• DrSwae

(Blue) Light at the End of the Tunnel

Happy Wednesday everyone! It was a beautiful day up here today, and I hope it was where you are too. Better days are coming.

So many of us all over the world are going through the same predicaments. Maybe you're struggling to take care of your kids, educate them and make home still feel homey. Maybe you're also working. Maybe you want to start a family but things are on hold. Or dealing with depression and the isolation is oppressive.

Be gentle with yourself, and remember you are not alone. I tend to find such a relief in reminding myself that there are still supports, though they look different than they did to us in the past. But they still exist. And there is a light at the end of the tunnel.

I find myself trying to talk to the boys about this, but when I say it aloud I realize I'm also saying it for my own benefit. (This guy felt better after I refilled his oatmeal bowl. If only all troubles could be so easily squashed).

Of course we all have background concerns about health and wellbeing, but one of my immediate concerns has been our family's new devotion to our screens.

Like so many others, prior to this monumental shift in our way of living, we tried to limit screen time for our kids over the years. But overnight we had a baptism by fire.

Like the rest of the modern world, Zoom and FaceTime and GoogleDuo and Google Classroom etc etc etc etc now define our lives. We have playdates, meals, class meetings, friends' birthday parties, doctor's visits, EVERYTHING by screen. Screens have saved our social selves.

But what about our deeply personal selves? The one that is just you and your thoughts right before falling asleep.

In an important way, I think this can be hard for kids who are just starting to develop a sense of self. Not to mention confusing for those whose parents spent years trying to teach them of the need to limit screen time. Those whose parents said put down the phone and instead go run and jump and play.

Or explore.

I don't know about you but usually after screen time, my kids have a lower threshold for meltdowns.

We used to think we were imagining it but it turns out that there is actually evidence for it. It also seems dose dependent. The more screen time, the more kids are likely to lose control of their emotions. And now there are SO MANY SCREENS! Does this mean meltdowns will define the rest of my (our) parenting life?

Two NYTimes opinion writers say no. The other day they published, "Don't Freak Out About Quarantine Screen Time," arguing that the evidence was "paper thin" for negative effects of screen time. Though I liked their nod to the old fashioned "paper", I wouldn't fully buy their assessment. Unless they mean back when the paper was still an oak tree?

But still I felt better reading it.

They did say that the negative effects of screen time only really kick in for the "tiny minority" who spend more than two thirds of their waking hours behind screens. Phew! Oh wait a minute! Isn't that happening to me? Isn't that happening to pretty much all of the modern world right now?!!

So I guess even though it's our lifeline right now, too much of a good thing is still bad.

But people have really been putting their heads together and coming up with rescue remedies for all of us struggling with how to manage the screen issue for our kids.

Here are a few great pointers on transition time with screens.

1. Don't give the two minute warning before ending screen time. (Whoops!).

2. Enter the child's screen world before you exit together.

The point is, though we bemoan screen time and its risk in regular life, this is definitely not regular life. I would argue the risk of NOT having screens for kids right now may be far worse. So we have to find the balance.

For us, that has been a dedicated schedule, like this one from school.

Isn't it sweet how they drew the little symbols? Did you notice all the "activities" are associated with meals?

Our schedule has a little more room for outside adventures, and a little more for screens. But, so far so good. I'm actually really wondering how I ever worked in the first place!

So, I'll try to make transitions easier. I'll limit screens where we can, and forgive where we can't. Strike that. Be grateful when we can't.

And one more thing, since of course I can't help myself. (In addition to acknowledging that my little spy needs a clean shirt).

Skin could use a break from screens too. It turns out that even indoors we can develop changes normally associated with aging or photo-injury (aka sun damage). Some of this may be because of our screens.

Blue lights from screens alter our circadian rhythms (aka sleep patterns), which ultimately is very bad for our skin. VERY bad. We all could use a good rest these days.

And blue light - even though sometimes dermatologists use it for treatment - has been shown to cause pigment changes and other cosmetically unwelcome changes. So we need to be careful.

So let's give ourselves a break- from our screens and from our stress. It's all about balance these days, and the light at the end of the tunnel.

xo, Dr. Swae

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