Sep 15, 2023

Guest Newsletter with Gillian Jarvis, Pediatric OT

Guest Newsletter with Gillian Jarvis, Pediatric OT

The Screentime Consultant with Gillian Jarvis
The Screentime Consultant with Gillian Jarvis
The Screentime Consultant with Gillian Jarvis

I have a special treat– a guest interview with Gillian Jarvis, a pediatric occupational therapist who has been focusing on issues of screentime balance for children for several years. In her work she has seen the impact of screentime on early child development.

Gillian lives in Australia, and thanks to modern technology, we’ve been able to meet virtually a few times. I absolutely love speaking with experts who work with young children especially, because they often see changes and impacts on development far before parents and teachers do.

In one of my first conversations with Gillian, she mentioned that early on in her clinical work, young children struggled with skills like handwriting and fine motor. Today, she sees children unable to turn pages of a book because they are trying to “scroll” as though they were on a screen. 

Her fear, she said, is that because normal developmental milestones are sliding, the bar will be moved lower and lower, which, in turn, will lower our expectations of what we think children can or should be able to do. This has huge implications for the future: children with lower communication skills, for example, have more difficulty learning to play with others. We know that social skills are absolutely essential to future success– whether in school, relationships, or future careers.

If you are a parent, a grandparent, a teacher, a mental health provider, or in any way connected to the well-being of children, you absolutely must read what Gillian has to say. 

The good news is: It is much easier to make positive, long-lasting changes when our children are young. As I heard on the radio today, the best time to plant a tree is ten years ago. But the second best time is today.

Please enjoy–

Interview between Emily Cherkin, The Screentime Consultant, and Gillian Jarvis Child Occupational Therapist at Growing Pathways, Melbourne, Australia

This interview has been lightly edited for clarity, but I kept the Australian spelling of words. :)

Emily: Tell me about your work. What you do, what kinds of kids you work with. I would love to hear how you've noticed things change over the last 5 or 10 years. 

Gillian: I am a passionate paediatric (yes…that is the Australian spelling) occupational therapist. I am also a parent. My job is to help children participate in all the things a child needs to do to develop skills, enjoy life, learn, and have relationships with others. I work with children in mainstream schools [in Australia]. Some have a diagnosis of ADHD, Autism or both and some do not. I have noticed a lot of change over the last 5 years. Originally most of the referrals that I received were for support with handwriting and coordination. Now most of the referrals are for help with self-regulation and behavioural issues. Anxiety based behaviours, such as avoidance and shut down, are much more prevalent too.

Emily: What are your biggest challenges or areas of concern around children and development? Why? 

Gillian: My biggest concerns are around the influence that both the child’s screen time and parental screen time are having on the development of children.

Children are madly growing neural pathways and every new and challenging experience, as well as practicing repetitive and non-novel skills, is crucial to well-rounded development. Screen-based experiences can be very limiting in the pathways children are building as screens do not use all our senses. 

We learn through our senses as well as tuning into our own body cues about what we need. This includes older children who need to face the discomforts of puberty and navigating lots of social challenges. The more time they are consuming on a screen, the less they are working on problem solving, tolerating discomfort, building endurance, creating, daydreaming, exercising, playing and socialising (face-to-face).

Regarding the parents’ use of screens, I am seeing children who appear to have behaviours that look like ADHD, but may in fact be related to “attachment anxiety”. This can develop when parents are emotionally unavailable or neglectful.

Children are programmed to expect reactions, praise, and responses from parents and caregivers. When they don’t get this attention, often because the adult has been lured into scrolling away from the boredom and may have many unconscious screen-based habits, the child feels rejected (even a very young child) and might not form a secure attachment.

Emily: Talk about screentime. How do you see it impacting the work you do and the kids you work with?

Gillian: The children I work with that have ADHD or Autism appear to develop a screen dependency more readily than other children. This may be because other skills are harder for them, such as flexible thinking, or because of vulnerability to dopamine imbalances. The science has not yet caught up with the observations made by clinicians and families.

Emily: What is one (or two) thing(s) that you wish parents knew more about or paid more attention to?

Gillian: The first thing I would advise to parents is do not underestimate how innately children are programmed to model off their parents. A work call, reading the online paper, completing work to reach a deadline all looks the same to them. They will copy you. This is very hard in times where many work from home, but if you can, contain your work to the desk/office then leave it there (including your phone) when it is not work time. Then go play, read, walk, sing, cook, dance with your child. It is a huge investment in their future wellbeing, and you will never get the time back or regret being on a screen less. 

The second thing is to start as you intend to progress. It takes a lot of work to set boundaries now for ourselves and our children to have screen time at a balance, but it is MUCH easier than trying to reset habits, dopamine, and expectations at a later date.

Emily: What's something tangible that parents can do to help their kids grow and learn healthfully?

Gillian: Draw up a chart to fill in as a family showing what you spend your time doing in an average day. Use colours to show the different activities. Involve everyone asking for their input. For healthy development there needs to be a balance of self-care, learning, exercise, outdoor time, contributing, creating and building relationships. Screen time consumption comes after that (if there is time!).

I also drill in that screen time consumption is a privilege and not a right.

Emily:  What gives you hope for the future and why? (I always love to end on a positive note!).

Gillian: Most of the time children are still more motivated to play with their parent/caregiver or friends than sit on a screen consuming. If we make time and space for this type of playing and model it ourselves – we will all be better off. Thanks for your time, Emily! I am off to play hide and seek with my son and the dog!

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™ are registered trademarks.

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™

are registered trademarks.

The Screentime Consultant Logo Footer image

Emily Cherkin’s mission is to empower parents to better understand and balance family screentime by building a Tech-Intentional™ movement.

Copyright © 2024 The Screentime Consultant, LLC | All Rights Reserved. | Tech-Intentional™

and The Screentime Consultant, LLC™ are registered trademarks.