When I decided that screen time would no longer be a part of my 4-year-old’s life, I knew I would have to deal with screen detox. The first day of Spring Break was also the first day of the “No More Screens” rule. Almost immediately after waking up, Zach asked to watch videos. I said no and reminded him of the new rule. He got very angry and cried. I acknowledged his feelings and stood my ground firmly and with love. When he calmed down, we had breakfast and played trains while the baby napped.
When his play was winding down, he again asked for videos. I said no. He cried but seemed less frustrated. We had lunch and read some books while the baby again napped. Later that afternoon, he asked for videos again. I said no. He didn’t cry. At that point, I knew he was ready to listen.
I said, “You know that inside your head you have something called your brain, and that’s what you use to think, learn, and solve problems. When you watch videos, your brain is like this…” I made quick panting noises while shaking my head manically from side to side. He smiled.
I continued, “When we turn off the videos, your brain is still going like this…” I again made the manic gestures, and he laughed. “The problem is that the rest of the world doesn’t move as quickly as the videos, so your brain makes you feel angry because it wants things to move quickly again. You have a wonderful brain; it’s a brain that can learn a lot and can solve problems. My job is to help you keep your brain healthy and calm so that it can think and make good decisions. And that’s why I decided that you can’t watch videos anymore.” He thought about what I said but didn’t have any questions.
The rest of our Spring Break week passed without a single request for videos, and with lots of wonderful work and play. I had my gentle, sweet, and mostly cooperative son back.
Today was the first day of school, and I knew he’d ask to watch videos because screen time had been a part of his after-school routine. He came through the door after school and videos were the first thing on his mind. I said no. He asked why. I repeated my “manic brain” explanation and offered an audiobook and a trip to the park as alternatives. He happily accepted, and we had a fun afternoon.
During dinner, my husband asked Zach if he’d felt excited today about seeing his friends again after the break. Zach said, “When I saw my friends this morning, my brain felt like when I watched videos.” And that’s when I knew he understood. Metacognition at four years of age. Never underestimate a child.