knowledge will put you in a much better position to deal with challenging situations when they arise.
Talk: Always keep the lines of communication open. Encourage constant dialogue to ensure your child is comfortable enough to seek you out when s/he wants information.
Empathise: Don’t forget you’ve been through the same roller coaster of emotions that your child is now experiencing, including the same fight for independence and identity. Time may have dulled your memories, but it is important to reassure your child that you understand what he/she is going through, and that it is normal.
Respect privacy: Adolescents are transitioning to adulthood and will want their own privacy. It may be tough for you to accept that your children may not want to share every part of their life with you. But allowing for a certain level of privacy will let them know you respect their personal space.
Set rules: While it is important to be your child’s friend, the fact is, you are a parent first, and still in charge. Make ground rules that are age-appropriate and try to a find a common ground between what you are comfortable with and what works for your child. Whether it’s about TV and internet time, books or curfew, be reasonable but firm.
However, there are some warning signs that you must take heed of and address during this important phase of your child’s development.
- Sudden problems with sleep or change in sleep patterns
- Extreme weight loss or gain
- Rapid and radical changes in personality
- Dipping grades
- Sudden change in friends
- References to, or jokes about suicide
- Skipping school regularly
- Run-ins with the law
- Signs of alcohol, tobacco or drug use
How to discipline your child
Tools to help your child understand rules and boundaries
One of the biggest challenges parents face is inculcating a sense of discipline in children. In order to do this effectively, parents must first decide what discipline means to them. Does it mean the same set of rules that they were compelled to follow as children? Or should the rules be boundaries, intended to help the child become a confident and self-assured individual: a child who understands the difference between right and wrong, as defined within his/ her social ecosystem.
The way parents create rules has a lot to do with their own experiences and personalities. It is also depends on the parent’s awareness about the range of disciplining methods available and the merits and demerits of each. Realistic and effective disciplining methods not only ensure long-term results, but also do not negatively affect the parent-child relationship. The right disciplining methods, if implemented correctly, can in fact, strengthen the bond of trust between parent and child.
Here are some broad guidelines to help you:
Explain rules clearly: It is important that your child clearly understands the rules you are setting. If s/he is old enough, you could also explain why these rules are being set. Try not to sound dictatorial; instead adopt a composed and cooperative tone.
Be consistent with rules and consequences: Ensure that you lay down consistent rules for your child. Make exceptions when required, but maintain consistency in implementing and enforcing it, and also be clear about the consequences of breaking it. These are essential to your child’s understanding of discipline.
Find the root cause of misbehaviour: Rather than reacting to your child breaking the rules, attempt to find the root cause of the misbehaviour. Children can react to incidents that may have no apparent connection to the rule they are breaking.
Keep calm and don’t yell: Children can often test the patience of a saint! Exercise control however upset you may be by your child’s misbehaviour. Children are intuitive and often feed off the hysteria and anger you are portraying, which will only ignite an already volatile situation.
Praise: It is as important for you to praise your child when s/he follows the rules, as it is to take his or her disobedience seriously. Acknowledge good behaviour and let your child know that you have noticed it.
Use positive tone and words: Remember, what you say and how you say it can have a lasting impact on your child. Be firm and fair while correcting your child and make a conscious effort to avoid any kind of negative phrasing that could lower his/ her self-esteem.
Child Stress Manual
Key strategies that you can use to help your child cope
Unfortunately, stress isn’t just confined to adulthood. Children too face stress of varying degrees that can be caused by a number of situations. Of course, as a parent you do your best to shield your child from potential stress-causing situations. But sadly, it is not always possible to do so. From stress caused by examinations, schoolwork, peer pressure and bullying, to life events like a move, divorce, marital conflict, death or even the transferred stress of parents, there are a number of unavoidable challenges that are a part and parcel of a child’s life.
In today’s complex world, some amount of stress is inevitable. In fact, studies show that a certain level of stress can have a positive influence. However, stress can have negative outcomes once it crosses a manageable level. The kind of impact it has largely depends on the child’s developmental level and on his/ her previous experiences.
In order to deal with the emotional and sometimes, physical fallout of stress, it is imperative that you first familiarise yourself with its signs. Unresolved stress can manifest in a physical form, which could include nightmares, disturbed sleep patterns, reduced appetite, headaches, bed-wetting, stomach pain or stuttering. If your child is acting uncharacteristically aggressive or stubborn, is anxious, seems unable to relax or is displaying behaviour more typical of an earlier developmental phase, then you could be looking at the behavioural and emotional symptoms of stress.
While adapting and coping tools depend on your child’s developmental stage, there are a few general strategies you can use to guide your child through the stressful phase and out of it.
- Anticipate a potential stress-causing event and prepare your child for it. For instance, a move causing a change of school and friends or the impending death of a pet.
- Encourage your children to express their fears and concerns to you. Spend time with them, so that they feel comfortable opening up to you about what is going on in their lives. This will help you pick up clues on what may be causing any stress.
- Lend a comforting ear without being critical. Be positive and encourage your child to believe in himself/herself and cultivate self-worth.
- Empathise with your child and let him or her know that there’s nothing wrong with feeling emotions, whether it’s anger, sadness or unhappiness.
- Find ways to help your child channel thoughts constructively by focusing on a fun activity, ideally a physical one. Studies have shown that physical activity helps reduce stress.
- Try and choose activities in which you know your child will do well. This will increase his/her self-confidence.
