Electronic Screen Syndrome
The Learning and Behavioural Side Effects on Children
By: Brett Gallant, Adaptive Office Solutions
The unnaturally stimulating nature of a electronic screens — irrespective of the content —has ill effects on our mental and physical health at multiple levels and the effects can present in many shapes and forms in children. Although varied, many of the effects can be grouped into symptoms related to mood, cognition, and behavior. The root of these symptoms appears to be linked to repeated stress on the nervous system, making self-regulation and stress management less efficient. The result can be an inability to modulate one’s mood or attention, which leads to inappropriate responses to one’s environment.
Here’s why… interacting with screens, shifts the nervous system into fight-or-flight mode – and the level of impact can be pronounced (like when playing a video game) or more subtle, as in texting. What’s the result? Disorganized, disobedient, or oppositional thinking, over-excitement, delayed maturity, narrowed interests, loss of friends, lower grades, anti-social behavior, low frustration tolerance, poor short-term memory, and much, much more.
When the increased levels of stress reach a breaking point, you’ll see dramatic mood swings, outbursts, tantrums, erratic and unpredictable behavior, addiction, and, eventually, sleep disturbances. Because of these symptoms, more and more children are being (mis)diagnosed with psychiatric symptoms such as ADHD and Childhood Bipolar Disorder.
The result: an ever-increasing amount of medications are prescribed to children as young as five and six years old. Of course, there are children with serious mental health issues – at particular risk are boys with ADHD and/or autism spectrum disorders – but the lion share of symptoms are completely preventable.
How? With an “electronic fast.” This is a four week (minimum) period wherein all electronic media is off-limits. Odd recommendation, coming from an IT guy, but I’ve had personal experience with this experiment, and it works! But before going into those details, it’s important to understand the different kind of electronic stimulation: active and passive. Active screen time means being engaged with a device which involves the keyboard, touch screen, motion sensor etc. Passive screen time has to do with watching TV, movies, videos and programs.
So which devices have a no-go rule during the electronic fast? TV sets, computers, iPads, consoles, e-readers, etc. Smart phones should be used only for calls and a limited number of necessary, non-conversational texts. Some children can tolerate moderation after a fast, while others seem to relapse immediately if re-exposed. In any case, it’s unrealistic to think that your child can live in today’s society without some electronic stimulation, but how much? The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no more than 1-2 hours daily.
How can you be sure (without being a helicopter parent) that they’re adhering to the rules? There’s a nifty little gadget called Circle with Disney, a $99 device that can monitor your family’s online habits; seeing just how much Facebook, Minecraft, or YouTube they get access to in a day. It hooks up to your Wi-Fi router and monitors the activity of every device connected to your home network.
The idea behind Circle is not to spy on your family’s online activity. Instead the goal is to set limits to what your children can access online, when they can access it, and for how long. Circle with Disney allows parents to associate devices on a home network with individual family members. Lest you think that I have a stake in the company, I’m only recommending the device because – as a parent of four children – I recognize how hard it can be to know what everyone is up to day and night. Circle with Disney is something you can easily purchase on Amazon, or via other online stores.
What can eliminating (for a period) and/or limiting electronic stimulation do for your child? The results have proven to be: reduced aggression, better/balanced moods, increased agreeability, improved grades, better social skills, healthy sleep patterns, and… happier, more relaxed parents.
What will your kids do with all that free time? It’s time to get back to basics. Get them involved with: board games, crafts, cooking, gardening, scrapbooking, building models, reading, drawing/painting, and playing cards/Sudoku/crossword puzzles, etc.
Or… you can get outside together, take a walk or hike, go swimming, go to the park, fly a kite, have a scavenger hunt, camp in your back yard, teach an animal a new trick.
How about being a “tourist” in your own town? Go to the library, visit museums, go to arts and craft fairs, browse flea markets/garage sales, attend plays, check out exhibits, go bowling or rock climbing, go to an arcade, play paintball. The only limit is your (and your child’s) imagination.
The more engaged your children are in non-electronic stimulation the less they will suffer the ill effects of Electronic Screen Syndrome. It’s time to take back control and set limits on activities that are proven to damage healthy emotional, intellectual and personal growth.
Not only will limiting electronic use have a profoundly powerful effect on your child, you’ll see a positive shift in the entire family dynamic as well. Do yourself a favor, and just say, “That’s enough for today.” In the end, they’ll thank you for it.