This is currently a very hot topic. With the incredible fast rise of availability of technology devices, in almost everyone’s hands, this question is on the minds of parents, teachers, psychologists, and scientists…could too much time spent be having a negative effect on my child or is it a necessary way to ‘keep up’ and be on par with what everyone else’s children are doing. I have had unsubstantiated opinions based on my common sense so I decided to research and see what studies and research have found.
Interestingly enough, in the early 1960’s, the television set was becoming popular and available to more and more families. At this time, the Federal Communications called the onset of TV as the beginning of a ‘vast wasteland’. Fast forward to today, screen time is not limited to the TV. It also includes Smart phones, tablets, and laptops. The internet and handheld devices especially, have opened the door of opportunity to apps, games, videos, advertisers and millions of dollars of profit. Can’t really blame these companies. The demand is being met by the desire to communicate 24/7, literally in the palm of your hand.
So with this huge fast progression, it is wise to weigh the benefits and the downside to the progress of technology, with an open mind. Without a doubt, how amazing is it to pick up a 3×5 inch box and talk to someone on the other side of the earth?? It is also very convenient to have access to unlimited information on any possible subject by simply typing GOGGLE or asking SIRI. Another rewarding feature is ‘face timing’ with family members. Without a doubt, we are able to stay connected in a way that was never know before. So what could possibly be the downside? If this was the extent of how technology is being used, there would not be a downside. Some not so desirable symptoms and behaviors have been witnessed by parents, teachers, and pediatricians that has led to the question as to how much screen time is too much.
The American Academy of Pediatrics has come up with recommendations as to how much time is safe for children to spend per day looking at a screen. Here are their daily recommendations:
Ages 0 to 18 months- NO screen time
Ages 18 months to 2 years- limited and only with adult guidance
Ages 2 to 5 years- 1 hour of only high quality programs intended to teach.
Ages 6 to teen years- maximum 2 hours
The American Academy of Pediatrics did not make these recommendations without extensive research. What was found in many children who exceeded these limits were quite a few adverse effects.
- Irregular sleep patterns
- Underdeveloped vocabulary
- Impaired academic performance
- Accepting violent behavior as the norm
- Limited creative play
- Limited social connection
- Anxiety and depression in teens
- Decreased confidence in teens.
These outcomes range from Infants to teenagers. From Dr. Jane Healy’s book, Different Learners, she emphatically states that screens have taken control of our young people’s minds. They become reactive vs reasoning beings. She states, “Four areas of concern relating to overuse of technology have emerged that particularly impact learning difficulties. They are attention, language development, “people” skills, and problem solving/imaginative thinking.” What IF this is true, even partially? Should we as parents be concerned? How about us as part of this society and the future of the next generation? Should we be concerned?
The answer is a resounding YES. It is important to understand that overuse leads to an over dependence that is more than a desire for ‘fun’. Instead there are changes that occur in the brain and especially in the brain of a young person whose brain is not fully developed. One that is easy to understand is the FACT that when a child spends more than 30 minutes per day on a screen device, this causes rapid activity of dopamine production that leads to the body constantly wanting more of that ‘feel good’ hormone. When stopped, causes a sudden drop off of dopamine that results in bad moods, agitation, anger, and tantrums. This same result is seen also in adults in several types of addictions. Dopamine production becomes dependent on the behavior that initially stimulated it. The healthy production becomes dependent on the stimulus that then becomes an addiction.
Technology, screens, Smartphone, and tablets are not going away. There are suggestions that we as parents, grandparents, teachers, or anyone else that has influence on young people can do. Not a parent? Share these ideas with someone that is. We are in this together.
- Place computers/devices in common areas of the home where use can be supervised.
- Install monitoring devices on the device child uses most. Do parents have the right to rob child’s privacy? Yes, until the child’s frontal cortex is fully developed and able to make decisions on their own. Unfortunately, science says that age is around 25.
- Limit use to 30-60 minutes daily during the week (over 30 minutes consistently is when addiction begins).
- Ban devices from bedroom. Allowing this open window to the internet is like dropping your child off downtown then picking them up in a few days and see what has happened.
- No electronic games on the same device they are using to read from. Too tempting for a child to go from reading to game playing.
- Secure wireless routers so child does not know the password and able to give to their friends.
- When finished use, must sign out.
- Smart phone are not for children or young teens.
- Walk your talk. Use same guidelines for own use as given to child. Set the example. If a child sees you reading a book, they are more likely to also read a book.
- Don’t get angry when child expresses discontent with these limits. Be calm but be a parent, not a friend. Child’s job to ask, your job to manage.
