Why is it dangerous to introduce your child to screens (iPhone, Tablet, Computer) and social media too early? What are some “best practices” for us parents?

This is Part 2 of my interview with Ulla Dyrløv, Child Therapist and Author of four books (in Danish). We talk about the mental and physical consequences of too much screen-time for your child. Ulla has first hand insight into the increasing problems of addiction, isolation and depression among our kids and gives us guidance on “best screen / online practices” in this interview. Right now you can follow Ulla on a Danish TV documentary (Når skærmene styrer familien) as she gives advice to families with kids showing a severe addiction to screens.

Child Therapist and Author Ulla Dyrløv

If you did not read Part 1 of the Interview with Ulla Dyrløv, you can find it by clicking here. Below I have posted the last questions from part 1, so more of you can follow where we “left off”. Enjoy !

These small kids see a lot of very serious expressions on the faces of their parents, who are busy looking at their screen.

These little kids don’t know what that screen is. But from birth they are trying to create a connection to the people around them. They are creating social relations. So, they want and need eye-contact, but they cannot get this. Instead they see this serious face, which results in the kids not getting enough necessary interaction.

That is actually the single most important thing the small kids have to learn in the very beginning of life. They have to create an ongoing bond with their parents. They need to have someone to smile to. Almost everything small kids learn, they learn by being encouraged or corrected by a parent, all the time.

After this they need to learn all the motor skills.

Nina: Yes, not just learn to sit still and watch a screen.

Ulla: Yes, exactly. They need to learn to play with cubes, 3 – dimensional things, feel things, taste things, smell things. Pretty much all of which is not in an iPad.

On a screen you can build LEGO or Dublo or have someone read you a story. There are even books where you press a button and it says ”cow” when you press the image of a cow. But this is far from the same as sitting with a physical book, cause a book most often includes a parent reading aloud.

Nina: Yes, and by reading a book together with your child, you can talk about what you are seeing and give the child a chance to ask further questions.

Ulla: Exactly.

Nina: I can tell you about my own experience. I have a son who is 2 ½ and when he was around 1 year-old, I let him watch 10-20min Peppa Pig daily for about a month or so. This is a popular children’s cartoon on Youtube. This would give me 10 minutes ”me time” if I needed a small brake.

The famous children’s cartoon called Peppa Pig

It did not take long before I could see the negative effects of this. He would scream a lot in his sleep and be very uneasy. As soon as he saw my iPhone he would get hysterical, almost slightly aggressive if I would not give it to him.

I could see how bad it was for him and decided to not let him watch screens, apart from when I do a video-chat with my family abroad. It was also back then that I began doing more research on kids and screens.

I am also a mother who decided not to go back to a part-time or full-time job, while my son is so small. For me it just did not feel right and together with my boyfriend, my son’s farther, we have arranged it so I only work very little as self-employed and he is the provider at the moment.

We live in a smaller flat and keep our costs low. This gives me the time and extra energy I need to sit and play with our son instead of having to involve screens. It also enables me to better handle the ”battles” that come when borders have to be set, although I don’t always find this an easy task either.

I totally understand the overwhelming feeling it must be for all those parents and in particular mothers, who are caught up in what I call the “hamster-wheel” lifestyle. Everything is about work, practical things and there is very little room for fun and play.

I mean, let’s face it, our society is not really geared towards us women spending enough time with our kids.

It feels like a challenge to be able to give our kids what they need, if you at the same time want to live up to the enormous pressure of perfection, which seems to be the new set of values we live by. Everything has to be perfect.

Ulla: Exactly

Nina: I feel fortunate to have made the choices I have, but I know it is far from everyone who feels they can do the same.

Ulla: Yes, that is true.

Nina: But this was more about the very small kids.

What is the effect of the extensive use of smartphones and iPads etc. on bigger kids and teenagers?

Ulla: Well it is actually quite similar to the negative effects it has on the smaller kids. However, it is not so destructive on the brain, as it is for the 0-3 year-olds. I mean, for those little kids even the TV-screen provokes this Horror-state-of-mind described earlier on.

