Ep. 24: Should We Worry About Screen Time During a Pandemic? With Dr. Allison Kawa

Apr 6, 2021 | 0 comments

How much screen time is too much? That is a loaded question many parents are asking during this unprecedented pandemic and the answer isn’t exactly simple. In the past, many pediatricians have set guidelines and time limits on screen time; now those are thrown out the window as millions of students have been faced with distance learning and changes in how they socialize. There is no better time to have this discussion today with our guest, Dr. Allison Kawa.



Dr. Kawa is a clinical psychologist specializing in the evaluation of children, adolescents, and emerging adults. She is also the Clinical Director at the Los Angeles Center for Integrated Assessment and her holistic approach to assessment is crucial as she demonstrates in our interview today.


With a combination of research, statistics, science, and her own experience as a mom of two, Dr. Kawa gives us a lot to think about and tips on how to manage screen time for our children and teens. You will find that screen time is not bad. In fact, screen time can enhance our learning and help build community. But excessive screen time can change the way a developing brain is wired and can impact sleep, stress levels, mood, and productivity. So listen on to find what quality screen time looks like and what you can do as a parent to limit excessive screen time.


Show Notes:

[2:21] – Dr. Kawa specializes in testing and she takes a broad-reaching approach in assessments. She describes the things she is interested in determining through testing.

[3:51] – Taking a holistic view on testing and determining what is best for a child is so important.

[4:30] – Screen time and social media actually change the architecture of the brain. This is something that is both fascinating and scary to Allison.

[5:24] – The concern about screen time comes up often from parents working with Dr. Wilson and Dr. Kawa, especially during the pandemic.

[6:23] – Dr. Kawa discusses the influence of her upbringing with music and describes how most parents from the same generation are watching a shift to online content.

[7:57] – There are different types of screen time as well: passive, interactive media, constructive, communication, and reading. Dr. Kawa gives examples for each.

[9:05] – There is also solitary consumption and consuming with other people. There are many different ways to use screens.

[9:40] – There used to be a time limit guideline placed by pediatricians on how many hours or minutes were safe and appropriate for children. That is no longer the case. Now it is about the quality of the screen time and what is being consumed.

[10:20] – There is an important distinction between playing games with friends online and watching someone else play the game on YouTube. Different parts of your brain are being activated.

[10:47] – It is challenging for research to keep up with the advancements in technology.

[11:50] – Dr. Kawa discusses the concern of eye strain as one of the pitfalls of screen time. She also gives a tip of something to do to help manage eye strain.

[13:17] – Even if it is high quality screen time, screen breaks need to take place to avoid eye strain.

[14:24] – There’s an easy setting to change on the computer to decrease eye strain that Dr. Kawa mentions that is much better than the blue light glasses.

[15:33] – It is the job of a parent to teach their children how to use screens in a responsible manner. Dr. Kawa compares it to eating dessert.

[16:29] – Dr. Kawa describes a study that was done regarding just simply having your cell phone near you. It actually changes the chemical balance in your brain and body.

[18:02] – Children and adolescents are not going to be able to detect these chemical changes going on and give themselves a screen break.

[19:13] – On the other hand, social belonging is a fundamental human need and is heightened during adolescence. Due to COVID, social media is the only outlet for a lot of people. We don’t want to take away screens, but we need to educate.

[20:01] – Brain development is not complete in adolescents and it is difficult for them to differentiate between real and highly curated content. They tend to compare their insides to other peoples’ outsides.

[21:04] – Parents need to be aware and in tune with how children and teens are responding to social media.

[22:06] – It is important to be mindful that adults are going through this right now as well. Parents might feel the need for more socializing as well.

[22:56] – Ask kids the right questions to help develop critical thinking skills.

[23:19] – Dr. Kawa shares the statistic that 1 in 5 adolescents wakes up in the middle of the night and checks their social media. She recommends not using phones as an alarm and having the charging station for devices in another room of the home.

[24:35] – Self-monitoring is an important life skill and parents need to help their children regulate.

[25:46] – The brain gets revved up into hyperarousal when playing video games. You know cognitively that you are playing a game, but the physical responses are real.

[27:05] – When it is time to turn the video games off, you have an adrenaline crash. Your blood flow to your frontal lobe decreases. This causes problems with attention, emotional regulation, and more.

[28:10] – Recently, more parents are seeking evaluations for ADHD, but Dr. Wilson recommends to always look at sleep first. There is also a direct correlation between sleep and screen time.

[28:57] – Another problem is that all these physiological effects of extensive video game play makes it difficult to sleep. Dr. Kawa describes what could happen and why some parents are reluctant to set limits.

[30:50] – Reading online is turning many students into “skimmers” which affects comprehension. But many schools are providing texts on the screen the majority of the time.

[31:34] – All of this comes back to the importance of having a holistic approach to assessment.

[32:23] – There is a lot of research that will come out of this time period on the long term effects of digital learning at a young age.

[32:41] – Brains are so flexible. They can change and be molded and rewired! Dr. Kawa relieves the pressure. Screen time isn’t bad, but notice the red flags and set limitations. It’s not too late to do that.

[33:53] – Parents also need to model. Dr. Kawa tells a personal story on something she implemented in her home that has helped tremendously.

[35:43] – During the pandemic, Dr. Wilson shares that balancing the time between on and off screen activities has driven her daughter to increase her reading.

[36:31] – Dr. Kawa describes her 6-year-old’s drive to be a YouTuber and her son’s blogging. This is qualitatively different than just watching someone else create content.

[38:07] – Time off screen is an opportunity to connect with your family.

[40:09] – Access to screens is a privilege, not a right. We need to as parents to not be afraid if teens are abusing that privilege or can’t regulate it.

[42:01] – Dr. Kawa highly recommends the site Common Sense Media for parents.


About Our Guest:

Dr. Allison Kawa is a licensed clinical psychologist and the Clinical Director at the Los Angeles Center for Integrated Assessment (LACIA). Her approach to assessment is informed by decades of work with individuals with neurodevelopmental disorders, formal training in object-relations theory, and cutting-edge research in the field of interpersonal neurobiology. In more than a decade in private practice, she has honed her expertise in the diagnosis and treatment planning for individuals with learning and processing differences, attention disorders, autism spectrum disorders, and anxiety/mood disorders. Dr. Kawa’s areas of subspecialties include language-based learning disorders, pre-verbal trauma, medical trauma, adoption, and substance-related issues in emerging adults.

Dr. Kawa is lucky enough to be the mother of two of the most incredible little people on the planet. Her children are sources of infinite joy as well as constant reminders that parenthood is an epic challenge, even for psychologists.

Connect with Dr. Allison Kawa:

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