- Create and be consistent about Tech Free Zones. In addition to the bedroom, mentioned above, include also during meals, in restaurants, and even in the car, with the exception of long car rides. These times are for conversation and getting to know each other better. There are few uninterrupted opportunities in our busy, overscheduled world. The home is meant to be a safe haven where happy and sad experiences can be talked about. Have you ever had a child walk into you in a store because they were playing on a phone? How often have you observed a family with children as young as 1 year, with their focus completely on an ipad or with earbuds on, watching a movie? I will always go up to a table in a restaurant where the family is tech free talking to each other and congratulate them. They are very appreciative of the compliment. Keep in mind, the use of devices is a privilege not a right. In the home, only allowed when chores and homework is done. Set the rules and consistently stick to them.
A side note…my research found the following information: teenage girls and boys tend to express themselves differently. Boys will physically fight when mad. Girls get mean. A preteen and teenage girl has no reason to have a social media account. This is where most bullying is found among girls. Think twice about allowing this opportunity.
The good news is, there are rewarding activities that can be substituted for technology. Here are a few:
- Go for walks or to a playground.
- Board games
- Bake cookies for a shut in.
- Story telling CDs are valuable ways to increase reading comprehension and imagination.
In addition to substituting activities, it may help to know what several studies have linked the reason why video games have hooked so many young people, to the point of becoming an obsession. Rather than assuming kids are lazy and defiant, an article from Psychology Today written by Dr. Nir Eyal states that gaming satisfies 3 basic human needs…competence, autonomy, and relatedness. Competence being the need for growth, progression, achievement, and mastery, as found in a challenging video game. Autonomy being the need for freedom of control over the choice to call the shots in a game. Relatedness being the need to feel like they matter to others and others matter to them, being part of a gaming community. It has been suggested that game creators know this and design them is a way that satisfies these needs. Why do you think it has been said the Silicon Valley parents limit extensively their children using technology for entertainment? Of course, there is no way we can agree that video games are a good substitution for other ways to get these needs met. No matter how well a game is designed, it can’t come close to the deep satisfaction that real life and real human connection can provide. No game can give a child the feeling of competence that comes from accomplishing a difficult task on their own. No social media site can give a child a sense of relatedness, safety, and warmth that comes from an adult that loves them unconditionally and takes the time to tell them so. When kids see their parents are not only trying to stop their fun but are instead helping them keep things in the right perspective and in the right proportion, they become allies rather than enemies.
It is time to become intentional and do the right thing for our children. A colleague of mine, Victoria Proody, Occupational Therapist for children, whom I admire very much for the work she is doing to educate parents as to the damage that can be done, not regulating children’s screen time. She did an experiment with her 10 year old son. There was no technology Monday through Friday and only 1 hour a day on weekends. Initially he resisted. He complained, he whined, he stomped around saying how bored he was. After the first week, he began to look for other things to do with his time. His mom suggested he cook dinner for the family, one night. Little had he known, he began to love cooking, finding new recipes, helping his mom make the grocery list of needed ingredients. Victoria interviewed him after several weeks and he actually thanked his mom for taking away technology because he found something else he loved more. A recent update about her son…he is starting a cooking class for his classmates. That emerged from his mother enforcing his use of technology.
It will not be easy initially. Do what these guideline suggest. Don’t give up and give in. I’m sure, no one ever told you being a parent was going to be easy. You will be glad when you know you are providing the guidance your child needs and the reward as you watch them grow and expand in new ways!
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I led an 8 week Mastermind using Viktor Frankl’s, Man’s Search for Meaning, over 3 years ago. I can honestly say, not a week goes by that I do not recall some of the profound lessons that came from that study. I find the beginning of the New Year, an appropriate time to share a few of those lessons.
I spend time at the end of the year to go back over my last year’s calendar. On a sheet of paper with two columns I list-
- Celebrations…specific ways I grew and improved and new accomplishments, areas in which I will continue to learn and move forward and new learning/methods/goals I will find a way to accomplish.
- What I will stop doing and what will replace that. This is my favorite time of year. I love pausing, reflecting, and setting up plans for the New Year. Along with my two column chart, I include the ways I made a difference in the world, whether it be one person at a time or larger groups. That to me is the most important celebration.
While leading both individual and group coaching sessions, when asked, “What is your purpose in life?” the response is often “…to make a difference in people’s lives.” I do not stop there. I probe for them to go deeper. In what way will you make a difference? What will that look like? Will it be a specific profession? Will it be a role as a mother/ father/ grandparent? Will it be your core values you exhibit that will impact others by your example? What are those core values? Is this the basis for finding meaning in life?
