Summer is Here: Let’s Get Rid of Screen Time

Written by: Carol Vieth (Master Level Practicum Student)

If you are a parent, you probably heard from your child’s pediatrician early on, to limit your child’s screen time.  This was a recommendation because of the negative effects that can occur from too much time in front of the screen.  There is an abundance of research that can be found that demonstrates how too much screen time can contribute to emotional, social, academic, and mental health problems. 

In today’s world, limiting screen time can be a difficult task for parents.  Parents are putting smartphones in the hands of their children as young as age 8, making it easier for kids to access social media sites and other online activities.  Many school districts have gone to a 1 to 1 device policy on their campuses.  In many schools, Kindergarten through third grade students are issued iPads, fourth through eighth graders are issued Chrome books and high schooler students are issued laptops. 

When COVID forced schools to go to a virtual platform, students and parents did not have a choice on how they would receive their education.  When schools did open back up, many districts gave parents the option for their children to attend classes in person or virtually.  Many classrooms became blended classrooms, where students who were in person were able to collaborate with their virtual classmates.  Even though their parents chose in person learning, screen time became the norm in the classroom because of the blended learning situation. 

There has been a tremendous amount of benefits to computers in the classroom and virtual learning; however, with benefits also come detriments.  As an elementary classroom teacher I have seen first hand the negative effects on many students that one can read about in the research about emotional, social, academic and mental health problems that can arise as a result of too much screen / device time. I have seen students’ attention span decrease. I have seen students have a difficult time communicating in person with fellow classmates and teachers.  I have seen a decrease in the ability of students to verbally express and regulate their emotions.  This is just to name a few.  

Now that summer is here there are many activities that parents can involve or encourage their children to participate in that do not involve screens.  Last month’s blog,  https://ntxcounseling.com/2021/05/13/14-summer-activities-to-strengthen-family-relationships/ written by Kaitlin Cross, M.S., LPC, has many great ideas and suggestions. Additionally, many of the area libraries have summer programs for children and teens. Many include story time as well as puppet shows, magicians, visits from live animals and craft times to name a few.  Check out your local library for program dates and times. 

Another idea for fun, physical entertainment are the indoor adventure parks that provide indoor ziplines, rock climbing, obstacle courses and rope climbing.  There are many around the DFW area.  This area is also rich in various museums, zoos, botanical gardens and theatres.  These are great to visit as a family, but many of them also provide summer day camps to further enrich a child’s knowledge and experience.  Local school districts, as well as churches, provide many fun hands-on camps that can also be educational.  Many district high schools also have sports camps for baseball, football, basketball, volleyball, soccer, and other sports your child may be interested in.  These camps are usually for students in grades Kindergarten through eighth grade.  The high school student athletes assist the coaches in exchange for service hours that they are collecting for National Honor Society or other high school programs that require service hours to maintain memberships. 

There are so many activities available to help parents keep their children physically, socially, and emotionally active in the summer months and plenty of options to help parents reduce their children’s screen time.  Sometimes, as parents, we just need a little reminder of where to look for ideas to give our children wonderful experiences that do not involve screens.

14 Summer Activities to Strengthen Family Relationships

IDEAS THAT ARE BUDGET FRIENDLY AND BRING YOU TOGETHER AS A FAMILY

Summer is coming up soon, it’s easy to think about all the sun, fun, and the relaxing benefits of summer vacation. While vacations can create lasting memories of fun, laughter, and enjoyment, not all families have the money (or time!) to travel. Additionally, as many of you know, COVID has also continued to restrict many family’s travel plans.

With things beginning to get back to normal, there are still some challenges that exist for many families. Kids out of school during the summer, parents continuing to work, and schedules being naturally off the regular routine, families on tight budgets may gravitate towards grabbing fast-food in a pinch, leaving kids are to be entertained by the TV, video games, phones, tablets and have limited time to engage with their families.

Research shows the importance of parents’ engaging in connection through time, activities, or daily interactions have significantly healthy and stronger bonds with their children.  Additionally, spending more time together as a family, even with small interactions can have a profoundly positive effect on the quality of the parent-child relationship and has supported the child’s progress in therapy.

So shut down the computers, power off the tablets, and silence the phones. Below find fourteen ways to come together without busting your budget:

Outdoor Activities:

There are so many benefits to going outside. Not just for a change of scenery but going outside enhances children’s physical and mental health.

