May 12, 2023

How to stop screen time turning into scream time

By Luke Blackwood, Clinical Psychologist

How to Stop Screen Time Turning into Scream Time

Finally! The base is complete, and your friends have taken up their positions around you. The team is hypervigilant, and the fight or flight system is active as you wait for the battle to come. Suddenly, a new threat emerges; you can hear someone yelling, and your body tenses up, getting ready for the fight. It’s mum, and tech time is up!

The game is Battle Royale. The nature of the game has led to hypervigilance and the activation of the stress response, and psychological arousal is high. Your friends ask you to stay, you’ve nearly won, and begin to throw slurs at you as they hear the argument begin. You throw down the controller, disconnect, and begin a new style of battle.

As a gamer and clinical psychologist. I can relate to the child and parent in this scenario. Transitioning off technology presents a significant challenge for many families. However, putting yourself in the child’s shoes and understanding some key factors that contribute to difficulty transition off technology can help to reduce conflict.

Understand the game your child plays.

There are countless video games that range from action to sports or role-play. Look up the games your child plays or, even better, play with them to connect with each other and understand their world. Some things to consider are:

Are they playing online with others, and will leaving let the team down and have perceived social repercussions? Children, especially teens, will value these relationships highly and react if they feel they are in jeopardy or may receive the harsh ‘banter’ that often accompanies online gaming.

The style of the game: If the player dies, will they respawn? Is there a lot of action? What is the level of stimulation? These factors impact psychological arousal and hypervigilance, which can lead to changes in reactivity and impact sleep if played before bed.

Choosing a game that can save and won’t ‘let your friends down’ in the last 30 minutes of technology time change help improve the transition.

Perception of Time

Children can perceive time differently, particularly if they have delays in executive function, such as Attention Deficit Hyperactive Disorder. 30 minutes can seem like 5 minutes. Use visual timers that can give them a warning before finishing.

Many children will respond well to routines, and this can make it seem less ‘unfair’ when they need to stop. Having a specific game time schedule into their routine, especially during the school week can help them know what to expect, develop a routine, and transition off technology.

Gaming and Stress or Arousal

Video gaming can activate the stress response and lead to the release of cortisol and increased heart rate. This can impact their ability to regulate or stay calm. It is important to consider the type of game, its age appropriateness, and time of day when selecting a game. If you child is playing violent, stimulating games, you can suggest an activity that is likely going to be more fun and to help them burn energy and transition to other, less fun or stimulating activities (for example, the dreaded chores).

Stay Calm

You won’t be able to calm them if you aren’t calm yourself. The goal is to help the child, not react to them. Consider your own self-care and calming techniques. If you need to calm yourself in the moment or even take a break, do it! Role modelling is a powerful tool that normalises these human experiences.

Transitions

Some children will benefit from a transition plan, which often involves a short period of movement like play with the dog or jump on the trampoline. You can then start to talk about what will happen next. It’s difficult to transition from something you love to chores, especially with all that extra energy.

It is important to remember that every child is different, and every day is different. What works for someone on one day may not work the next. Involve your child in the planning for these transitions to get their buy-in and, above all, play with them. Join their world to understand their game, their perspective, and connect with each other.

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