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Part 2: How Do Our Young People Communicate Today: What is the Downside and What Can We Do About It?

Bob Livingstone is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker (LCS 11087) in private practice for 22 years in San Francisco, California. He holds a Masters Degree ...Read More

In my previous blog I discussed the negative side of young people’s lack of face to face communication and almost total reliance on electronic means of relating to peers. Our children’s main mode of communicating is text messaging, emails, Facebook discussions and instant messaging.

This week the solutions and alternatives to this disturbing trend will be addressed.

First, here are some important reasons why increased screen time needs to be assessed by parents:

  • Increased screen time can lead to lack of physical activity which in turn contributes to the obesity crisis in our country.
  • Watching violent video games increases aggression among young people.
  • Children and teens can become addicted to the computer/internet and demonstrate intense withdrawal symptoms once parents eliminate or lessen their usage.
  • Continuous work on the computer can cause depression and insomnia.

Parents can do the following:

  • Don’t leave your television on all day. Toddlers can be almost be hypnotized by the shapes, sounds and colors that pour out of the television set. This is when the addiction to screen time actually begins. Encourage your family and friends not to relay on television, youtube or other forms of electronic communication as the center piece for your toddler’s entertainment. This type of passive interaction with a screen begins to not only contribute to formulating a dull personality; it teaches our kids that they are supposed to be highly entertained most of their waking hours. It is no wonder many children find school to be intolerably boring. This then leads to an aversion of dealing with anything that is considered boring. There are many facets of life that are not as exciting as multi-tasking on electronic devices and children need to learn how to handle and get past the tedious moments.
  • Monitor screen time for children of all ages. It is not healthy to watch television or be on the computer endlessly. Parents at first are pleased with the fact that their kids can use the internet as a tool to improve their homework. Then they become alarmed when they notice their kids utilizing electronics most of their waking hours and often time using them when they should be asleep. Parents find it difficult to effectively monitor screen time. It is not unusual to have both parents of a two parent household working sixty to eighty hours per week. In single parent households the difficulty of supervising the use of electronics is even more difficult. This leaves the task of monitoring to child care providers. Parents or child care providers directed by parents can manage this task by rewarding their children for cutting down on their screen time. They can earn stickers, money, dinner out or other activity that will motivate them to cut down on their screen use.
  • Insist that your children do other activities besides those that involve electronics. Here are a few: Board games, cooking together, home repair projects, card games, go for a walk, talk to a friend in person or on the phone. Instead of setting up play dates with other parents, teach your child to call up her friends and invite them over to play. Try to eat dinner as a family every night where discussion is encouraged and electronics are not allowed.
  • Parents need to form a community to transform their children’s use of electronics to more healthy activities. In order to really change the over reliance on electronics culture, there needs to be a dramatic shift in our society. It will be difficult for individual families to alter this course because the use of screen time to communicate and recreate is now so ingrained in the fabric or American lives. We don’t know what dangers this trend will bring in the future, but we are at risk of creating a nation of zombies who will no longer have critical thinking skills or a sense of why we need to be connected to others. It will take one parent to talk to another in your neighborhood about this problem. You can share your concerns about this problem and develop ideas of what to do about it. You can also develop an outreach plan to meet with other parents in your community who share your concerns. One idea is to have community picnics where families can get meet each other, spend time outdoors and participate in spontaneous play. Another idea is for families to support each other with alternatives to electronic activities. One family can have a board game night and another can have a card game night. It will take a lot of work to get your kids to participate and begin to enjoy these activities, but it would be worth it.

Studies and articles that back up “Here are some important reasons why increased screen time needs to be assessed by parents:”

http://www.slaw.ca/2008/06/18/screen-time-study/

http://www.apa.org/releases/videogames.html

http://www.newscientist.com/article/dn8449-violent-video-games-alter-brains-response-to-violence.html

http://www.warningsigns.info/computer_addiction.htm

Keep Reading By Author Bob Livingstone, LCSW
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