By: Crystal McNaughton
Does your child turn off the screen/IPad/tablet when you ask? How many times do you have to remind your child to turn it off? Maybe I’ll rephrase the question….how many times do you have to nag/yell at your child to turn off their tablet? (or does this just happen at my house?) Does your child kindly turn their screen off and easily move on to another activity? Oops, rephrase again…What does your child’s “tablet tantrum” look like?
If your child does easily turn off their screen and calmly refocus themselves on something else, can you please call me? Because I need to know your secret!
I have had many, many parents tell me about how hard it is to get their child to ‘transition from the tablet’ and explain how challenging their behaviors are after the tablet is gone. I’ve witnessed it myself when I tell (okay nag) my kids to turn off their tablets, sometimes ending up grabbing it from them. What usually happens is they scream, yell, or break down in tears. Next, they start fighting. The older one sits on the younger one. The younger one bites the older one. I’m left feeling exhausted and overwhelmed, as well as that good ol’ parent guilt for letting them watch their tablets too much. If this sounds familiar to you, please know, it’s not just you. It’s not just your child.
There’s a reason behind the ‘tablet tantrum.”
When kids are on a screen or tablet, it looks as if they are quiet, sitting, focused, and calm. Actually, what is happening in their brains at this time is the opposite. A number of neurochemicals are required to be in balance in our kid’s brains, and tablets and screen time can disrupt this balance. Video games or other gaming can create a release of dopamine, which feels good for kids, thus they always want MORE. There is never enough.
Next comes an adrenaline response, which is the ‘fright/flight/fight’ response. The brain releases adrenaline which prepares the body’s stress response. Psychological stress can also trigger an increase in cortisol; the stress hormone. Take away the ‘feel good’ dopamine and we see a ‘withdrawal’ effect.
So, we ask a child to turn off their tablet, and what we see is an angry person pumped full of ‘fight or flight’ energy. A tablet tantrum.
There are recommendations for screen time. I know things in this world are so stressful as it is, and I’ve definitely given my kids more screen time than I’d like to admit. But I’m trying. We’re all trying.
If you want to check-in and see what is a recommended amount of screen time for your kid, take a look here: https://www.aacap.org/AACAP/Families_and_Youth/Facts_for_Families/FFF-Guide/Children-And-Watching-TV-054.aspx
Taking away the tablet from your child will usually be hard. But setting limits is important, as there will never be enough screen time if it were up to our kids. Take a deep breath, and remind yourself, that you’re setting limits, you’re doing what’s best for your child by enforcing those limits and encouraging breaks from the screen. If you want to make some changes, your Connecting Dots therapists are there to help you along the way. Remember, we’re all here with you during those tablet tantrums.