1.     Plant a Garden – Teach your kids more about where food really comes from. This one is not just great to get the kids outdoors, but there are tons of opportunities to infuse a few science lessons and pride when their garden begins to bloom!

2.     DIY Field Day – Who doesn’t love field day? Pillowcases work well for a sack race. You only need an egg and spoon for a spoon race. Use a ribbon, yarn, string, or shoelace to tie two legs together for the three- legged race. There are so many fun races to choose from! Collaborate together and LET THE COMPETITION COMMENCE.

3.     Backyard Camping – Set up the tent, make smores, and let them feel like they are really camping. You can study the summer sky with an inexpensive telescope or a pair of binoculars. Add a little joint research about what to look for in the summer sky, you and your family can gaze in awe at the wonders beyond planet Earth. Even if the kids end up in bed for the night it will be a night to remember.

5.     Scavenger Hunt- Plan a themed scavenger hunt. Develop interesting clues that encourage real problem solving. The options are endless. Also check Pinterest for some ideas.

6.     DIY Water Park – Water activities are always a hit with the kids! Just a few online purchases (a slip ‘n slide, baby pool, splash pad, water balloons, etc.) can turn your backyard into a mini water park. PRO TIP: use lots of soap to make everything super slippery and sudsy. Play some music and you’ve got a really fun afternoon.

Indoor Activities

As wonderful as it is to get outside, remember Texas can get hot rather quick. For rainy days or just to take a break from the intense sun, these creative ideas just might make them forget that they’re at home.

7.     Science Project – Volcanoes, crystals, chemical reactions oh my! Science experiments offer kids amazing opportunities to learn cool stuff but feel like they are just having fun. Want to skip some prep? Look up prepared science kits to save time.

8.     Talent Show or DIY Theater- The great thing about theater projects is that there are so many different options that fall under theater, and you can work on different parts to make it a full day event. For older kids, you might encourage them to work independently on scripts or a comedy routine then come together at lunch for a table read. For the more musically inclined kiddo, have them create their own song, with lyrics, music, and more.

9.     Get Crafty- YouTube is filled with kid friendly art projects. There are tons of fun artsy fun activities you can do together as a family without spending a lot of money on supplies. Recycle paper towel rolls into amazing art using some of these ideas.  Get creative with egg cartons, popsicle sticks or empty oatmeal containers. To prepare for a range of art projects, stock up on art related supplies. PRO TIP: be sure to designate an old sheet or tablecloth as the official draping for whatever surface is used for those messy art projects. It’s probably safest to designate a specific area in the house (or outside) for these types of messy projects.

10.  Improv Activities – There are a wide range of improv based games that kids can learn that can be used to provide a refreshing break from screen time or combine to create a fun afternoon. Spontaneous exercises can really promote creativity and increase childrens comfort level in front of a group so the skills obtained in this activity are twofold and can benefit them for years to come.

Themed Family Nights 

One of these themed family nights can turn a hum drum night at home into a memorable event. The key to making this successful is to really go all out. Additionally, the adults just might end up having more fun than the kids!

11.  Movie Night – You will get infinite cool points with the kids for showing movies in the backyard. All you need is a simple projector and screen. Allow everyone in the family to list a favorite movie (or a couple] on a strip of paper, then put them in a hat and draw a new selection each week. BONUS POINTS if you have snacks and attire to follow a theme.

12.  Dance Party- Go through the decades and dance your night away. Dancing is a fun way to relieve stress. To bump up the fun even more, consider recording the group’s favorite and (if everyone is okay with it) post it on social media.

13.  Game Night – Instead of relying on the same board games, pick a new one each week. Another way to create variety is to play your childhood favorite games – Twister, Battleship, Clue, Risk, Operation to name a few. Introducing them to your children broadens their options and also creates a trip down memory lane for you.

14.  DIY Cooking Competition – Imitating your own “Chopped” or “Great British Baking Show” style competition can be fun, easy, and definitely bring on the challenge of the competition. Pick 3-5 key ingredients, identify the contestants and a judge, set the clock and Bake! Make it more exciting by introducing crazy ingredients or selecting a cool theme. The options for this can be unlimited and if the meals can actually double as a real meal, this could be a parenting win-win. 

Written by: Kaitlin Cross, M.S., LPC

Are we there yet?