- Teach your child relaxation techniques like yoga or breathing exercises. You might even consider signing up for a relaxation technique class with your child; this will provide the added advantage of offering bonding time.
Finally, and perhaps most importantly, if the signs of stress do not recede despite your best efforts, seek out professional help. Recognise that there isn’t anything wrong in enlisting a counsellor’s services. Your child’s school probably has one.
Study Hour is More than Homework
Help your child hone her study skills
Growing up, most of us cringed at the thought of “homework”, sinking further into gloom as we bid goodbye to friends at playtime and began our assignments. Decades later, it’s quite likely that your child feels pretty much the same way about the h-word.
Studying on a daily basis often becomes confined to completing the next day’s assignments. Children race to “finish it off”, leaving little room for actual learning. Which is why it is imperative to inculcate good study habits in your child. This includes finishing the assignments on time as well as learning how to assimilate new information, retain it and re-use it later during the assessment process. Apart from increasing learning levels, the right study skillset can also help your child acquire organisational skills, vital to his/her success, both as a student and as an adult.
Here are some guidelines that will help your child hone his or her study skills.
Set a routine and stick to it: The first step is to set a consistent study routine. It is important to pick a time during the day when your child isn’t too tired or isn’t hankering to watch his/her favourite serial.
Pick an area for study: Most children study at a desk in their rooms or at the dining table. Ensure that the area is free of distractions and you can monitor them.
Studying is not just homework: While homework is certainly a priority, studying should be more than just completing assignments. This is the ideal time to help your child develop skills like note-taking and reading, organisational and time management skills and learning tools like mnemonics, visual imagery and flashcards.
Be consistent: To ensure your child internalises study skills, be consistent, both in routine as well as in expectations.
Set realistic expectations: Sit with your child and set expectations for the study hour. You can even encourage him/her to maintain an assignment book, in which the daily schedule and progress can be penned down with your help. This will also allow you to figure out if your child needs to cut back on other activities to ensure that he or she has enough energy and time for study hour.
Praise and reward your child: As your child reaches a goal, be generous with praise. Depending on the achievement, you can even decide to reward your child with an additional hour of playtime on the weekend or a sleepover invite to his/her friends. Think of interesting rewards that aren’t necessarily about buying something new.
Never use homework as a punishment: Parents often make the mistake of turning homework into punishment for disobedience or bad behaviour. Doing that will only make your child dread study hour even more and develop a mental block against it. Instead, your objective should be to make studying a positive experience.
Make studying fun: Finally, let’s face it, it’s all about how much fun your child can have during this process that can ensure he/she looks forward to it. While the entire period cannot be just fun and games, make sure you use tools like quizzes, educational videos, the internet and other interactive aids to ensure that studying is both informative and interesting.
Communicating effectively with your child
Guidelines to help you open honest and clear lines of communication
Life has become so hectic and dredged in routine that often parents forget to really ‘communicate’ to their children. Talking gets relegated to the mandatory “How was school?” which is followed by a terse “fine” response. A few more compulsory questions later, everyone goes off to carry on with their own daily routine.
The basis of any healthy relationship is consistent, clear and honest communication. As a parent, one of the most important skills you will need to learn is how to communicate effectively with your child. Honing this parenting skill is the key to developing a stable and open relationship with your child.
Set time aside to talk. You could choose to do this while doing a household chore together, travelling to the grocery store or picking your child up from school. Remember though, if you have more than one child, try and weave one-on-one time into your schedule.
Listen to you child. It is imperative to really listen to what your child is saying and not pretend to listen. Be interested in what they are saying and pay attention. Children intuitively know when you are faking it.
Make talking with your child a normal part of his/her daily routine. By putting this in place, you are ensuring that you keep the lines of communication open and make it easier for your children to come and talk to you about anything. Approach this daily routine in a casual manner rather than making it seem like a daily chore.
Be open and honest with them. Try and be as honest with your child as you possibly can, especially in relation to things that will affect them.
Avoid grilling them with questions. You want to make your child feel comfortable about talking with you. Ensure that you discuss things with them, rather than grill them for information. When asking questions, ask open-ended ones so that you don’t just receive ‘yes’ and ‘no’ answers, and instead get your child to open up about his feelings.
Acknowledge their opinions. You child is a little person with thoughts and opinions of her own. Acknowledging his/her opinion will help build self-confidence and create better channels of communication between the two of you.
Be informed about what is happening in their lives. By talking to teachers, friends, parents and others involved in your children’s life, you learn more about them, which will in turn help you understand their problems better. Be careful though, as you are walking a fine line and don’t want to end up snooping.
Say sorry, when you are wrong. Apologising to your child when you’ve made a mistake or have reactively said or done something that you shouldn’t have, helps to build a relationship based on mutual respect. It shows children that not only do you respect them enough to say you’re sorry, but that it’s also okay to say you’re sorry when you’ve made a mistake.
Encourage your children whenever you get the opportunity. Tell them how proud you are of them. During conversations, always focus first on the positives and speak words of encouragement before discussing the negatives.
Encourage family communication time. Apart from one-on-one time with your child, encourage the sharing of experiences when the whole family is together: the dinner table is most convenient for this.
The American Psychological Association lists three basic communication tips
- Be available for you children
- Let your kids know you are listening
- Respond in a way that your children will hear
DISCLAIMER: All content on this page, in any format, is for informational purposes only and cannot be considered to be a substitute for professional advice.