A Few Things I Learned after Watching “Screenagers”

Well, actually, I learned a great number of things and I don’t even know where to begin. Let me first reflect on my thoughts – what a powerful visual depiction of the negative impact of sustained interaction with technology! As a mom, it was a big, fat, GOOD MORNING, LIZ- WHERE YOU BEEN? To make it digestible, I’m going to break it down into sub-topics.

Technology is Everywhere
My generation grew up with a phone on the wall, and then we progressed to the cordless phones – wow! We had one computer in the house and it was used to type papers. Our kids have no idea what we mean when we share that we grew up in homes with one phone that was connected to the wall, and you went as far as the cord would take you.

In fact, schools are providing Chrome Books and IPads to our kids to complete their assignments. Sounds great in theory, but our kids are using these devices for pleasure for the majority of the time. I thought I was going to fall off my seat when I heard that the average child is spending 6.5 hours on a screen … and that’s before they use them for any type of school-related tasks!

Our Kids and their Developing Brains
From having taken extensive courses in neuropsychology and child development, I knew that our kids’ brains are not fully developed, but I don’t think I appreciated how much our kids are truly unable to self monitor their use of a phone or IPod. I figured there would be an internal clock that would go off in my son’s brain when he had had enough.

Our children’s frontal lobe has several more years to develop the ability to work on those executive functioning skills – self regulation, sustained attention, inhibiting a response (such as clicking on SnapChat), and self monitoring. Our kids do not have the fully developed skills to finish homework first and then go onto Instagram. This is not an innate ability and they are UNABLE to put down the very reinforcing IPad, Chrome Book, IPhone, IPod or video game.  Embrace that idea as a parent because we cannot put this responsibility on our children alone; we have to intervene.

Social Media
Sigh…. The original intention of social media, such as Facebook or Instagram, was to help connect people from far and near so that we could “keep up with each other” even though we may not interact on a regular basis. For example, keeping up with a high school or college classmate. That was the intention created by one adult for other adults. But then it fell into the hands of our children, for whom it was not intended. Our young girls are posting pictures with the hopes of getting “liked”. The comments usually found under a girl’s picture are about her appearance (e.g., “Beautiful. You look amazing. Gorgeous!”). Young girls become obsessed with checking how many likes and by whom. They focus on getting the right pose from the right angle and with the right people. Not sure if you are aware, but there are several apps where our kids can make their skin look clearer, their eyes bigger, their nose and thighs smaller.  OMG! The goal of our young girls is to appear ‘sexy’ without overdoing it.

The Impact of Technology on Homework & Studying
We know that when the phone is near a child working on homework, there very little actual work getting done. Your child may be ‘working on homework’ for 3 hours with very little completed. So what is actually happening? Distraction. Your child is working for small spurts of time with little continuity, and constant shifting (e.g., “25/3 is… oh look who texted me? OMG, did he really say that? Let me text my friend and tell her that he texted me…. Oh yeah.. 25/3….).

Our children are trying to multi task at a time in their development when they cannot. The sad thing is that they ‘think’ they are multi-tasking and completing tasks well, but in reality, they are actually not. They are also overstimulated which tires their brain and decreases their ability to complete homework effectively or study.  In fact, it may take up to three times longer to learn new information or a skill.

And when you have an overstimulated and distracted child, do you know what their biggest physical complaint is going to be? Inability to sleep, choppy sleep, or not enough sleep. Do you know why? Because their screens are in their room, sitting right there, within reach. So they reach for them and play games or text or look up information, and hours of precious sleep are lost.

What Can We Do as Parents?
I know this is going to sound so obvious, but we need to limit our children’s’ screen time. You know this but you also know that your child is content when he is on his IPad or playing a video game. Setting those limits will definitely create some resistance, but as the parent, you have to resist back because you are aware of the backlash of having full access to technology and the screen.  Let’s talk specifics:


  • Turn in the phone before bed (e.g., 9p)
  • Turn in the phone during homework
  • Turn in the phone during dinner
  • Screen-free car rides
  • Encourage conversations (weekly) about technology and how your child is using it
  • Maintain login and passwords for social media channels and check in (weekly)

Parents, get off your phones and devices too!
As parents, we are busy with our jobs. We try to answer our emails and respond to text messages quickly. Yet, we are also spending exorbitant times on our devices, leaving little time to look at our children face to face, and hold a conversation that goes back and forth for a minimum of 5 full sentences. We find that our kids are preoccupied with their devices, so we turn to ours, and then there we are; two people sitting sharing a common space.. and an electronic device.

So I have to ask, how did the others before us work when the only way to make a phone call or return an email was to sit at your work computer and use the phone with the cord on your desk? Why can’t we limit our work to designated times? Why do our jobs occupy our time at home too?  Were the working parents before us better at designating time for work and time for family? Perhaps. Or, are we addicted to our phones for purposes other than just our work?

During the “Screenagers” viewing, there was a little girl, maybe 5 or 6, who described her interactions with her mother as a few words exchanged and then her mother returning to her phone, and back and forth.  That saddened me because I wonder if my children would say the same thing about me??

Let’s Find a Balance again..
I didn’t tell you anything you didn’t already know, but how mind blowing all at the same time. We are the authority figures for our children and we have to set limits. Limit the time that our children are on their devices, and for us to know who they are talking to, which websites they are visiting, which games they are playing, and which apps they are downloading.  They may not like us for it, but share your thoughts about danger, having time off of the device, interacting face to face, and set that limit.  We may find that our children are better able to talk, in full sentences (LOL!) and find other things to do to occupy their free time. They may complete their homework and study more efficiently instead of multi-tasking.  And, it’s also up to use to be good role models for our children with how much we use our devices.

In the interest of your and your family’s well-being,
Dr. Liz

by Dr. Liz Matheis
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"The various psycho-educational testing Dr. Liz conducted on our son gave us critical clues about where his learning strengths and weaknesses lie so that his needs could be better addressed at home and school. Moreover, because of their warm, kindhearted personalities, both Dr. Liz and her associate, Stephanie, formed an immediate bond with my son. He eagerly looks forward to his weekly therapy sessions. We are so lucky Dr. Liz came into our family's lives when she did! For stressed-out families trying to help their children as best they can, she is a calming voice of reason!"
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