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Why (and How) Parents are Cutting Back Screen Time

"Life is passing them by," says Arlington mom Octavia Galaviz 

We live in a world of quick fixes: If it squeaks, oil it. If it sticks, grease it. And if it cries … hand it a tablet.

Katie Fuerst, a Dallas artist whose children are both grown, was saddened to see kids stuck to their screens while out and about with their families. So she began complimenting parents who refrained from defaulting to technology in public. Every parent appreciated the comment, she says. Two moms cried. They told Fuerst they felt so alone, that “most of their friends have gone the way of the ever-present device.”

So is screen time really that bad for your child? We’re still trying to figure that out.

“More people are talking about the possibility of harmful effects stemming from screen time, but there’s no long-term research on that yet,” says Brooke West, a play therapist and owner of HOPE Child and Family Center in Dallas. “We don’t really know how these devices might be affecting childhood brain development because they’ve only been around for maybe 10 years. That’s the scary part. There is no way of knowing what the risks are right now.”

The mom of three says that although she encourages parents to cut back on handheld devices in public, she is seeing no evidence of decline in screen time consumption. Yet, as Fuerst has found, there are parents combating the use of technology with their children … and left feeling like they’re swimming upstream.

That’s the scary part. There is no way of knowing what the risks are right now.
Brooke West

If it’s such a difficult prospect, then why are these parents stowing the screens? Some are adamant that the ever-present device can interfere with their children’s connection to reality.

“Technology has a way of desensitizing kids from caring about how other people feel or what’s going on around them,” says Arlington mom Octavia Galaviz. “They only care about being plugged in, and life is passing them by in the meantime.”

Galaviz and her husband Tim, who have 10-year-old boys and two foster children, rue kids’ waning interest in the great outdoors and view technology as the No. 1 culprit. The couple’s 501(c)(3) nonprofit, Life’s Adventures Youth Foundation, promotes self-sustainability through outdoor activities such as camping, hiking and fishing—experiences that cannot be had via Wi-Fi.

They only care about being plugged in, and life is passing them by in the meantime.
Octavia Galaviz

Tim Galaviz, the founder of the program, says that technology really becomes an issue once it progresses into an addiction. “It’s what our youth are relying on for the release of dopamine, and then they can’t be satisfied with real life,” he explains. “That’s why we think it’s so important to offer a mentorship program that demonstrates ways to enjoy life without a device in your hand.”

Out to Lunch 

Fuerst cites restaurants as one of the settings where she sees phones and tablets used as babysitters. West stresses that the problem in this scenario is the environment surrounding the device usage.

“[Kids] aren’t going through the motions of decision making, reading, verbal communication, polite etiquette and manners, confidence in interacting with the waiter,” West explains. “They miss all of these social cues.”

West says her clients who are always on devices display feelings of disconnection and isolation, which end up hurting a child’s relationship with their entire environment. As tempting as the prospect of a quiet meal is, she explains that actively involving your kiddos throughout the dining-out experience helps them develop communication and social skills they’ll need for the rest of their lives.

That’s Fuerst’s perspective too—while raising her children, she often referred to public settings as her “training grounds.” She emphasizes that it’s important not to worry about the judgment of spectators.

“If you’re in the store and your kid throws a tantrum because you’re buying strawberry yogurt instead of vanilla, it’s OK to look at the person in the aisle and say, ‘I’m sorry, we are learning here,’” she says. “If you have to abandon your shopping cart and make a run for it with a screaming toddler under your arm, that’s OK too.”

A Time and Place

Still, in 2019, it’s probably unrealistic to take devices completely out of the equation.

“I’m guilty of giving my kids my phone,” says Octavia Galaviz. “If there is a convenient time and they’ve been good, I’ll occasionally let them use it to watch Netflix or something.”

West agrees there is a time and place. “Everything in excess has a negative consequence,” she explains, “so I’m not on the bandwagon of no devices ever. It just definitely needs to be limited.” She adds that it’s just as important for parents to set boundaries for their own device use. “Your kids need to know that you are present and available. They don’t know that if your attention is fully invested in a screen.”

Fuerst, West and the Galavizes believe that when a screen fulfills your child’s need for entertainment, learning or comfort, you are missing a crucial opportunity to fill that need for them.

“I’d give anything to go get a big, red cart from Target and take my kids shopping,” Fuerst says. “Constantly replying, ‘Yes, that is blue!’ and ‘Yes, that’s blue too!’ can be so mind-numbing … but you miss it. You will miss these moments.”

Photo courtesy of ©iSTOCK