Fortnite and Minecraft - Kids Hiding the Video Controller from You?

Posted: June 29, 2020

Recently a parent coach client said he "goes to the negative in his mind" when struggles erupt over screens with his kids. 

His son hid the TV remote from him, then Dad hit it from his son, and then they lost it altogether.  He's not alone in this struggle.

During these entirely confusing times of being mostly quarantined with kids, it's so easy to let the screens take precedence because YOU JUST HAVE TO GET STUFF DONE.

The problems arise when kids' brains become addicted to the screens. 

Make no mistake about it:

1. Children's brains are very malleable.  Addictions happen VERY easily, much faster and to a greater degree than in adults. 
2. The manufacturers of games and TV programming know this.  They make enormous money on kids' entertainment. 
3.  Kids often need to escape the grief and loneliness that come from being cooped up at or near home, not seeing their friends and relatives, not playing their regular sports, not attending camps, not being able to swim in a lot of places - they're missing a lot of what makes summer summer, and TV and video help them forget for a little while.  

Another truth is: Your job as a parent is to protect your children from harm.  Are TV and video games harmful?  If overused, yes. 

This is Your Child's Brain on Video Games - Psychology Today states:

Playing video games mimics the kinds of sensory assaults humans are programmed to associate with danger. When the brain senses danger, primitive survival mechanisms swiftly kick in to provide protection from harm. This response is instantaneous; it is hardwired in our genes and necessary for survival. Keep in mind that the threat does not have to be real — it only needs to be a perceived danger for the brain and body to react.

When this instinct gets triggered, our nervous system and hormones influence our state of arousal, jumping instantly to a state of hyperarousal — the fight-or-flight response. These feelings can be hard to shake off even after the provoking incident is over and the threat -- real or perceived -- is gone. 

In medical school, our instructors referred to this state as “running from the tiger,” since during ancient times humans protected themselves from predators by literally fighting or fleeing. Today, we still need this rapid stress response for emergency situations, and on a day-to-day basis mild stress reactions help us get things done. But for the most part, repeatedly enduring fight-or-flight responses when survival is not an issue does more harm than good. 

When the fight-or-flight state occurs too often, or too intensely, the brain and body have trouble regulating themselves back to a calm state, leading to a state of chronic stress. Chronic stress is also produced when there is a “mismatch” between fight-or-flight reactions and energy expenditure, as occurs with screen-time. Indeed, the build-up of energy is meant to be physically discharged to allow the nervous system to re-regulate. However, research suggests screen-time induces stress reactions even in children who exercise regularly.  (Emphasis mine.) 

Here's how to talk to your kids about this.  
1. Have a family meeting - it can be outside or inside. 
2. Remind your children that it's your job to keep them safe.  You've been doing it since you were aware of their presence.  List all the ways.  
3. Tell them that brains are body parts, just like arms, legs, eyes, hands and feet. 
4. Say you've also learned that brains can be hurt or damaged just like all the other body parts.  
5. "Sadly, one way they can be damaged is by too much exposure to screens. We all don't like hearing this, but it's true." 
6. "As parents we need to protect your brains.  We have no more choice about this than we do in insisting that you wear seatbelts, sports protection and bike helmets.  It's all the same safety responsibility parents carry for their kids."
7. "So we need to make sure your brains are safe, no question.  If there's too much video time, it can be really hard on your brain, the body part that runs the whole body."  Ask if they have questions.  Listen, reflect their questions, and answer calmly. 
8.  "Have you noticed that we have a lot of arguing about screen time in our home?  It's been no fun for anyone.  We've even gotten into big fights about it and this is not how we want to live in our family. We now know that the arguments come from the videos, as they make kids more aggressive. It also robs them of their real lives, which involve talking to each other, reading, artwork, playing outside, calling grandparents to check how they're doing, and contributing to the community remotely." Teen Girls Organize March for BLM
9.  "Now we need to make a plan to protect your brains by limiting the time each day that you play.  Yes, it's hard to hear and it's still necessary. You can't see your friends, and it's horrible, but we need a different solution.  How will you spend your time? Who has some suggestions?"  Ask them to make a list and refer them to it when the inevitable begging starts again.  No emotion.  
10.  Once you have come to a decision you can ALL live with, no more discussion on it.  If they bring it up, say, "We decided this and we are not going to talk about it any more." The kids think that if they beg enough, they will get their screens back.  DO NOT let this happen.  Hard as it is, stick to the decision you all made.  The return on investment is enormous, as the kids relax and stop asking once they realize you mean it.  They need to feel secure with you and ultimately, this makes them feel secure  