The paradoxical secret to finding meaning may be to not look for it. The most satisfying forms of meaning may emerge not when we pursue them directly, but when we instead seek encouraging others, love, justice, or, as Frankl writes, “a cause greater than oneself.” The secret to a meaningful life may be to remind ourselves every day to do the right thing, love fully, pursue risky experiences, and undertake important tasks, not because we are trying to increase our sense of meaning in life, but because these pursuits are good in themselves.
Let me explain further. We are each born with unique skills, talents, traits. Each of these has been given in order to fulfill our purpose for being on Earth. Finding our own paths in which we are using what we have been given, in order to serve the world and others. This approach of doing what we do because it is the right thing, because it is what we believe, or it aligns with our core values, is a difference approach than searching for meaning.
I believe the real opportunity to live a life of meaning comes when we are faced with circumstances we do not desire. This is part of life. Brian Ridgway says, “Unless we decide what we don’t want, we can’t know what we do want.” So when faced with injustice, or abuse, or pain, insult, or loss of love, rejection…all the human conditions common to us all, what choices are there for how to respond. Here are a few suggestions:
- Pause, take 3-5 deep breaths. Let the logical thinking part of your brain, frontal cortex, catch up with the hijacked amygdala, the emotion center. Also, deep slow controlled breathing sends a message to the brain that calms and controls the nervous system.
- What is the right thing to do in the moment? Put it in perspective. It’s been said to ask yourself, “Will what is happening right now matter in 2, in 5, in 10 years?” Probably best to walk away.
- When there is a circumstance where someone you care about has hurt your feelings or done something that makes you mad, best to wait until emotion has subsided. However, very important that you let the person know how you felt. So often we hold our emotions in, never express them, and expect the other person to know, when nothing has been said. It is not fair to expect someone to read your mind when it hasn’t been expressed. Best to talk about it and clear the air. The same is true when in the work place, misunderstandings emerge. Best to talk about them instead of repressing thoughts and feeling.
- Be true to yourself. Know what is important to you and what a priority is for you. Is your time spent in alignment with what you say matters most to you? This is where actions speak louder than words. Walk the talk. This is when the path you take is aligned with life giving back meaning.
Consistently speak up and be able to say no if asked to do something that is not a priority for you. This goes the other way too. Is time with family a priority? Is health a priority? Is friendship a priority? If you find yourself saying, “I’m too busy at night to read to my kids.” Or “I don’t have time to go to the gym.” Or “I have to work late. I don’t have time to meet up with my friends.” What you are saying when you don’t make time, is it is not a priority! Be clear what matters most and be aware how much time you make for that.
Viktor Frankl says that between stimulus and response, there is space. In that space is our power to choose our response. In that response lies our growth and our freedom. Frankl believed that within every circumstance, life is still expecting something: something in the present and something in the future. If we see life as something greater than our self, does it help to think, what is life expecting of me now? Is it to be angry, unforgiving, spiteful, jealous…all of those choices that do not serve others or our self? Or are we given circumstances in order to learn something, become stronger, or to be a model, an example as to how a higher power is more in control than my weaker human tendencies.
As a Grandparent, I find a part of the purpose, the meaning I find in life, is being a beacon for those little new beings. What do I want them to see in my reaction when I am disrespected in front of them? Will they see unconditional love, no matter whether it is earned or not. Will they see me doing what is right, no matter what? Will they witness serving others for no expectation of gain? Will they see me as someone that listens and shows love with time?
Living my life now as I want this chapter in my book of life to be written, is what gives my life meaning for me. I do not have to search. Meaning surrounds me in all I have to be grateful for. I need to live life as the best person, using, not wasting, my God given abilities. When I am finished with this life, I want to know that I lived life to the fullest, serving others, and becoming the very best I can become.
I love the quote, “I want to die empty.” Also, Wayne Dyer says, “Do not die with the song still inside you.” These thoughts and intentions is what gives my life meaning. How about you?
Do you find that to be an interesting question? If you were to be completely honest, do you only return it when someone is watching? Do you never because you think, someone is hired to come gather up the carts and that is not my job?
(Before I go any further, please know there are obvious exceptions. This question is for those that are able to make a choice: to return the cart or not. If physical disabilities or family safety prevents you from returning the cart, then this article is not for you. However, please keep reading.)
Do you have a pet peeve? This happens to be one of mine. Watching someone abandon their cart and watch it roll into a car or take up a parking space, or roll into the line of cars driving past, has made me stop and think, ‘there is more to this than meets the eye’. I believe there are two kinds of people in the world…cart returners and cart discarders. Whichever one you are, I believe, says a lot about you.
Are you someone that takes the time to walk their cart back, no matter what. It could be raining. You could be in a hurry. Your 3 year old could be crying. I believe you are someone that thinks of others first. To make excuses, leave the cart half way up on the curb shows one thing about that person…it is all about THEM.
