Media Mindfulness is a way of being conscious of how much time we spend in front of screens whether it be televisions, computers, iPads, smart phones, video games or any other technological devices.
What screen time can really do to children's brains
When very small children get hooked on tablets and smartphones, says Dr. Aric Sigman, an associate fellow of the British Psychological Society and a Fellow of Britain’s Royal Society of Medicine, they can unintentionally cause permanent damage to their still-developing brain's frontal lobe. Too much screen time too soon, he says, “is the very thing impeding the development of the abilities that parents are so eager to foster through the tablets. The ability to focus, to concentrate, to lend attention, to sense other people’s attitudes and communicate with them, to build a large vocabulary—all those abilities are harmed.”
The brain’s frontal lobe is the area responsible for decoding and comprehending social interactions. It is in this corner of the mind that we empathize with others, take in nonverbal cues while talking to friends and colleagues, and learn how to read the hundreds of unspoken signs—facial expression, tone of voice, and more—that add color and depth to real-world relationships.
How and when does the brain’s frontal lobe develop?
The most crucial stage of frontal lobe development is in early childhood and it is dependent on authentic human interactions. So if your young child is spending all of his/her time in front of an iPad instead of chatting and playing with teachers, parents and other children, his empathetic abilities (the instinctive way you and I can read situations and get a feel for other people) may be dulled, possibly for good.
What you can do
Families should encourage "media mindfulness" in their children's lives. Parents and children can work together to decide how much time to spend with media every day, and to make sure good choices are being made about what media to take in.
Tips on sorting out screen time
What we are doing in our home
Here in New Zealand we live in a community space with family and friends. Niko, Mirabai, Silas and I live in a yurt and we have our own kitchen about 100 yards away from the main house which is the shared community space. There are travelers and friends passing through the main house most days and this can make it tricky to get every one on board for setting healthy media examples. We recently had a core family meeting and discussed how we can be better role models for the children and each other in the community. Media mindfulness was a topic that I had brought up and upon much discussion we decided to set up a 'internet cafe' in one of the rooms at the main house. Now we have a space where all the technology lives and where people can go and work on their computers or phones. The children can still be in the community space without the devices being used freely all the time here and there around them. The adults are showing that they have clear intentions and meaningfulness around using technology. The process and follow through of setting up a set space in our home for the use of computers and phones has been extremely helpful, healthful and rewarding for all of us and I highly recommend it for any family living in or out of community.