Ever notice that after your child watches a movie, or plays a video game, that they seem more irritable, reactive, or defiant? According to multiple studies you are not going crazy, there is an effect on our kids’ brains. I’m not trying to demonize modern technology, though as responsible parents, it’s important to understand the impact that these devices may be causing.
- Recent studies have shown that screen time effects multiple parts of the brain that include how we focus and process thought. There was a study that even showed atrophy (shrinkage) of grey brain matter associated with organizing, planning, and impulse control (Weng 2013). This can be where hyperactivity and erratic behavior can be seen with excess screen time.
- It can increase the levels of dopamine in the brain, the “feel good” hormone, hence may also contribute to addictive behaviors around screens (Kuhn 2011) and possible susceptibility to other addictions in the future.
- Studies have even shown that screens can effects the parts of the brain responsible for empathy and compassion, hence may increase more violent behavior.
- Violent video games have also been linked with increased anxiety and depression in children.
- And lastly these electronic devices emit blue “daytime” light which suppresses melatonin, your sleep hormone, therefore effecting sleep patterns.
Your child’s brain is under continual development with a peak after puberty until their early 20s. This time therefore is critical on the long term for intellect, emotional stability and wellbeing. So how do we integrate the technological world but be mindful of what’s best for our kids on the short and long term. Here’s some recommendations:
- Children under 2: the recommendation is zero screen time hours. Babies learn by face to face interaction, and need to learn by modelling the people around them. (A study showed that 8-16 month olds learned 6-8 fewer words for every hour they watched Baby Einstein over reading with adults). (Zimmerman 2007)
- Children aged 3-18: maximum of 2 hrs. total daily screen time (this may get difficult with school work requiring computers, so you may choose to be more flexible on those hours, but more fixed on leisure hours). American Academy of Pediatrics estimates children spend an average of 7 hours daily on a screen.
- Don’t use screens in the evenings thereby not disturbing essential sleep patterns
- Avoid morning screen time as studies show “screen-time overloads the sensory system, fractures attention, and depletes mental reserves” for several hours afterwards (not ideal when going to school to learn!). Interestingly, “one way to temporarily ‘boost’ depleted reserves is to become angry, so meltdowns become a coping mechanism” (Dunckley 2015)
- Create screen free places in your home and monitor the quality of the screen exposure with your kids.
- Lead by example, turn your phones off and engage in activity with them: going outside, doing crafts, playing games, reading, etc. These stimulate creativity and relaxation time, as well as foster bonding time between parent and child.
- Do an experiment: turn off all the electronics for a week in the family and see how screen time maybe effecting your family by monitoring changes in sleep, energy, focus, and moods.
References to these studies may be provided by request. Also check out: www.drdunckley.com/videogames/