Written by: Erin McCall, M.S., LPC-Associate

To say “it’s been a year” is an understatement. Just a year ago, we
braced ourselves for what we thought was a temporary adjustment.
Little did we know, it was more than temporary and lately it’s been a
way of life. We have become so normalized with safety precautions
and social distancing one wonders if we’ll ever know how to be
around other people again.

We have been forced to adjust to a new way of life, carefully
planning and ensuring we are practicing safe behavior not only for
ourselves but for others. But being “safe” is subjective because of the
lack of consistency and communication from various institutions, we
are unsure what we actually believe. Depending on our
circumstances, situations and tolerance, we begin to rationalize our
behaviors to suit our needs.

With still so many unknowns, our anxiety continues to persist due to
our minds being filled with questions without concrete answers. What
are the effects of the vaccine? How long will it last? Are they
effective towards new variants? How many variants are we still yet to
expect?

As the country begins to re-open, we still have many “unknowns”
ahead of us. We want to believe this is the beginning of the end,
especially with the weather turning and summer right around the
corner. We want to start planning vacations, looking ahead to a
more ‘normal’ future and begin resuming our lives as they were. But
as the pandemic continues to drag on, we are all experiencing
‘pandemic fatigue’ and just want to know “Are we there yet?”

There is no right or wrong way to feel and having mixed emotions
that roller-coaster constantly are completely valid. The following can
be signs and symptoms that we experience when we are under a lot
of stress created by our continued anxiety, as well as measures we
can take to help alleviate some of these issues.

Stress can cause the following:

• Feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness, or frustration
• Changes in appetite, energy, desires, and interests
• Difficulty concentrating and making decisions
• Difficulty sleeping or nightmares
• Physical reactions, such as headaches, body pains, stomach problems, and skin rashes
• Worsening of chronic health problems
• Worsening of mental health conditions
• Increased use of tobacco, alcohol and other substances

Healthy ways to cope with stress:

Take a break from technology- Since most of us have been
isolated, our screen time has increased, binging on shows and
scrolling through social media. It is important to stay informed
but constantly being exposed to the news can be upsetting.
Create time limits for yourself and stick to them.


Take care of your body- Whether it be exercise, having a
healthy diet, limiting the amount of alcohol or getting plenty of sleep and water, your body will respond positively if you
engage in a healthy lifestyle.


Take a mental break- When we think of “triggers”, we often think
of negative ones such as anger or sadness. But it’s also
important to know our “happiness triggers” as well. These may
include something you enjoy doing such as going for a walk,
immersing yourself in nature or participating in something
creative.


Connect with others- Whether it be with family, friends or
community based activities, connecting with others gives us a
sense of belonging, validating our feelings that we are not
alone. Often times, giving back to those in need helps us put
things in perspective and help us practice gratitude.

We are all experiencing collective trauma and the effects of this
pandemic will leave life-long scars. It’s important that we practice
mindfulness and find joy and happiness in those small moments we
experience every day.

Emotional First Aid in the Pandemic: 4 Ways We Need It

Written by: Bailey McAdams, M.Ed., LPC

With the unwelcomed anniversary of the start of COVID-19 upon us, I am reminded of the great losses we have experienced.  As of this writing, COVID-19 has killed at least 549,000 in the US, disrupted everyone’s lives, battered the economy, caused tremendous political division, and has impacted emotional and mental health the likes of which none of us has experienced before. 

All the losses, illness, and disruption would be devastating enough on their own on mental and emotional health, but then there are the all-encompassing, unavoidable divisive political aspects of the pandemic and those associated mental health impacts. COVID-19 generally, and the “mask debate” specifically, have contributed significantly to the current political climate. If you’ve been lucky enough to have been spared a COVID-19 death in your family and circle of friends, you most certainly have not avoided the associated political strife and division.

Like it or not, your seemingly personal health decision whether to wear a mask is now something like a public declaration of your politics. No one is immune. When you see someone out wearing a mask or not wearing a mask, chances are you’re making a snap judgment on this person’s character and making assumptions about their political views; conversely, other people may also be making snap judgements about you.

Wherever you fall on the political spectrum, when you add it all together, it feels like an angry, unwelcoming, untrusting, stressful, unsafe world. In a way, the anger, stress, and mistrust are understandable; predictable even, from a mental health standpoint—how could you not be frayed, raw, and on-edge in these unprecedented times these days (side note: Am I the only one who has had a bellyful of the phrase “in these unprecedented times”; see also: “the new normal” and “we’re all in this together”)?

