Today we would like to talk about another case of parents handing off their responsibilities to an electronic device: namely, the management of children's emotions.
We are referring to the “tablet hypnotist” or the “cell phone saver,” which quickly puts an end to a child’s screaming and crying.
This type of parenting strategy is called "media emotion regulation." It’s when parents use electronics to help control their children's difficult emotions. In the moment, this strategy might seem quite effective, but how much does it affect children’s growth and the way they handle their emotions?
Sporadic use or chronic habit?
Needless to say, it is a recurring temptation for parents to resort to calming their child down with an electronic device, which typically has an immediate soothing effect. When a child is angry, they are unable to put themselves in another's shoes, and they often lash out physically. We can easily feel powerless in the face of a child’s outbursts.
Who among us has never used a cell phone when in others’ company or in a busy moment…and our child burst out just in that moment?
The problem arises when this occasional action becomes the norm...
What happens when a child becomes accustomed to controlling their emotions with electronics?
An article published on Mercatornet, Meltdown and media: the costs of using screens to regulate your child's emotions reveals, by analyzing the results of a study, just how much parents entrust their cell phones with the task of "calming their kids down."
This study showed that almost 20% of the parents in the sample frequently used this strategy—practically one in five used this method on a regular basis.
It also emerged, however, that the more frequently electronics are used to regulate their child's emotions, the more the child will be inclined to lash out and throw temper tantrums, precisely because they have not been taught to measure their reactions.
When emotions are quelled—but not interrupted and managed—the problem is far from solved.
Another indicator of problematic use of technology is full-blown addiction to electronic devices. The child himself begins to experience media as a sedative for a state of mind he doesn’t like, instead of seeking other resources.
Some tips for constructively handling your child's anger
The above article also proposes four alternative strategies:
1) Validate your child's emotions and show empathy. It's boring to sit in a shopping cart for an hour while your parents go shopping! I'd probably be upset, too. So, name your child's emotion, e.g., " I bet you feel bored or sad sitting there. I get it! It's okay to feel bored! How can I help?" Simply validating and expressing empathy might be enough to prevent a total meltdown.
2) Be prepared. If validating their feelings and showing empathy doesn't work, have a backpack prepared with things you can use to distract your child (electronics excluded). This could be a special backpack specifically used for toys, stickers, and books that you only use when you go out, so the toys keep the child’s attention in their “newness.”
3) Stop and think. When your child loses their cool, it's easy for us to lose our cool along with them. Stop. Take a few deep breaths and give yourself a second to think. This will help you to deal with the situation.
4) Don't feel guilty if you use electronics on rare occasions. You're not the first or only parent to use electronics to calm down an upset child, and you won't be the last. Stop and ask yourself: Is this an emergency (do you desperately need your child to stop crying now because you're emotionally exhausted or just started another Zoom call for work?)? Or… do you have other resources (emotionally, time, tools, etc.) that allow you to take a different approach?
5) Do you have other suggestions that can help parents? Please, share with us.