NBC News recently released the results of their investigation into Electronic Screen Syndrome (ESS) and the negative learning and behavioral side-effects on children. They discovered that the unnaturally stimulating nature of electronic screens — irrespective of the content —has ill effects on our mental and physical health at multiple levels and they can present in many shapes and forms in children.
Although varied, many of the effects of ESS 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.
Brett Gallant, of Adaptive Office Solutions, recently did a compelling presentation to the Rotary Club, about the topic; including examples of his experience with the effects of ESS and his own children. He said, “I know first-hand what too much screen time can do to our children. We are currently going through another screen fast now and are already starting to see less mood swings. We have no television, YouTube, or video games. Last night we just watched the rain come down and then started playing Crazy 8’s, chess… my son even made brownies. I think sometimes taking a break is not only good for children but good for us as well.”
This coming from an IT guy!
The result of too much screen time, is 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.
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 misdiagnosed 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.
At particular risk are boys with ADHD and/or autism spectrum disorders. But, the good news is, the lion’s share of symptoms are completely reversible. How? With an “electronic fast.” This is a four week period wherein all electronic media is off-limits.
So which devices have a no-go rule during the electronic fast? Televisions, 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.
What can limiting or eliminating electronic stimulation do for your child? The results have proven to be: reduced aggression, better/balanced moods, increased agreeability, improved grades, better social skills, and healthy sleep patterns.
Not only will limiting electronic use have a profound effect on your child, you’ll see a positive shift in the entire family dynamic – including happier, healthier parents. Do yourself a favor, and just say, “That’s enough for today.” In the end, they’ll thank you for it.
***Don’t forget to limit your use; if they have to, you should too!