For as long as most of can remember, the Canadian Paediatric Society (CPS) and American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP), among others, have held strict guidelines about kids and screen time: Little or no screen-based activities for children under two, and only one to two hours of television for older children.
But to reflect the new realities of digital media and the many forms it takes, the AAP recently revised its guidelines to relax its hard-and-fast rules and acknowledge that time on a device might now be as important as how they are using that device.
For instance, an article in the Wall Street Journal points out that sitting down to read a book with your child on an e-reader isn’t all that different than reading a hard copy. You’re still having a high-quality, interactive experience. That’s a huge improvement over parking your toddler in front of a cartoon and calling it educational.
In the right context—such as using video chat to stay in touch with an out-of-town relative—digital media can be an adequate or even equal alternative to activities we normally consider to be developmentally healthy.
Small Children Shouldn’t Be Left Alone With Technology
Children are naturally curious about what your device can do, so one danger is that you sit them down for a video chat with your sister, walk away and find they’ve navigated away from the video chat into dangerous territory.
Dangerous territory doesn’t have to mean a pornographic website. For a child old enough to read, just opening your email could raise questions about a seemingly tense exchange between you and your spouse, or a note from his or her teacher not intended for their eyes. We sometimes forget how much information is available on our devices. So remember that smartphones, computers and tablets are tools, not toys, and require supervision.
As kids get older, you’ll give them more freedom to explore, and it will likely become impossible to keep them from using the Internet outside of your presence. But for now, take advantage of the control you do have to make sure that Internet access is never unsupervised.
Not Recommended as a Pacifier
So often, we see a child grow bored, irritable or on the verge of a tantrum, only to watch a parent hand over their smartphone to calm the child. You might have even done this yourself—after all, it usually works, doesn’t it? But I don’t recommend it.
While no one wants to deal with an angry, screaming toddler—especially in public—these can be teachable moments both for you and your child. Practice taking deep breaths and talking with your child about why he’s upset and how he can express his emotions more constructively.
Be A Good Digital Role Model
“Limit your own media use,” the AAP recommends in its newsletter, AAP News, adding that “attentive parenting requires face time away from screens.” Kids naturally mimic the behaviour of the adults around them, and spending all your time glued to a tablet or smart phone is no different. If you’re repeatedly checking email during dinner, kids will pick up on that, so make sure that if the rule is “no phones at dinner,” it applies to adults at the table, too. Even at other times—including when you’re working—make a point of modelling healthy behaviour by taking breaks from the computer to go outside, stretch your legs or just have face-to-face conversations with people.
No doubt you have even more concerns and questions about older children and the Internet, from cyber bullying to privacy and safety. Those are topics for another day, but remember that if you lay the groundwork by setting healthy boundaries early on, continuing the dialogue will be easier as they get older.
Shapiro, J. The American Academy Of Pediatrics Just Changed Their Guidelines On Kids And Screen Time. (2015, Sept.). Forbes. Retrieved from
Reddy, S. Pediatricians Rethink Screen Time Policy for Children. (2015, Oct.). The Wall Street Journal. Retrieved from (http://www.wsj.com/articles/pediatricians-rethink-screen-time-policy-for-children-1444671636)
Parenting doesn't cause Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), but it does appear to have an impact on the symptoms. ADHD is a common and often controversial condition that affects about 5% of all children. Associated symptoms include distractibility, impulsivity and disruptive behaviour. ADHD is linked with negative outcomes (dropping out of school, criminality, antisocial behavior, etc.) and a multitude of challenges to mental health, like mood and sleep disorders.
What is ADHD?
ADHD is a neurodevelopmental disorder, meaning that it is associated with functional impairments in some brain networks (currently thought to include those related to the neurotransmitters dopamine and norepinephrine).
Motivation is known to be impacted by ADHD as well. Recent research suggests that children may not react the same way to positive and negative experiences. For example, when the social rules change from recess to the classroom - they aren't able to adjust their behaviour.
The cause of ADHD has been linked to both genetic and environmental influences, but no definite causal factors have been uncovered. There is no biological test for ADHD, so diagnosis relies on observation and psychological testing often performed by child psychologists. Attention problems are a part of a number of mental health disorders, so diagnosis often involves ruling out other conditions. Adults can also be diagnosed with ADHD.
Impact of Parental Style
Evidence suggests that some parenting styles can sustain or even worsen the symptoms associated with ADHD. The characteristics of one’s parenting can vary on a wide range of scales, like aggression, consistency and emotional expression. Recently a group of researchers studied more than 500 children (388 with ADHD) over a period spanning the ages of 7-13. They tracked symptoms related to ADHD, as well as parental characteristics related to emotions (use of criticism, expression and over-involvement) to determine if there were significant associations between the two groups.
ADHD symptoms were found to be significantly associated with parental criticism. Symptoms of ADHD usually decrease with age, but these improvements were inhibited when consistently high rates of parental criticism were present. These findings are alarming because many of the behaviors associated with ADHD can cause frustration for parents (as well as the child). When children show symptoms of ADHD it can be a very natural and almost reflexive response for parents to respond with criticism.
ADHD is a difficult condition for those experiencing it as well as their family, but it is important that parents be aware of the effect that their own behaviors can have on its development. Criticism can be especially damaging when it is emotionally charged and persistent. Other characteristics of some parental styles, like inconsistent discipline and inadequate supervision, have also been found to be associated with poor outcomes for children with ADHD (Ullsperger, Nigg and Nikolas, 2016).
