Dr. Alice Benton is one of my favorite Christian counselors. She is brilliant and integrates her faith in such a wonderful manner. I love her new book, Understanding and Loving Your Child in a Screen-Saturated World. I don’t know a parent in the universe who would not benefit from it. I get the privilege to sometimes share the studio with her on New Life Live, America’s #1 Christian Counseling broadcast. I’m always so inspired by her insight. We are putting out two great blogs by her and I recommend you get to learn more about her at dralicebenton.com. Here is her first of two guest blogs, Reducing Children’s Irritability and Defiance.
Reducing Children’s Irritability and Definance
Are your children irritable and at times defiant? Do they fight against your rules and requests, particularly regarding screen use? For most of us it is a daily, wearisome struggle to get them to follow directions. 65% of parents complain that managing devices has increased conflict in their homes (Gonski, 2020).
In part, this is just a description of broken human nature that we all have to deal with and learn to put into submission, within ourselves first and foremost. And it is our calling as parents to do our utmost to help our children take authority over their rebellious and frankly lazy default mode. Screens and child ownership of devices have certainly complicated the situation.
One particular area to hone in on involves late night screen use – an intimidating battle zone for most beleaguered families. Do your children use their screens after bedtime? This is the case for up to 59% of families. It is a very understandable habit, particularly if your child has been the owner of their own device for some time now. Around 80% of children in developed countries own at least one digital device although on average children own 3 screens! For many children that ownership started as young as 4-years-old. So, if your child has had control of their device for years at this point and screens are their favorite way to spend time, it sure makes sense that they would be on screen frequently and well into the night (Gonski, 2020).
However, we now know that full ownership, control, and nocturnal access is not serving our children well. Irritability and defiance are exacerbated by inadequate sleep and extensive screen use. Studies have revealed that multiple hours of screen use per day interfere with the brain’s development of executive functioning, a fancy term that basically means it impairs self-control. And inadequate sleep is guaranteed to produce crankiness. What a setup for many of us unsuspecting parents! Most of us really didn’t know far enough in advance that screens would gain such a powerful foothold in our children’s lives. We were just grateful that we found a relatively cheap, always available, entertaining babysitter whom our kids love!
Well, we have come to realize the screen is a short-term effective sitter that comes with profound long-term costs. We must begin to adjust if we want to protect our children and reestablish parental control and self-control within our families.
We might consider:
1. Modeling better parental behavior by informing and showing our children that we will limit and/or cease our own screen use after bedtime;
2. Preparing them to eventually do the same;
3. Choosing as a family that screens stay outside of the children’s bedrooms, especially at night; and
4. Prayerfully asking for God’s help as a family because this is a hard habit to change. But God is in the business of self-control and He loves to help if we are willing to humbly ask Him.
Gonski Institute for Education. (2020). Growing Up Digital Australia: Phase 2 Results.