It’s easy to be cynical at the idea that “we’re all in this together”, but it is helpful to keep in mind that everyone you know and everyone you see is having to deal mentally, physically, and emotionally with the pandemic—and regardless of the stark political and philosophical differences that have become so evident lately, we all do have that pain (anxiety, grief, social discomfort, and burnout)  in common.

1.  Anxiety

The National Institute of Mental Health statistics reports that 19% of U.S. adults have experienced an anxiety disorder over the course of the year in 2019.  Current statistics are significantly higher with the impact of COVID-19 impacting not only physical health and loss of life, but unemployment rates.  Many who have never been diagnosed with anxiety are reporting symptoms.  Children are reporting fears of dying or losing a loved one, and many adults who have quarantined are finding it difficult to navigate their personal and professional relationships and engage in self-care.  Agitation is one of the most common symptoms of anxiety that can easily be misinterpreted as someone being “on edge” or in a “bad mood”.  If you notice yourself or someone else being agitated or on edge, remember they may be showing you something about their own experiences.  We all have been impacted, no one is unscathed. 

First Aid Support:

Encourage yourself to find moments to connect with others and reach out.  Even if you talk about your favorite Netflix series or someone interesting you follow on social media.  Remember that support doesn’t have to mean you sit around talking about your current negative experiences if that is not something you feel comfortable doing.  Mindfulness is a great technique that helps connect you to presence of mind and slowing down.  One way to practice mindfulness is a technique called 54321.  Simply look around the room you are in and name 5 things you can see that you may not have noticed before.  Name 4 things that you can feel.  Touch these items and describe what it feels like.  Identify 3 things you can hear.  Find 2 things you can smell.  Make sure these things are pleasant to smell as they will evoke positive feelings.  Finally, name one thing you can appreciate about yourself that day.  Seek counseling if you feel that you are needing a neutral third party to provide support and additional coping strategies.  After all, that is what we are here for.  Psychologytoday.com is a great resource for searching for a “best fit” therapist. 

2.  Grief

Loss is something that we often wish we had a sign on our foreheads to notify others what we are going through without us having to talk about it.  Then we could be treated with more support, nurturing, and acceptance without needing to ask for help.  However, no such sign exists.  It is helpful for those that have not experienced such a loss to remember that we do not know what others have experienced during this year. So many of my clients and loved ones have experienced a loss.  As funeral sizes have been cut and, in some cases, not been had as direct contact with others is not advised it has robbed us of our typical ways of receiving support and grieving losses.  I also do not want to minimize the grief in the loss of our lives in the way that we would have lived them.  This includes high school prom, college orientations, walking our kindergartners into their first day of school, weddings, baby showers, and family reunions.  These are losses too and we grieve over all of them in our very own ways. 

First Aid Support:

Offer yourself the permission and the space to grieve.  This is available in so many ways.  There are workbooks available including: “Grief Day by Day” by Jan Warner and Amanda Bearse and “The Grief Recovery Handbook” by John W. James and Russel Friedman for adults.  For teens, “Healing Your Grieving Heart for Teens” by Alan D. Wolfelt, PH.D.  “The Invisible String Workbook” by Patrice Karst and Dana Wyss and “Why Do I Feel Sad” by Tracy Lambert-Prater, LPC for children.  There are also so many grief support groups that are available via telehealth or in person.  Try to remember to utilize your positive support network both at home and in your life.  We are all here together for a reason.  We don’t have to be alone in walking through this.     

3. Social Discomfort/Loss of Boundaries

Are they going to wear a mask?  Will they judge me if I wear a mask?  How many people will be there?  What if someone has COVID-19 and they don’t know it?  What if I am exposed to someone who is sick?  What if I get someone else sick?  How well is this place disinfected?  How will the mask mandate being lifted impact me and the COVID-19 numbers?  These may be some of the questions you or someone you know has asked leading us to feel anxiety or isolate ourselves.  This may also result in a lack of setting boundaries that feel comfortable for you. 

