The Power of Consistent Messaging Around Screen Use
Monday, August 21, 2023
In our modern world, where screens have seamlessly woven themselves into the fabric of daily life, parenting around technology has taken on a new level of complexity. As parents and caregivers, we bear the responsibility of guiding our tweens and teens toward a balanced and mindful relationship with screens. However, bearing the responsibility has gotten to the point where a lot of shaming happens around our choices around screen use, where parents attack other parents for allowing screens "before 18", "before grade 8", and "while they're in my house". It's a choice to allow or not allow screens in the house, or at a certain age, or for a certain purpose, and we should feel comfortable making those choices, especially if we are armed with the best, non-biased information possible, and work WITH our kids to help set them up for success.
Amidst the buzz of digital devices, our words act as beacons, illuminating the path toward healthy screen habits. Again, our tweens and teens may not hear you, but they are listening, and it does bounce around their brains every time they are faced with an online choice. Do they always make the right choice? No! (Thank you chimp brain and undeveloped prefrontal cortex!) BUT, they know YOU are there in their corner when they need you, and that you will constantly provide information to help guide them. One essential guiding principle is the consistency of our messages. In this blog post, I'll explore the impact of consistent versus conditional communication around device use, summarizing this past week's social media posts on my pages.
Conditional messages create an environment where screen time is contingent upon specific criteria. Let's explore some examples and their implications:
Message: "After you complete your assignments, you can enjoy screen time."
Effect: Devices become a reward for tasks completed, potentially elevating their appeal.
Message: "Screen time is limited to weekends only."
Effect: Screens gain a sense of exclusivity due to their constrained availability.
Message: "Screens are off-limits until your room is tidy."
Effect: The connection between screens and chore completion may overshadow their intrinsic value.
Message: "Since you behaved well today, you can watch TV."
Effect: Screens are associated with positive behavior, potentially making them more appealing.
Message: "Once you've finished your vegetables, you can play on your tablet."
Effect: Screens become tools of negotiation, potentially influencing eating habits.
In the intricate tapestry of parenting, one thread remains constant: the profound impact of consistency. This is particularly pertinent when it comes to the evolving minds of tweens and teens, as they navigate the complex landscape of screens and devices. Understanding the interplay between consistency and brain development can provide valuable insights into cultivating healthy relationships with technology.
During these transformative years, the teenage brain is undergoing significant rewiring and remodeling. One of the most vital parts undergoing transformation is the prefrontal cortex, responsible for decision-making, impulse control, and future planning. This area of the brain, often referred to as the "CEO of the brain," is still under construction, rendering tweens and teens more susceptible to impulsive behaviors and emotional reactivity.
Consistent messages provide a reliable framework that integrates screens into everyday life. Here's a glimpse of how these messages manifest and their positive impacts:
Message: "Scheduled screen time slots will be a part of our routine."
Impact: Screens become a normalized activity akin to meals or outdoor play.
Message: "Every day, we embrace screens for both learning and leisure."
Impact: Screens are positioned as versatile tools that enrich education and relaxation.
Message: "Screen-free hours are our family tradition during evenings."
Impact: Dedicated tech-free times create spaces for connection and shared experiences.
Message: "Screens serve as instruments for exploration and connection."
Impact: Screens are seen as vehicles for knowledge acquisition, communication, and personal growth.
Message: "We consistently incorporate screens alongside other activities."
Impact: Balancing screen use with other pursuits fosters a holistic lifestyle.
Consistency, therefore, becomes a guiding light in the fog of uncertainty. When we offer consistent messages and boundaries around screen use, we provide a stable foundation upon which their developing brains can rely. This stability allows them to better understand cause and effect, develop healthier impulse control, and cultivate self-regulation skills that will serve them well throughout their lives.
Furthermore, consistent digital wellness practices model valuable life skills. As tweens and teens witness your commitment to intentional technology use, they learn the art of balance, time management, and prioritization – skills that are indispensable in our fast-paced, digitally-driven world. By weaving consistency into the fabric of their digital lives, we set the stage for healthier relationships with screens. It's about empowering them to make choices that align with their aspirations and well-being, rather than being at the mercy of the digital tide. Through open conversations, mutual understanding, and shared responsibility, we help them navigate the online realm with confidence and consciousness.