Each parent has to figure out how much screen time is too much for their child?  What do I allow at different ages?  But all the other kids are playing video games, I don’t want my child to feel left out.  From a peaceful parenting perspective, when an issue becomes a source of conflict (as screen usage seems to be in most families) it’s helpful to consider what the underlying needs may be that they’re trying to meet.

There are so many contributing factors for parents to consider on this topic.  I realize that information regarding screen use can be a lot to deal with and process.  From a peaceful parenting perspective, it's always recommended that parents gain more clarity by both self-educating and also creating the time to sit and listen to their feelings on the subject.  Taking even a few focused minutes at a quiet time to listen both to your gut instinct and any painful old feelings that are being triggered can often bring the most valuable information.  The triggering of old unresolved feelings can make it very difficult to make clear headed decisions and to communicate clearly and calmly with our child.  Yet equally when we can identify and clear some of those triggered feelings, we are much more equipped to face the situation from a mature adult perspective.

To be clear with our child we need to be clear with our self.  It's easier to be clear with our child when we're clear with ourselves on how much screen time, if any, we feel comfortable to allow when we've gained the clarity and conviction that's aligned with our values.  It helps to feel confident we've taken the time to learn more about the impacts.  An important part of the process of learning more about the impacts of screens on your individual child is to notice any patterns in your child's behavour relating to screen use.  To this day I have a clear memory of how out of balance and chaotic my then 5 year old son was after watching Star Wars at a friend's house.

Meeting children’s needs in healthy ways is key to giving them the resiliency foundation that makes them dramatically less vulnerable to developing unhealthy habits, like excessive screen usage or addiction to video games.  The more parents can satisfy their children’s needs for warm and enjoyable connections with family members, this is ultimately what keeps kids more engaged in the “real world” than the digital world.

“The opposite of addiction is connection” ~ Gabor Mate, co-author of “Hold on to your kids”.

Watching a movie together as a family.  Watching something together helps kids maintain connection with their parent, with “real life”.  All that sweet affection and snuggling on the couch is so grounding and de-stressing.  When watching a show or film together as a family, we can be vigilant of how our child’s responding emotionally, we can maintain eye contact and smiles and avail of the teachable moments.  The disconnection from “normal reality” can be further minimized when family members increase their patience for each person having the right to pause to ask questions or share the thoughts and feelings the scene evoked and generally integrate the experience into family communication.  The earlier you develop this habit the better.  If you’re child has a become attached to an alternative world of their video games, maybe start by joining them in this world and opening those lines of communication.

What every parent needs to know about kids and screens.  Your child's time on their screens may be a bigger contributing factor to problem behaviours than you realized.  In this article Genevieve shares some of the most up to date research on the impacts of screens.

Kids need down time in their busy days.  Screens can provide parents a bit of peace and quiet.  Kids can crave flopping into that comfortable chair and blobbing out.  The upset child becomes immediately quiet when they stare at the screen.  Parents often believe that being on screens meets their needs to de-stress and slow down.  Yet, in reality, kids are experiencing what Dr Kardaras describes as “a hyper-stimulating, dopamine activating, adrenaline surging stimulant”!  I’m no scientist but to me that sounds very different from the brain research findings into the effects of meditation on the brain.  So what’s the likely outcome if the brain is hyper stimulated and all that adrenaline surging puts a kid into a stress response, yet there’s no physical or verbal outlet of all that energy.  This probably explains what happens after children have spent time on screens.  Instead of being calm, focused and cooperative, most parents notice that their kids are often particularly antsy, disengaged and frustrated.  It’s no wonder if all that pent-up frustration gets channelled directly into an argument with their parent about their verging-on-desperate need for more time on the screen.

Have children forgotten how to play normally?  The connection that’s often missed is that the more time kids spend on screens the more time they spend begging for screen time.  And the less enthusiastic they become to play imaginatively.  Screens condition kids to the fast paced brightly coloured entertainment which results in them struggling to adjust to the slower pace of “normal life”.  Lots of pleasurable activities activate the dopamine receptors in the brain, but the frequency and intensity that this happens during screen engagement results in kids being dependent on this high level of dopamine hits and less satisfied with having to work harder to get those reward centre hits.  When children don’t use screens at, parents generally get a lot more housework done because their kids are so very engaged in their own imagination and play, they wake up in the morning excited to get back to their drawing or their lego or their blocks or dress ups or whatever they're currently engaged by.


In these videos, Parts I, II and III Genevieve tackles the topic of kids using TV and screens.  She talks about how to encourage self-directed play and encourage their intrinsic motivation to be creative and to keep following their curiosity and how to preserve these instincts.  Available to Village Members.

Kids need more of the activities that reduce their stress.  It helps to be mindful to avoid using screens to soothe our kids when they're upset.  They can develop the habit of craving this zoning out every time they feel bad.  But in reality, it masks instead of reduces stress and can interfere with the child’s natural self-regulating ability to feel and express their emotions.  Instead, we need to build into our children’s days the activities that really do slow them down and allow them to de-stress.  Spending quality one on one time with their parent really is a bit of a miracle cure for resetting children.  Especially when we can let them take the lead and include play that’s physical and results in lots of laughter, this fills up our child’s love tank and helps them remember what it is they crave most; human connection, love and affection.  Showing a genuine interest in our child’s stories, their activities and questions can help them stay engaged with their projects of the moment.  Sitting reading books or listening to audio books or listening to music can be soothing while activating healthy imagination. Board games, ball games, creative activities like arts and crafts, time spent exploring and making things in nature, especially unstructured free play all re-engage the child’s intrinsic motivation to follow their curiosity and be creative.  In fact most of those activities you remember playing as a child provide ample healthy engagement and stress releasing outlets for our children.

Nature resets our children by reminding them that the natural world makes us feel so good!  I highly recommend Florence William’s book The Nature Fix as an inspiring reminder that nature restores us and makes us “healthier, more creative, more empathetic and more apt to engage with the world and with each other.” Her book is a collection of research on all the hugely therapeutic benefits of spending time in nature; decreased cortisol levels, increase in immune-boosting T cells, improvements for adolescents struggling with learning difficulties, anxiety, depression, PTSD, social phobias and more.

1 Comment
  1. Jon Rose 1 year ago

    I can confirm the value of the above methods with my own 21 year old son who has grown up in this digital age. Compared to his peers, he has very minimal screen time, preferring to do a range of activities he has grown up with. He now works as an adventure leader helping children around ages 11 – 14 appreciate nature, creative play and develop resilience.

    In additon to the wise options in this article, there still might need some negotiation and conflict resolution strategies. Some suggestions, once children are aware of your concerns as well as your alternatives to screen time, is to ask children themselves what they think are reasonable limits as well as alternative activities.
    Once boundaries of use are negotiated along with alternative activities (including free playtime), you might consider using parental control apps. If so, rather than simply imposing these on your children, aim to reach an agreement about their use and then use lots of praise for engagement in alternative activities during the transition period ad empathising with discomfort with reduced screen time (consider reducing screen time over a period in the same way an addict might reduce drug use overtime to reduce withdrawal effects).

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