First Aid Support:

Have an honest discussion with your immediate family members residing in your home and create together a family risk assessment plan.  Discuss what feels safe and comfortable for each of you, even the younger members of your household have feelings about COVID.  Establish your boundaries in a short and sweet way should the risky scenarios come up.  Practice communicating these boundaries with a trusted loved one prior to initiating them with acquaintances, friends, and extended family.  Remember that it is okay to have a boundary that is different.  If you do not feel that your boundary is being respected, consider having a conversation with that individual or alter your engagement with them.  Finally, consider that everyone establishes their COVID-19 boundaries a bit different than you.  We can focus on what feels “wrong to us” and be emotionally tied up or focus on what we are in control of (ourselves and our own boundaries) and feel free of that particular emotional burden.  If you would like additional resources or recommendations, PsychologyToday.com has a great article written by Ilene Strauss Cohen, PhD. “Setting Boundaries During Coronavirus”. 

4.  Burnout

One of the many changes brought on by this past year has been that a large percentage of Americans are working from home.  What this now means is that we are stepping outside of our often-stressful work days directly into our household roles with no opportunities for decompressing.  Burnout is defined as physical, mental, and emotional fatigue brought on by extended periods of stress.  Burnout is different from stress in that when we are stressed, we can see the light at the end of the tunnel.  Burnout causes us to lose motivation, feel cynical, experience decreased productivity and procrastination and satisfaction.  There are so many professions that are currently experiencing tremendous amounts of burnout at this time including but not limited to the following: medical professionals, first responders, mental health professionals, city officials, stay at home parents/guardians, and those that work from home.  We need a break!! We need the support and understanding of one another. 

First Aid Support:

If you can relate to the feeling of burnout, you are not alone and there are tangible ways to provide yourself with support.  Just remember, it doesn’t have to be big to make a difference.  Taking time off is one way to cope with burnout.  Even a long weekend can make a difference.  Plan time to unplug and spend time with your positive support network.  This includes those individuals in your life that encourage and lift you up.  Set boundaries where available.  This may include responding to emails only during specific times of day and creating “family only or me only times”.  For those individuals who are on call or responsible for individuals who cannot safely care for themselves, try to arrange for someone to relieve you if only for a small period of time so that you can recharge.  Neglecting your needs when you feel burnout can impact your life in a variety of ways including family relationships, physical health, and emotional well-being.  If you find that you would benefit from additional support, counseling services or support groups are very helpful in that it is time that is about you and for you. 

Therapeutic Role-Playing Game: Group Benefits

Written by: Jennie Fincher, Ph.D.

You might be asking yourself, “How can playing a game, like Dungeons & Dragons, be helpful?”

As someone who had never played D&D, when I first heard about it as a therapeutic tool, I only had the name to make assumptions of what it was…I guess there will be something about dungeons and there will be dragons. As I have played D&D and learned more about the game, I have come to understand how misleading the title can be. It is so much more. D&D is a collaborative storytelling game with a flexible rule structure. Players work together to solve problems, discover treasure, and defeat foes in a fictional environment. Players create a character who is their persona as they play in the game.

Therapeutic role playing games (TRPG) foster creativity by giving the players (a.k.a. group members) the freedom to move the story forward and understand the cause and effect of events. Storytelling is a powerful way to activate the brain. Players are able to interact through their characters to feel less vulnerable, to gain confidence and agency, and to try out different interpersonal skills. TRPGs are designed to be cooperative where there are no winners or losers. Players can use their character’s specific skillsets to fill a collaborative role on a diverse team.

TRPGs are filled with layers of problem-solving. This might be solving a riddle, while deciding the best way to take out a group of villains, while solving a mystery, all while preventing an evil-doer from taking over the kingdom. Critical thinking helps us approach problems in the future in the right mindset. In this kind of game play we can learn to see problems from multiple perspectives.

TRPGs provide a safe space for emotional release. The group members are able to express inner fears or desires in the context of playing their character. Additionally, this kind of role-playing game allows group members to experiment with different elements of identity. Group members are provided an opportunity to boost self-efficacy by mastering new or challenging tasks. Likewise, the power of choice is main component in TRPGs, giving players an internal locus of control.

Group members can also increase cooperative and communication skills. Players are able to identify with characters very different from themselves thereby boosting empathy. Resilience and stress-related growth are also components of TRPGs. This kind of game play also provides a framework of meaning and moral order. Through their shared adventure they are able to understand that life is inherently meaningful and their choices are meaningful as well.