How does screen time affect your brain?

We all know that too much screen time is bad.  It is inevitable that our children will need electronic screens to function.  When kids have too much screen time, what problems can arise.  I will briefly explore four areas that are negatively impacted by excess screen time: social, emotional, biological and creativity.

Social 

Games are increasingly more social.  One of the major pulls to keep playing is the collaborative nature of many of the most popular online games such as Fortnight and Call of Duty.  This is not inherently negative, however, if the majority of a youth’s after school social time is spent gaming, alarm bells should go off.  Increasingly, there is less and less time for our youth to practice and improve their social interactions in a group setting.  Being comfortable in a group is essential to healthy self-esteem and getting projects completed.  Kids and teens should be interacting more with people face-to-face than on a screen.

Emotional 

How do you problem solve a conflict that occurs over a screen?  Children, unlike adults, have not had sufficient practice in basic conflict resolution skills. Children and young adults may come to expect that emotional issues can be resolved by the click of a button.    More frequently what I see is “tuning out” emotions or disengaging.  When you are dealing with a challenging thought, emotion or task, it’s easy to just switch to the next exciting video, gadget or photo that catches your attention.  Screens can become an unhealthy way to detach from your emotions.  Delaying gratification, essential to most peoples long term success, is not typically a skill that is enhanced by using screens.

Biological 

Blue light coming from any screen has been shown to disrupt sleep.  There are filters in certain devices, but, not all have this capability.  I always encourage kids to stop using any screen at least one hour prior to bed to ensure that they can calm their minds down and settle in.  Regular bedtime rituals such as a warm bath and reading books are allow good bonding time and allow children’s minds to settle down naturally prior to bed.

Physical activity is key to normal neurological development.  Preschool aged kids need at least 60 min of vigorous physical activity daily.  Some children need even more.  The release of dopamine in exercise enhances concentration and focus.  Vigorous physical activity has a calming effect especially with children who have ADHD.

Creativity

What ever happened to being bored?  Some of my most vivid childhood memories are the adventures I had with my friends in the woods behind my home in Massachusetts.   In play, children are reenacting their joys, conflicts and fostering a growing creativity.  Play is essential to building  fine and gross motor skills.   Children use their hands to cut, draw, color, tape and make their ideas reality.   They disagree on a design and must reconcile with their partners to move forward.  They are practicing to be effective adults!  Kids need to be bored.  Kids also need supervision and guidance to model for them effective problem solving techniques.

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