Screens are everywhere in our culture these days. It is difficult to find a restaurant that isn’t full of TV screens. Many homes even have them in their kitchen and bedrooms. Screens have expanded to phones, tablets, and portal computers, even watches! While technology does have many benefits, there is also a downside. Especially when it becomes an addiction, which we are seeing in much of America’s youth and young adults today. Dr. Victoria L. Dunckley M.D. describes what she calls “electronic screen syndrome” as “suffering from sensory overload, lack of restorative sleep, and a hyper-aroused nervous system” (1). These children often have difficulties focusing, are moody and impulsive. The effects of too much screen time affect the younger, growing brains of children the most.
Brain scan research has shown that internet/gaming addiction may cause shrinkage or loss of grey matter in the brain and loss of integrity of white matter in the brain (1). The most affected areas are the frontal lobe (planning, prioritizing, impulse control), striatum (suppression of unacceptable social actions), insula (empathy, compassion, emotional signaling), reduced communication between the left and right hemispheres of the brain (2, 3). Dopamine is released during the game time which can cause cravings and essentially brain changes similar to drug addiction (4).
As stated above, technology and screens do have their benefits! They allow for the fast processing of many essential day-to-day activities. With anything, moderation is key. Many people need to use computers and other screened technology to work and provide for their families. Reducing the amount of recreational screen use is crucial for children and many adults. The American Academy of Pediatrics recommends no screen time for children under 24 months, 1 hour of screen time per day for children 2-5 years old, and 2 hours per day for school-age children (5). In addition to these recommendations, here are a few ways to limit screen time without too much fuss:
- Create screen-free zones/times. For example, no screens at mealtimes and no screens in the bedroom.
- Be consistent! Set clear expectations and boundaries to avoid frustration.
- Be involved. If you choose to allow media at certain times, watch the show or movie with them so you can explain certain concepts and help children understand challenging topics.
- Communication is always key! Communicate about safety and kindness online and offline. Explain to children why boundaries and limitations are necessary and involve them in the process.
Our challenge to you! Take one-week SCREEN FREE! Other than necessary phone calls or screen time for work or homework, no screens for one week! It may sound overbearing but it is amazing to see how children and even adults can transform the time used on the screen into family bonding, using the imagination, or learning a new skill. I encourage all families to take this challenge!