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‘Screen Smart Sam’: La Jolla author hopes to help parents shrink their kids’ screen time

"Screen Smart Sam" by La Jolla resident Nicole Rawson aims to help families limit screen time.
(Courtesy)

La Jollan Nicole Rawson has written her first book, aiming to help families navigate childhood screen habits.

The project combines her own parental quest for assistance and her professional passion as a screen time consultant.

The book, titled “Screen Smart Sam,” is “a coming-of-age story, a cautionary tale about Sam’s journey as a youngster,” Rawson said. Sam’s “unmonitored screen time really builds up into a crisis point as a teenager.”

Rawson, who has two sons in their late teens, said the book “shows the progression from being screen-obsessed to being a screen-smart family.” She hopes that in reading the book, families “can bypass the obsessed part and just keep [screen time] at a manageable level.”

“Screen Smart Sam” is “relatable … written in gender-neutral terms,” she said. It’s based on her older son’s “video-gaming addiction that we had to deal with as a family,” along with “similar client experiences that I’ve worked with.”

“All families unfortunately are struggling with” how to limit time in front of cellphones, computers and TV, Rawson said. The effects of too much screen time become obvious when a child reaches middle school, she added.

“That’s when grades really count,” she said, and when kids’ focus and stamina decline “from being on screens so much.”

It can lead to children “bossing their parents around, demanding more screen time, refusing to do schoolwork or doing schoolwork halfway. It really takes hold of children in a way that’s completely unhealthy and is detrimental to their brain development.”

Nicole Rawson, author of "Screen Smart Sam"
“All the research now says that time away from screens is just so critical for [children’s] development, and even limited screen use … just makes [other activities] less tasty to them,” says Nicole Rawson, author of “Screen Smart Sam.”
(Courtesy)

Rawson aims to preempt the middle school problems by targeting “Screen Time Sam” to children as young as kindergartners.

“Parents are giving smartphones to children in elementary school now,” she said, “which is creating a huge problem for teachers having these phones accessible and having the kids dependent on them.”

The book also includes resources from the American Pediatric Association, Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and other organizations that offer further research on and help in mitigating the effects of too much screen time.

Elementary schools can incorporate “Screen Smart Sam” in their digital citizenship curriculum, Rawson said. “They don’t have many support materials to send home for parents.”

The book complements Rawson’s business, Screen Time Clinic, which offers parents help in improving their families’ digital wellness.

She started the business a year ago after ending a position as a teacher with the San Diego Unified School District, she said.

“I was seeing all these kids so distracted in schools, and even when we would give them one-on-one devices, they usually weren’t used for academic purposes,” Rawson said.

Screen Time Clinic “was really kind of born out of my own struggles with my own children and not having any support resources specialized to helping me control screen use as a parent,” she said.

In sharing ways to combat screen overuse, she hopes to help parents feel less isolated, she said. “Parents don’t know if they’re really doing the right thing, and there’s a lot of misinformation out there about screens.

“All the research now says that time away from screens is just so critical for development, and even limited screen use … just makes [other activities] less tasty to them.”

Rawson said she doesn’t “preach total abstinence, although there are families that do that for good purpose.” Instead, she helps parents “formulate a plan around their values. They know screens are causing problems, but they don’t know steps to take to really limit it without constant conflict.”

For parents facing a sharp uptick in their children’s screen time amid pandemic-related restrictions keeping many students online for school and otherwise engaged with screens while after-school activities are closed or limited, Rawson said “physically removing screens and only using them during mindful time” will go a long way toward preventing or reducing screen addiction.

“The biggest thing is for parents to listen to their intuition,” she said. “By limiting screen time, [kids] will be able to find other things to do. They can get out, they can go walk around the neighborhood, they can go get a little job helping pick up trash or whatever it is.

“If you don’t remove the screens, there’s no space to flourish.”

“Screen Smart Sam” will be available in May at various retailers or by making a pledge of at least $19 at ScreenSmartFamilies.org.