When you are above the age of 3, your brain automatically goes on a form of “standby” mode when you watch TV. That is why it can have a relaxing effect. But remember, they have to be more than 3 years-old for the TV to have this effect on the brain. It is TV, not iPad or computers or smartphones!

Nina: Is that because you cannot scroll or swipe on the TV?

Ulla: I actually don’t know why. These were just the findings I found during my research. The relaxing effect that watching TV has on the brain is the reason why we so easily fall asleep in front of it. So that is also why it can be quite all right to watch a little TV during the afternoon when you get home.

Once more I would like to recommend that you watch TV with your child, but that is not to say that watching a kids film on their own would cause your kids harm. Just do not allow them to “binge watch” where one film or program begins 10-seconds after the first one has finished.

You have to remove that function called autoplay, which I know they have on Apple TV and Youtube. So for the bigger kids, TV can be a good way to wind down after a long day.

In the upper right corner on Youtube you can see the “Autoplay” button with a blue dot. When it is blue, like mine is on the screenshot, the next video will automatically play.

Then you have social media. If I should talk about how much time I recommend kids being online or watching a screen from when they begin school until they are eleven, I recommend 1 hour per day.

Nina: Just 1 hour per day?! I don’t think a lot of them are doing to that.

Ulla: No. And then I recommend 2 hours per day from age 11 until around 15 years of age.

Nina: Wow, just 2 hours.

Ulla: Yes, because findings reveal that 3-4 hours per day are damaging for their brains!

We know there is a link between being on social media and feeling lonely. We also know there is a link between playing computer games and feeling depressed. We just don’t know what the link is. We do not know which one causes which result.

Do the kids use social media cause they feel alone, or does the social media make them feel lonely. The same goes for the computer games and depression. There is absolutely no doubt that there is a correlation here.

Nina: We live in a time, where technology and screens have become such a huge part of our lives at home, in the school and at our work place, so how do we give our kids the best tools to navigate in this world without being classified as the “weirdos who don’t do like everyone else”?

Ulla: That is why it is important to stress that if you do all these things together with your child, then it is a completely different scenario. On Steam (a site for computer games) you can create an account and classify it as family friendly. Then you select the age of your child and the program will only show you appropriate computer games for that age group.

This way you become the “cool” parent who introduces his or her child to new and fun computer games. Instead of the other scenario where it is always the child that comes home and says: ”Now I want to play this game called Fortnite” and introduces the parent to new games.

One other thing that amazes me is that many parents don’t seem to pay any interest to what kind of computer games their kids are playing. They just let the kids play. 

Nina: Maybe it is because it is a world the parents don’t know anything about and also again the “lack of energy” to control it? Maybe also cause many of us did not have this deep immersion in computer games in the same way when we grew up, so we have no idea of how it is to be so hooked on it.

Ulla: Yes, and I also say: “Thank your child for the invitation”. By this I mean, that if your kids ask you if you want to hear about the latest film they want to see or a new game they are playing, then say “yes”.

They go into so much detail at this age, so it takes them almost the same amount of time to tell you about the new movie as it takes to watch it.

But it is so important to show your child that you are interested in learning more about what they are into.

All of a sudden you are so far behind what they are busy with, that it becomes to overwhelming for them to introduce you to “their world” of i.e. gaming later on.

One more important thing I would like to address regarding computer games. There is a big difference between how offline and online games affect the brain.

If your child really loves to play computer games, then you could try and find some good offline games and introduce them to your child. Playing offline games is far less stressful for the child then playing online games, where they also have to pay attention to other players, who are online.

Nina: Oh, so it is because you play against others?

Ulla: Yes, and you play in teams as well. Maybe you play with others, who get angry if you don’t get good results. So, at the same time as you are playing a game, you have to be able to deal with all the “online” social aspects and potential pressure from that, too. Top that with the fact that many of the kids often play a game that on its own is rather stressful.

The problem with computer games is that the brain is constantly releasing adrenaline, because it thinks you are in danger.