Those that take the time, you are showing you care about the people that work at the store. You do not expect someone else to do it for you. You are not selfish.
To take it one step further. When you see an elderly person walking their cart back, do you offer to take it for them? This all shows you care about helping others.
What else does being a cart returner say about you? It says you are disciplined. When it is raining, or a child is crying, or NO ONE is looking and you STILL walk your cart back, it is moments like these that define you. WHAT?? Returning a silly old cart. YES! There are times in everyone’s life when it is easier to NOT do the right thing. Walking the short distance shows you are disciplined. You are committed to a moral standard that you won’t break. Discipline is something that people admire. Disciplined people are able to achieve a whole lot more in life than undisciplined people.
It has been said, “How you do some things is how you do all things.” Being selfish and undisciplined about returning the cart. Does that trait show up in other things? Yes.
The beginning of this article is intended to somewhat entertain, although I do believe the premise. What this is all about is CHARACTER.
What is character? What does a person with high moral character ‘look’ like? My John Maxwell Certification included a youth leadership program for us to use with young people called Youth Max. This program included 4 modules: positive self esteem, overcoming fear of failure, stand up and be counted (anti bullying), and character development. Within the character developoment module, one lesson the kids could relate to was the definition of character being, what you do when no one is looking. I knew this would get their attention. At this age, pushing boundaries and not getting caught is very relevant. Needless to say, this was an important discussion and important lesson. Why? When all is said and done, your character is more important to becoming a successful, flourishing adult than your talent.
It is not uncommon for very talented people to be noticed and acknowledged. However, without a strong character, they rarely stay in the limelight for long.
My mentor, and world renowned leadership expert, John Maxwell says:
- “Talented people are praised for what other people see them build. Character builds what is inside.
- Talented people are sometimes tempted to take shortcuts. Character prevents that.
- Talented people may feel superior and expect special privileges. Character helps them know better.
- Talented people have the potential to be difference makers. Character makes the difference in them.
- Talented people are a gift to the world. Character protects that gift.”
Based on the work of Dr. Allan Zimmerman of Trans4mind, here are some answers to two questions:
What is character?
How do I build a strong character?
WHAT IS CHARACTER?
- HAVING the right values.
When asked what do you want out of life? Common answers are, “I want to be happy”. Or “I want to be successful”. Have you ever heard, “I want to be good.”?
- DOING the right thing.
People of character know there is no right way to do the wrong thing. They also know there is never a wrong time to do the right thing. When I work with parents, I encourage them to teach their children to do what’s right, no mater how hard that is. I teach that this is a good basis for decision making. Ask, “Is my decision the right one or is it simply the easiest one?” People of character choose the right decision.
- BEING the right kind of person.
What are the character traits of someone that is BEING the right kind of person? To give only a few:
Someone that is honest, courageous, optimistic, kind…could go on and on. It is important to know, we all have work to do when it comes to improving his/her character. It is never too late to begin growing your character. Here are a few ideas.
HOW TO BUILD A STRONG CHARACTER
- Be a life long learner.
Unless you are continuously learning and growing, you are falling behind. Each day is a new day. Life is changing fast. To stay relevant, continuously seeking education is vital to a strong character. “Work harder on yourself than you do on your job.” Jim Rohn
- Pursue excellence.
Only you know if you have done and been the best you could be. To the person of character, that is all that matters.
“The choice to be excellent begins with aligning your thoughts and words with the intention to require more of yourself.” Unknown author
- Practice persistence.
People of character are known for their persistence. My son who was a swimmer in high school once told me when I began swimming laps for exercise, “When you think you have swam as many as you possibly can, swim one more.” I never forgot that and have applied that thought to so many things in my life. You too may be surprised that you are capable of so much more than you think.
- Decide to be determined.
Success rarely happens overnight and success rarly happens without learning from mistakes. Do you possess a growth mindset or a fixed mindset? Carol Dweck pioneered this concept. From what I have learned from her, I teach teachers to praise children on their effort and process rather than results and outcomes. This kind of consistent praise results in children that love challenges and learning instead of fearing failure. Along the same thought, I have taught my grandchildren this mantra, “When things are hard, I try harder.” Another quote I heard by Roscoe Dunjee, “Some people succeed because they are destined to, most succeed because they are determined to.”Building character takes intention and awareness. Awareness of those you look up to and admire. Awareness as to who you want to be known as. Awareness as to what you want to be remembered as being. At the end of the day, the quality and depth of your life, your relationships, and your career is deeply affected by your level of character. Next time you are finished emptying that shopping cart, return it to where it belongs. That walk back to your car will be one filled with victory and pride knowing you just demonstrated you are a person of GOOD CHARACTER!!