Parenting in the Digital Age – Principal’s Message April 2024

Parenting in the Digital Age

Last Fall, while eating breakfast in a hotel restaurant, I noticed a young family sitting at a table across from us — Mom, Dad and two young children, the youngest being about preschool age. I noticed that Mom was getting a little flustered as she tried to manage the two youngsters at a restaurant dining table while Dad was on his cell phone. The preschooler was getting antsy and started to call out a very insistent, “Daddy, no. Daddy NO!” Daddy, being fully immersed in his cell phone scrolling ignored the child until the child got even louder and grabbed the phone away from him.

My first thought was, “Wow, how perceptive of this little one”. Someone has obviously spoken to this child about the negative impact that being on devices can have on our lives. I was amazed and at the same time pleased and thought how I couldn’t wait to share what I witnessed with others. Things quieted down at the table and I thought good for this child for getting Dad to recognize that scrolling at the table wasn’t the best way to spend time during a family outing, but when I looked again I realized I had read the situation completely wrong. Dad was now “present” at the table, but the preschooler had Dad’s phone and was watching a video. Sigh! That was the urgency to get Dad off the phone…the child wanted the device for themselves! Yikes. I took my rose-coloured glasses off immediately.

In 2017, I wrote a Principal’s Message about the effects of too much screen time on all of us, especially our children. I wrote it in response to something I saw happening with children the world over … becoming exposed and comforted by too much screen time. I supported a movement to stop this trend dead in its tracks and within reason, return to the days of yore. Of course, it was only a few short years later that we experienced a new COVID lifestyle where we all became even more reliant on technology and screen usage, which of course did not help the cause at all, but became a necessity to keep the world moving during unprecedented times.

More recently many parents have asked why their children get so angry when screen time is limited or taken away all together. And to this I would say, it isn’t only affecting children this way and that the same could be said for adults. I am not sure that there is a one-fits-all answer, but I do think that we need to be paying more attention to this trend, that is no longer a new one, but one that seems to be here to stay.

Children, including babies and toddlers, are being amused by screen time on airplanes, in restaurants, and even in strollers. School aged children are hooked on video games and teenagers are hyper-focused on social media. These behaviours have become so mainstream that a New York Post article quoted a Psychologist who referred to excessive screen time as ‘digital heroine’. There were supporters and naysayers to the extreme language the Psychologist chose to use, but as parents it is a cautionary tale that we really can’t afford to ignore.

Here is what we need to know. Children’s healthy development involves social interaction, creative imaginative play and an engagement with the real, natural world. Immersion in too much screen time dampens and stunts those developmental processes. Addictive escape is more likely to happen with excessive screen time, so it is our job to prevent our youngsters from getting hooked on screens to begin with. Limiting screen time in young people is our first defence.

If the COVID years created a reliability or addiction to screens, then an electronic intervention is called for. Taking a break from the use of screens, for a period of time, actually allows the nervous system to return to a more natural state and will help children in so many areas of their development moving forward. We should have honest discussions with our children about why we are limiting their screen access and support them by doing the same ourselves. Have you ever limited your own screen time? It’s really hard, but oh so worthwhile and remember our children may not always be listening to us, but they are ALWAYS watching us. Like any intervention for change it may not be easy, but your brain and your child’s future brain will thank you!

I am hoping we will learn even more about this important topic at our Speaker Series this week. I look forward to seeing many of you there.


Marie Bates