It is not dangerous as such, cause it normally is released from the body quickly again if you remove yourself from the situation causing you “danger”. However, if you keep on playing the game, which is giving your brain stress and making it release adrenaline, and you play for 3-4 hours per day, then you have a problem.

After a while the brain will begin to produce Cortisol, which is a stress hormone and this is the biggest problem. This is what makes you feel sick with headache, stomach pain, nausea, some even throw up, insomnia and difficulties to concentrate. Actually, all of these are symptoms of stress.

Nina: But are there not many kids that suffer from this today (at least in Denmark)? Not just from computer games but also from the general lifestyle.

Ulla: Yes there are!

Nina: Kids today, especially in the school system, are under such an enormous performance pressure, as well as the extra stress they experience from being online.

Nina: Around five years ago I spoke with some public school teachers about how kids in the schools were doing in comparison to when I went to public school back in the 1990’s.

My old teacher, who still teaches, told me that from around the age of 12 years and onward, 30% of the children suffer from stress symptoms and have difficulty engaging in normal social relations.

This is even a few years back before social media took over as much as it has today. I mean, today the new role models for our kids are online Influencers. Influencers, who often also have a glorified and far from authentic lifestyle.

What do you see as the biggest challenge in your Therapy Praxis when talking to our kids and teens? And what might the best solution to that problem be?

Ulla: The biggest problem is actually kids and teens with stress, anxiety and depression. But the challenge and worry is that they get younger and younger when they begin to experience these symptoms.

I have children at the age of 8, who are completely stressed out about not knowing what they want to be when they grow up.

Nina: At the age of 8!?

Ulla: Yes.

Nina: They should not be having those thoughts yet?

Ulla: No, exactly. The way I see it, the greatest challenge our kids are facing today is that they have way too much responsibility upon their shoulders, both in the school but also at home.

In addition to that, the parents make it seem as if everything at home is perfect. They have lots of healthy food and quality time with the kids, but the fact is, that the parents don’t really have time to be together with their kids. So it is the real “spending time together” that is needed.

Another important thing that happens during this time you spend together is that you learn to tackle conflict, listen to each other, express yourself, share time, relax, and have pajama days together. In short just having a cosy time, instead of this idea that we have to jam-pack a day full of valuable things we all have to do together.

You know, there are a lot of children that almost have to beg their parents to just have a quiet day at home when they have holiday time, or weekend, so they can just relax.

Are you taking pictures of me again, Mum? Are you here mum…I mean really mentally here, in this moment with me? Hmmm….or are you busy posting this picture on Instagram?

So, it is about parents looking as if they are super “there and aware” with the kids, when they are in fact not mentally there at all.

Nina: Yes, and kids feel that immediately, when the parents are physically there, but mentally somewhere else.

Ulla: Yes, and they have made many funny drawings of this in my therapy praxis.

I have an example where a child asks a parent: “mum, will you read this book with me” and the mum replies: “Sure, you can take some buttermilk”. That is one way they portray their parents.

Nina: It is also a very valuable time you loose with your child. A time where you should learn to decode their signs (body language) and find out what they are trying to express. You can only learn that by spending a lot of time together and through observing your child.

Ulla: Definitely.

Nina: Yes, and to see what does my child actually really need right now. What do these scream and shout attacks he or she has, really mean?

My own experience is often that it is too much in one way or the other. Maybe “information overload”, where my son just needs to “pull-back” and have quiet time to process all the things that are going on in his brain.

He definitely does not need me shouting back at him or being impatient during those moments. He needs hugs, quiet time and structure. My finest task is to outline the path for him to walk down.

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I hope you have enjoyed reading part 2 of my interview with Ulla Dyrløv. Part 3 will be up later this week.

If you want to know more about Ulla Dyrløv or read her Danish books, you can visit her website by clicking here.

Do you want to read other inspiring interviews? Then you can click on the links below.

Enjoy reading and feel free to drop me a comment if you have any questions.

Smiles from Berlin

Nina

Interview with Lars Muhl – A world famous Danish Esoteric Author and Rock Star – click here.

Interview with the famous Danish Painter René Holm – click here.

Interview with Singer Marcia Barrett of BoneyM – click here.


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