By Carol E. Henderson, LCSW
There are so many folks who want to blame technology for all our children’s problems. Well, I think they are all correct… sort of. If you talk to a neuroscientist about how we are wired, he or she will tell you that we are not wired to interact with technology all day. Our brains have not evolved to the point where we can be stimulated by flashing lights and goofy beeps 24/7 without some type of side effect. We are seeing the effects of this in our children.
So, our little people’s nervous systems are not built to withstand the constant stimulation of video games all day. It’s not just screens — it’s the fact that games are interactive. When you watch TV all day, it’s not a good idea, but you are not interacting with the TV. You are simply receiving information. When you play video games all day, your brain is interacting with a computer all day long. It’s a complex activity when you break it down. The human brain, especially little human brains, are not equipped for this. People ask me, what do you recommend? What should we do as parents? Here’s my professional and Mommy-opinion on these matters:
- No interactive video games before age five. PERIOD. That means no iPod. No iPhone. Nothing. If you get desperate and you’re in line at the grocery store and haven’t planned ahead? Let them watch something simple on YouTube. And not Sponge Bob. Talk about frying your brain! Yikes… I’m surprised that show hasn’t been linked to seizure activity. It has, however, been linked to lowering children’s IQ’s by a few points. Not kidding!
- No phones or social media until age 13. Around middle school age, children are more focused on their peers than on us. It’s okay. I’m told that they do come back, but that I need to get used to it. I don’t matter nearly as much as I used to. If I have done my job up to this point, it’s a natural progression. This means that they need to interact with their peers the way other peers are interacting with one another. This does not mean that the need to be posting provocative pictures disrobing. Absolutely not ever a good idea; however, it does mean that it’s okay to let them practice with social media in a safe place.
- Monitor their devices intermittently. They should have no idea that you are about to check their device. Before they receive said device, the rule is that if they refuse to hand it over at any time, they lose said device for the week. There is no wiggle room on this. You are the adult and you are the alpha of your pack. You need to be in charge in this area. That doesn’t mean you get to bite them when they irritate you, okay? That means you act like a good, decent leader. Don’t know how to do that? Fake it. Pick your favorite leader and read up on them. Watch a movie about them. Channel them. And maybe it’s someone in your family? Copy them. Do whatever you need to be a good leader for you pack of human puppies.
- Have honest conversations with your kids. In other words, put your phone down and discuss the dangers of internet prowlers. Tell them that people online lie. (Except me. They can read my blog and trust me.) We all want to protect our kids from the evil in the world, but not knowing about it won’t protect them. Give them age-appropriate examples from the news.
- Do not freak out with your kid if they make a media/technology mistake. As a general rule, work toward not freaking out at all — unless you lose them at the mall and suddenly find them. It’s okay to cry and scream with joy and relief in that scenario. But if they screw up on Instagram, it’s a teachable moment. I’d rather my kids screw up now, before they are over 18, facing jail time, getting fired, getting kicked out of college, and trying to live in my basement for free. Nope! Let’s sort this out while you’re in eighth grade!
- Teach them that a few minutes of quiet is healthy and good for their brain. Healthy food is good for our bodies, and downtime is good for our brains.
Think your little person’s nervous system has been overstimulated and overloaded? Send them to a trauma-informed therapist. We can help! We know stuff, I promise. It says so on the internet.
Further information on this topic is available from the IATP (International Association of Trauma Professionals). I took the CCTP (Certified Clinical Trauma Professional) class and highly recommend it to other professionals. They have a version for lay people if any parents out there would like to learn more about how trauma can negatively impact our brains.
Carol E. Henderson is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in the Winchester area with over 20 years of social work experience. She specializes in behavior modification, high functioning autism, threat risk assessment, and parenting coordination for restructuring families. Carol is also fluent in Virginia Tiered Systems of Supports (VTSS) and Positive Behavior Interventions and Supports (PBIS) after working with a local school system for 10 years. She utilizes a number of evidence-based interventions to help her clients remove barriers to their personal and interpersonal development.
You can contact her by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or calling 540-450-2782 x6706.