One thing seems to be clear, many parents will likely need support to prevent natural responses to ADHD symptoms. Parental frustration can cause criticism as well as other behaviours that only make the symptoms worse. It is also important to not that this research is not talking about the occasional parental slip. It is amazing how children are open to repairing relationships with parents if parents are willing to take steps to repair and improve the relationship. Although difficult, parents who work on managing emotional responses can help create a more positive family dynamic over the long-run.
By: Dr. Syras Derksen
Alsop, B., Furukawa, E., Sowerby, P., Jensen, S., Moffat, C., & Tripp, G. (2016). Behavioral sensitivity to changing reinforcement contingencies in attention‐deficit hyperactivity disorder. Journal of Child Psychology and Psychiatry.
Musser, E. D., Karalunas, S. L., Dieckmann, N., Peris, T. S., & Nigg, J. T. (2016). Attention- deficit/hyperactivity disorder developmental trajectories related to parental expressed emotion. Journal of Abnormal Psychology, 125(2), 182.
Ullsperger, J. M., Nigg, J. T., & Nikolas, M. A. (2016). Does child temperament play a role in the association between parenting practices and child attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder? Journal of Abnormal Child Psychology, 44(1), 167-178.
To many of us, childhood seems like a carefree time with few of the worries or concerns of adult life. While childhood is certainly a magical time, and one that we hope is filled with happiness and excitement for children, it can also carry some hidden stresses.
School, peer-relations, and the process of growing up can sometimes become a little overwhelming for kids. Particularly in the modern era where there is more pressure than ever in terms of image and popularity.
Experiencing stress is a normal part of life and something we can’t hide our kids from forever. We can, however, encourage them to manage it in a healthy way and catch unhealthy coping mechanisms before they become habit.
Six Simple Steps to Help Kids Manage Stress
1. Don’t encourage avoidant behaviour
Often, if we are finding something difficult or stressful, we have an innate urge to avoid it. This can lead to a vicious cycle as the issue grows increasingly stressful in our minds when we do not face up to it. For example, if your child is stressed about a math exam and plays sick to avoid it, they will be even more nervous before the next exam.
The body usually adapts to normal functioning levels within 20-25 minutes of being within a stressful situation. Teach your child that by facing their fears head on they can learn to master them. When they do, make sure to reward them and provide positive feedback.
2. Schedule some down-time
Between school, sports activities, and dealing with siblings, children can be just as tired as you are! As a role model, it’s vital to show your children the importance of building some fun and relaxation into the week, in order to maintain a happy and balanced life.
This may take the form of a fun activity such as swimming, a picnic in the woods or even playing a silly imaginary game! Make sure whatever this activity is that your child is not competing or under any pressure; just simply enjoying it!
3. Get enough sleep
When the going gets tough, it can be made a whole lot worse by exhaustion. Children need 10-12 hours sleep per night depending on their age. Without the necessary shut-eye kids can underperform in school and develop behavioural issues. This leads to a cycle of stress for everyone involved!
Get into the habit of a nightly pre-bed routine, lasting approximately 40 minutes. This will involve everything from brushing teeth to a bedtime story and commence at the same time each night. Doing so tells the body it is time to relax and prepare itself for sleep. It also gives your children good sleep hygiene practice which they will carry with them into their teens.
4. Encourage openness and honesty
Sometimes things become a little overwhelming. We’ve all had those days where work has really gotten us down or some glitch in the day has our minds working in overdrive. It helps to be able to talk to friends and families and work through our emotions. If your child tells you that they are sad, scared etc. – listen.
Don’t be dismissive of their feelings with statements like “no you’re not” or “it’s not that bad”. If your child is not listened to regarding their feelings then they will become more emotionally withdrawn and develop an inability to self–reflect. It helps to validate your child’s emotions by acknowledging their present state before moving on to a discussion i.e. “Yes I can see you feel sad, why do you think you feel this way today?”
5. Demonstrate good stress-management ability
This may be a little bit of a “fake it ‘til you make it” policy, but it’s extremely important. Next time you are rushed off your feet in the morning try to remain calm. If your child constantly sees stress devolve into panic, anger and frustration then they are likely to pick up on these cues and do the same.
Next time you feel stressed around your child, ask yourself where this stress is coming from, and whether you are doing the most adaptive thing to manage it. Often, the answer to this question does not contain freaking out.
Focus on your breathing, gather your thoughts and do what needs to be done in the present moment. Once your child sees their role model turn a stressful situation into a well- anaged one, they will start to be much calmer when they are in stressful situations themselves.
6. Teach your child to embrace positive thinking
Many children become stressed about things that haven’t even happened yet! They might fixate over messing up their lines in the school play or failing that spelling test. In any case it doesn’t help to have a negative outlook. Next time your child takes a gloomy outlook on life try to redirect their thoughts to the positives and what could go right!
Ask them what they want to happen and practice affirmations. Another excellent way to restructure stress-producing negativity is to write gratitude lists. In time your child can learn the value of the glass half full!
Stress is a part of life and it can help us motivate ourselves to achieve and take situations seriously when they are important. When stress becomes excessive, however, it can have a negative influence. Of course, talking professionals like psychologists, social workers, or other mental health professionals can help you find the skill you need when the basics still aren't working.
Teaching your child the skills they need from the start will benefit them for their whole life, and it may also help you manage your stress in the process.
By: Dr. Syras Derksen
Pham, L. (2016). Mindful Parenting: A Guide for Mental Health Practitioners.