If you need help with automatically turning off devices, ask your Internet Service Provider for parental controls (also block unhealthy sites) and/or get the highest rated app for monitoring all devices from your phone: Qustodio.  
The dad I mentioned at the beginning of this blog entry used a lot of Reflective Listening: “You’re really upset.”  “You really want to watch TV. "  As a result he noticed that his efforts and that of his wife were having the effect of fewer and shorter upset times on the part of their son.  They also commented: "The creative moments happen when TV is out of the picture."  Taking the addictive substance out of the way allows the child to look elsewhere for activities.  Be steadfast, watch this happen, and enjoy your victory over screen addiction.  

If you need help with this or any other parenting issue, click here.

-Tina Feigal, MS, Ed., parent coach, trainer of coaches, speaker, author
Director of Family Engagement, Anu Family Services

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I See You Letter

“I See You” Letter

Another tool for helping a child with a traumatized brain, or any child who is asking for attention by showing unwanted behavior, is an “I see you” letter. When something is put into writing, it weighs more. The child can read the message without having to hear the adult’s voice, which is more effective because adult voices have sometimes not proven trustworthy in the past. I encourage caregivers to write the letter in a notebook, so the child can write back, if she so chooses, and review the letter at any time. The re-reading can be very healing. When I’ve encouraged other adults to write this type of letter, they’ve told me that they’ve found it later, stashed in a drawer or other safe spot, but never thrown away, which speaks to its significance to the child.

               You can write a letter to a child of any age. If she is old enough to read, just leave it on her pillow. If not, write it out and read it slowly, then hand it to her.

               If the child is so hurt that listening to you read a letter is too much, try posting notes that say what you see in her all over her room. Use the components below to craft your letter or your notes.
               The components of the “I See You Letter” are:

  1. I see what you've been through (in details that are significant to her, maybe just the things you know she remembers). You may want to add, "And other things, too, that we haven't talked about." This could spark a response where she shares more.
  2. In light of your experiences, I realize that none of your recent behavior is your fault. You were just trying to express your pain.
  3. I'm sorry I blamed you when I just didn't realize that your behavior was your pain being expressed.
  4. Together we'll work on making it better, and here's how: ______

An example:

Dear Ana,

I just wanted to tell you what I see when I look at you. I see a kid who has had some very rough experiences. When you were younger, your adults did not do what they needed to do to keep you safe. No child should have this happen, as every child deserves and needs to be kept safe. Your mom left you with people who hurt you, and your dad left without saying why. That must hurt so much. I want you to know that this was never, ever your fault. You were an innocent child.

I see a kid who is sensitive and smart. I see a kid who is amazing at figuring out other people. I so appreciate hearing you express what you know long before others your age can do that. I see a kid with artistic ability, and one who cares deeply for our pets. When I watch you with younger children, I am so impressed with how tender you are.

I realize I have gotten angry with you and yelled when you were upset with me. I now get that you just felt threatened, and you did not mean to hurt my feelings or disrespect me. I’m sorry and I will try very hard not to yell in the future. If I make a mistake and yell (because we all make mistakes), I will apologize and have a do-over, because no one deserves to be yelled at.

If you feel like writing back to me in this notebook, that’s great. Feel very free to do so. If not, I’m fine with that, too. I’m just happy to be able to use this notebook to say what I want to tell you in writing.

I am so happy you are in my life. Thank you for all the gifts you give me, especially your smile.


Mom/Dad/Grandma/Grandpa/Other caregiver

I encourage adults not to ever mention the letter, nor to expect him to say he read it and liked it. For a traumatized child, this may be too much vulnerability. But what often happens is that adults notice a softening in their child, a better attitude, more affection, more focus, and more cooperation. That’s the goal of writing: to see the child clearly, communicate it, allow the amygdala to register that the child is seen and therefore will survive, watch the result in a much more relaxed and relieved child and in an improved relationship. I often describe this process as being “like physics,” as predictable as proven science. It’s truly remarkable how dramatic the results are! And when you think about it, the seeing is the tool for calming the threat alarm. No wonder the child can now function so much more rationally. The more rational front brain is able to work!

I See You Letter