Spoiler Alert: Your Child is Not a Virtual Angel
Tips on how parents can avoid blind spots when it comes to kids and screens.
By Melanie Hempe, BSN, Founder of ScreenStrong
For good reason, parents think the best of their children. Parents unconditionally love their kids and, while that helps our children’s development thrive, it also means that sometimes parents can be blinded to their childrens’ hearts and capabilities. And nowhere is this more evident than in the virtual worlds where our kids are spending so many hours of their days.
We all want to believe that our child is the exception and that he can withstand the dangers and the persuasive design elements created by brilliant neuroscientists to keep all human eyes glued to their entertainment technology. Nevermind the fact that he cannot remember to brush his teeth. So why do we believe that we gave birth to the one and only child who is immune to screen risks?
Because all parents have a blind spot when it comes to their children.
We want to believe that our 7-year-old has such a good heart, that he would never deliberately hit anyone on the playground unless provoked. We want to trust him and believe that he doesn’t go around our screen rules. But teens tell us otherwise.
We want to believe that our 12-year-old daughter is not capable of being mean, that she is a good example to her peers on SnapChat and that social media is a good way to socialize. After all, she is mature and wise beyond her years. And yet teen depression has been on the exponential rise since smartphones and social media launched.
We want to believe that our 10-year-old is a leader in his video game, and that he blocks inappropriate content and tells me about it. He is a good kid. He would never look at porn. But the likelihood that he has or does would astonish most parents.
For over eight years, I have been helping parents who are struggling with screen dependency in their children. From pornography, to sending and receiving sexts, to becoming dependent on video games or smartphones, the majority of parents never see the problems coming. They are caught off guard, the warning signs don’t seem to apply to their kids. They are blinded by the perceived innocence of their child.
I was once one of those parents too.
Where do blind spots come from?
This blind spot seems to appear right after birth when the bonding chemical, oxytocin, floods a mother’s brain. Thank goodness this bond develops, otherwise we may just leave our offspring at the hospital, so we can go home and get some sleep! This force keeps us feeding and protecting our children. It also creates “blurry vision” which can result in a dangerous bias.
More than just an emotion, this blind spot is like magic: it can make things appear crystal clear when they are not. It interferes with sound judgment. It’s in full force at youth sporting events too. For example, your child never really looks out at home plate or like they committed the foul. Blind spots create a lack of objectivity that can make a normal parent look crazy on the baseball field, and it can hurt our kids when it comes to managing their technology worlds.
How blind spots get bigger.
Oftentimes, parents are very educated about infant and child development during the early years. But as the teen years approach, it is easy to overlook adolescent development, hence the blind spot grows. Parental blind spots keep us in the dark and stuck in the past, while our kids keep growing up.
Here are some reasons parents get tripped up:
- We confuse intelligence/IQ with maturity.
- We can’t say no to our kids.
- We don’t believe they are capable of deception.
- We treat them like adults and give them privacy.
- We don’t understand their virtual worlds.
Slowly we get desensitized to the culture that celebrates unhealthy screen habits and screen content. We think science doesn’t apply to our kids. We make excuses and treat them like adults because kids are convincing. Then we wake up in shock one day, realizing that our innocent, mature child is not so innocent or mature anymore. And it breaks our heart that we missed it.
Bring clarity to the blind spots.
Our kids do need our unconditional love. And they also need us to be an objective coach who will do what’s best for them. That means we must manage their entertainment screens. I recommend doing this by becoming a ScreenStrong family—one that keeps the benefits of technology, while delaying the harm.
It may sound like an impossible task, but it’s more doable than you think. Here are a few ways to become ScreenStrong:
- Learn more about adolescent development.
- Talk with older parents who have had struggles with screen time in their own homes. Ask them what they would have done differently.
- Don’t trust parental controls, contracts or teen tech conversations exclusively.
- Replace smartphones with talk/text only phones through late adolescence.
- Focus on building good habits and life skills rather than trying to make recreational screen time safe for your child (it’s an impossible task).
- Spend more time getting to know your child.
What our kids need more than video games and social media are parents who are dedicated to guiding them through childhood and adolescence. We know these years aren’t easy for anyone and sometimes keeping those blind spots seems like an easier fix. But we’re not here to simply survive. Instead, let’s thrive together as parents and help our kids become ScreenStrong.
Melanie Hempe, BSN, is the founder and executive director of ScreenStrong, a national nonprofit organization that offers a countercultural approach to eliminate childhood screen dependency, but one that just might save your kids. Melanie has developed cutting-edge programs that empower parents to pause video games and social media for kids and teens through late adolescence. Her three books can be found on Amazon: Will Your Gamer Survive College?, Can Your Teen Survive—and Thrive—Without a Smartphone? and The ScreenStrong Solution: How to free your child from addictive screen habits.
ScreenStrong is committed to rescuing this screen-driven generation, one family at a time.
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