I give my kids treats. I myself love a good chunk of chocolate. Or chips. Or cookie. Or ice cream. They see me inhale them as I chug my mug of room-temperature coffee. They don’t always ask for some, because they know I don’t always share. I’m rather possessive about my mom treats.
But sometimes I surprise them with some of my treat too. A whole bowl of treats. A whole bowl of treats as they (gasp) watch TV.
Yes, I give them TV too.
I know. I’m totally wrecking my kids.
I recognize that screen time ruins kids. As an elementary school teacher, I’ve seen the increasing loss of attention spans and verbal communication skills every successive year. I’ve read why kids aren’t supposed to have more than twenty minutes of screen time a day. I understand that they get addicted to the stimulation of flashing lights and fake realities, and that it kills their imaginations slowly.
But guess what? I give my kids more than twenty minutes of TV a day.
I have no problem giving them treats because I give them protein and vegetables more.
I have no problem giving them TV because I give them something else more. At least, most days I try to.
I feel like the biggest problem with screens is not what they reprogram, but what they replace.
Screens are replacing meandering conversations. They are replacing eye contact. They are replacing intergenerational contact. They are replacing free play. They are replacing boredom. They are replacing human connectedness that the brain actually interprets as connectedness.
The biggest problem with screens is that the time spent facing them is spent facing away from another human being.
Children are building neurochemical attachments to screens rather than adults.
What we know about the effect of screens is true. But what we forget is that the screen-addiction of our society as a whole – children included – is a symptom of a larger problem. The problem bigger than screens, the problem driving the screens, is this: the increasing emotional disconnection we have with each other.
Drs Gordon Neufeld and Gabor Mate in Hold On To Your Kids say, “Children don’t need friends, they need parents, grandparents, adults who will assume the responsibility to hold on to them.”
Kids need connection with adults more than they need connection with peers. And because today’s parents are disconnected or distracted themselves, kids are turning to screens to fill the void.
What are kids missing out when they do not receive true adult connection? Increased resilience from social pressures. A built-in intolerance of substance abuse. Emotional regulation – because they borrow our brains to navigate their worlds. A loss of a sense of self – because they can’t explore who they are if they aren’t anchored to something stable.
Ironically, we have lost contact with each other at a point in history when we are most connected.
What does connection look like? It looks like togetherness. Talking sometimes. Silence sometimes. Working. Playing. Whatever it is that you choose to do, it’s together, Not just physically together, but attuned with your hearts and minds also. Emotional togetherness.
You’ll know if a kid is connected to you if they can look you in the eyeballs and ask you for help. Or show you the laughter in their eyes.
Don’t be afraid of screens in and of themselves. Be afraid of the reason why screens have the power to change your kid’s brain in the first place.
Give your kids chocolate. But also give them vegetables.
Give your children TV. But also give them connection.
It turns out they need the connection more than the vegetables.