‘Screens Hurt Their Creativity’: An NYC Dad Learns at 92Y Parenting Conference

I squirmed, I sweated, felt guilty and encouraged, I laughed and held back tears, had the weight of the world shove me to the ground, and then was given a hand that brought me back up. And all that happened before lunch. My run through the emotional parenting gauntlet was courtesy of the “What Do You Really Need To Know As A Parent” conference at the 92nd St. Y held Monday, Feb. 11.

kids-on-laptopAt the end of the day, while recollecting my thoughts after hearing from the numerous speakers about the most important job I will ever have, one thing in particular stuck in my mind – the growing impact of electronic media exposure on our children.  Many of us have done it to keep our children calm or quiet in public spaces – used electronic media as a pacifier. Our children begin to act up and we hand them our phone to play video games or watch a movie.

But our actions are not without consequences. Dr. JoAnn Deak explained the physiological effect on our children from the screen time:  “It is lighting up the pleasure centers, the same places that light with cocaine and heroin.” And just like when a drug addict gets a fix, our children calm down and blankly stare, only later to be wound up again.  Handing our children over to screens hurts their creativity, as both Dr. Deak and Dr. Susan Linn explained.  Later, Dr. Michael Thompson agreed with the drug analogy and pushed it further,

“We’re modeling it. We’re the crack dealers. [and it’s] a battle we have to fight on behalf of young children.”

Raising children is hard work; as Dr. Gail Saltz noted:  “The most difficult job of 2013, without a doubt, is parenting. What can make you more joyous than anything in the world? Your child. What can make you the most anguished? Your child.”

So how can parents help their children through those difficult moments without resorting to electronic pacification? Dr. Thompson pointed out that we have to accept that we can’t make our children happy all the time – we have to establish limits and boundaries and recognize that children have different personalities than adults. Dr. Linn suggested that we limit children’s screen time to 1 to 2 hours a day.

Handing an electrical device to a child in order to buy a few moments of peace may be the easier way, but it isn’t the healthier way.  In those moments when it may be tempting to hand your child a screen, Dr. Ron Taffel’s suggested approach might be more productive – meet your children where they are emotionally, empathize with them, know their temperament, and love them.

Jason Greene is a SAHD in Queens where he and his wife are raising their three children. He’s set aside his dream of being an actor for fatherhood and writing, from children’s books and theater to his blog: thejasongreene.com. Follow him on Twitter @thejasongreene.

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