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Too much screen time affects brain, parents told

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Engaging with your children helps their development
By Agnieszka Krawczynski

Photo Caption: Emi Garzitto lead a workshop about the negative effects screens can have on the developing brain. (Photo Submitted)

There are pros and cons to living in the digital age, and spending hours a day on TV, computer games, or social media can have serious negative consequences.

The positives are the “great amount of flexibility and access to information” available today, workshop leader Emi Garzitto told The B.C. Catholic after her presentation at Immaculate Conception Church.

“Social media has been an incredible platform to share ideas and galvanize movements and organizations.” There is even evidence to suggest that 10 minutes of playing a game like Candy Crush can benefit people with anxiety or post-traumatic stress disorder.

However, there is a dark side to the increasing amount of screen time Canadians are consuming, she said.

“We still have a brain that’s predisposed to movement,” said Garzitto, a counsellor who specializes in conflict resolution. “Our feelings and our social development is attached to movement, practice, and behaviour.”

That goes for adults and children alike: social engagement, eye contact, attentiveness, and learning how to manage conflict and anxiety are best learned off screen.

Technological advances have led to what she calls a culture of distraction. “We now have anxious parents teaching anxious children,” she said.

The Canadian Pediatric Society came out with guidelines June 1 for responsible use of TV and gaming apps by children. The guidelines say children under 2 should not be engaging with screens at all.

After age 2, some educational TV. programs may be good for children, but there are developmental and psychosocial risks to watching too much. “Some studies associate prolonged TV viewing with lower cognitive abilities, especially related to short-term memory, early reading and math skills, and language development,” the society said in its report.

“Minimizing screen time leaves more time for face-to-face interactions, which is how young children learn best.”

Garzitto said a parent watching an educational cartoon with a toddler is better than leaving the child to watch it alone because it’s an opportunity to build social skills.

She encouraged parents to be intentional with their use of media and their rules for their children.

“Show up physically for your children. That’s the biggest investment you’ll make,” she said. “Be present, give them your eye contact, ask questions, and be curious,” which will teach them to do the same.

The workshop was one of about a dozen parenting presentations the Archdiocese of Vancouver has offered since last summer.

“It addresses one of the most pressing issues of our time for parenting: our children growing up in a time where access to a digital world is more prevalent, and knowing how to navigate that world with your child,” said Sister John Mary Sullivan, FSE.

Sister Sullivan, associate director for the archdiocesan ministries and outreach office, said many more parenting workshops are on the way, meeting one of Archbishop J. Michael Miller’s priorities (released in 2016) to strengthen marriages and families.

“We are in dialogue with parishes about doing more workshops” on parenting, marriage, communication, and conflict resolution, said Sister Sullivan.

Upcoming events include a four-session parenting workshop at the John Paul II Pastoral Centre starting Sept. 10 and a six-part marriage enrichment workshop beginning Oct. 11 at St. Nicholas Church in Langley.

For more information visit Emi Garzitto blogs at

Emi Garzitto’s tips for helping children in a culture of distraction

-          Eat meals together, with no electronic devices (including the TV)
-          Have 30-minute family time where all electronic devices are shut off
-          Initiate 20-minute family walks
-          Work together on a project (puzzles, Lego, art, baking)
-          Delegate chores to all members of the household
Make morning and evening routines easy and predictable



Last Updated on Tuesday, 20 June 2017 11:00  

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