Four months ago, I received a “Must Read!” article from my wife: “6 Ways electronic screen time makes kids angry, depressed and unmotivated“. Sure enough, our 8-year-old son was showing some of the symptoms described in the article:
- Disrupts sleep and desynchronizes the body clock.
- Desensitizes the brain’s reward system.
- Produces “light-at-night.”
- Induces stress reactions.
- Overloads the sensory system, fractures attention, and depletes mental reserves.
- Reduces physical activity levels and exposure to “green time.”
Reset Your Child’s Brain
That lead to reading the author’s book, “Reset Your Child’s Brain: A Four-Week Plan to End Meltdowns, Raise Grades, and Boost Social Skills by Reversing the Effects of Electronic Screen-Time by Victoria L. Dunckley, MD
- Define problem areas and target goals
- Get your spouse and other caregivers on board
- Set a date and create a schedule
- Inform relevant adults in your child’s life
- Obtain toys, games, and activities to replace screen-time
- Schedule breaks or treats for yourself
- If possible, enlist a playmate’s parents to join you
- Inform your child and involve the entire family
- Perform a thorough “screen sweep”
- Set your intentionMy wife and I talked for an hour on Friday night mapping out activities, games, and alternatives and how to break the news to the kids. Then, on Monday, we went cold-turkey on the ipads for both boys.
My wife and I talked for an hour on Friday night, mapping out activities, games, and alternatives, and how to break the news to the kids. Then, on Monday, we went cold-turkey on the ipads for both boys.
After two weeks, the symptoms were gone! Now, at four months, the absence of these two “little” ipads in their lives (and ours) has been working out, splendidly.
The ipads were replaced with more outdoor time, interactions between them and with us, looking out the window on the way to school, lots of storytelling, and one thing we’ve still got to work on: watching Japanese dance videos on YouTube (via the TV).
The bromide that “Children are natural storytellers” is true, but it’s deeper than that. Children live in the story version of their lives, going in and out of what we adults would call the “real” version.
Here’s Lucas living in his story. Notice that his dad is standing six-feet away, recording him, but he takes no notice. Then, when his stuffed animal drops, he’s jarred into the “Real” life of eating his cereal.
Have you ever tried to get a yes or no answer from a child? They answer every question with a story because they’re living in one. By telling you a story, they’re not evading; they’re giving you a more complete answer.
Rory’s Story Cubes
A month after the ipads “disappeared”, I found a game that fit Victoria’s advice to replace screen-time with other activities: Rory’s Story Cubes.
They come in packs of nine cubes. The 6-sides of each cube has a picture on it of either a thing or an action (a noun or verb in adult-speak). You roll the cubes and make a story out of the ones that roll face-up.
As I was reading the box, and wondering if the game would be too much for our 4-year-old, Lucas rolled the cubes and cut me off saying, “Once upon a time …”
It was more than adorable; it was wondrous to watch his brain firing on all cylinders, reaching into the vast experiences of his four years of life experience, and telling us a story. “Can you believe this?!”, I asked my wife.
It’s not only possible; it’s their preferred means of expression. Children are designed to communicate in story. Before they have words for the things around them, before they put words together in sentences, they’re tracking the story of what’s happening to them, and around them. A few weeks after they’re born they look at you while you’re changing their diaper and you can see them taking it all in. There are no words, but they’re recording the beginnings of their own story.
The Gillespie Cubes
When playing, we give each player six cubes to roll for a new story. We have 27 cubes in all (Rory’s 9-cube starter and 9-cube action sets, 3-cube pre-historia, 3-cube sports, and 3-cube medic sets). If I was purchasing for the first time, again, I’d get this bundle:
If you’re expecting this article to end with us going through every step of the book and living happily-ever-after, that didn’t happen. Although Victoria’s book outlines steps to reintegrate screen-time back into your child’s life in a non-destructive way, we haven’t even thought about bringing the ipads back to battery life. We’re on pause, for now, and not looking for the “play” button.
There are a few things that would make me reconsider: if the Kahn Academy greatly improves their app, or a similar life-changing technology appears on the scene. If so, we’ll make the kids earn every minute of screen-time like an allowance. Until then, we’ll stick with the best killer apps, of all: playing outdoors, talking with people, reading, and telling stories.